Denver, CO- Two new studies presented today at the Scientific Congress of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine show that sperm quality has declined noticeably this century in infertility patients and sperm donors, alike.
In the first study to evaluate the most reliable indicator of male fertility, the total motile sperm count (TMSC), of infertility patients over time, researchers from two fertility centers, one European and the other North American, evaluated changes in the TMSC from 2002 to 2017 in 119,972 men seeking infertility treatment.
In the retrospective cohort study, researchers from Reproductive Medical Associates, New Jersey (RMANJ) and the Instituto Valenciano Infertilidad (IVI) analyzed data from the first semen analyses done on male infertility patients seen from 2002 – 2017 (RMANJ) and 2011-2017 (IVI). The semen analyses were sorted into three groups subject to different treatment strategies: TMSC greater than 15 million; TMSC 5 to 15 million: and TMSC zero to 15 million. They used statistical analyses to assess the impact of patient age and estimate TMSC group as a function of the year the semen analysis was done.
The percentage of patients in Group 1 (highest TMSC) declined from 84.7% in the time period 2002-2005 to 79.1% in 2014-2017, while the percentage in Group 3 (lowest TMSC) rose from 8.9% to 11.6% over those time periods.
A separate analysis of RMANJ data showed that TMSC of men in Group 1 (highest TMSC) decreased 1.8% per year over the study’s timespan and that the chances of a patient belonging in Group I decreased over time. Patient age played a part: TMSC decreased by 1.1% per year of increasing age. Correspondingly, a patient’s odds of belonging to Group 1 decreased with age.
In the second study, researchers from the Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, California Cryobank, and Reproductive Medical Associates of New York observed semen quality in donors in decline over 11 years in six cities: Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Houston, Boston, Indianapolis, and New York City.
From 2007 to 2017, 2586 donors aged 19 to 38 provided 124,107 specimens, which were analyzed as part of their processing.
Three semen parameters- total count, average concentration, and TMSC- were analyzed, as a whole, and by region. Decreased values were observed in all regions except New York City, where the donors’ semen analyses showed no change in total sperm count, concentration, or total motile sperm count. Boston donors’ semen analyses showed a decline in concentration and total motile sperm count over the decade, their total sperm count held steady.
“The trend toward lower sperm counts in this study is concerning. Whether the causes underlying it are environmental or lifestyle-related, they will be difficult to parse out. Pollution, endocrine disrupting chemicals, poor exercise habits and convenient, yet nutritionally poor, dietary choices could all play a part. Similarly, men may now be referred for advanced medical care despite having lower sperm numbers, reflecting our improved reproductive treatments. Men planning to conceive should do what they can to achieve their best overall health to optimize their sperm quality,” ASRM President-elect Peter Schlegel, MD, said. Dr. Schlegel, who practices at New York City’s Weill Cornell Medical Center, added, “The exceptionalism of New York sperm donors is intriguing, but maybe not so surprising. New Yorkers tend to be physically active and our water system provides some of the cleanest and highest quality water in the US. We also have the best pizza.”