Dropping sperm counts mean we’re headed toward extinction

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An alarming decline in sperm quality could threaten the future of the human race, and the chemicals likely responsible are everywhere…

An Alarming Decline in Sperm Quality Could Threaten the Future of the Human Race, and the Chemicals Likely Responsible Are Everywhere
An Alarming Decline in Sperm Quality Could Threaten the Future of the Human Race, and the Chemicals Likely Responsible Are Everywhere. Picture via GQ

The opening of epidemiologist Shanna Swan’s new book sounds a bit like science fiction: We are half as fertile as our grandfathers were. And if the trend continues, we may very well reach a point where the human race is unable to reproduce itself.

In Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race, Swan’s take on the procreative capabilities of the modern man is clear-eyed and terrifying. The data tells some of the tale. Sperm concentration—the number of sperm per milliliter of semen—has dropped more than 50% among men in Western countries in just under 40 years.

Some of what we’ve been thinking of as fiction, from stories such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Children of Men, is rapidly becoming reality,” Swan, Ph.D., writes in Count Down. “I felt and remain genuinely scared by these findings on a personal level.

The question of human fertility, and sperm counts in particular, is one with which Swan is well versed. An environmental and reproductive epidemiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, Swan was one of the lead authors of a meta-analysis, published in 2017, that examined semen from 42,935 men over a 38-year period.

It found that the average man in places like the U.S. had 99 million per milliliter sperm in 1973; by 2011, that number had dropped to 47.1 million per milliliter. For comparison’s sake, the World Health Organization deems 15 million per milliliter the lowest sperm concentration compatible with fertility.

Her new book is a continuation of these earlier efforts. The question now is what explains the decrease in sperm counts. Well, a lot of things: obesity, smoking, alcohol use, lack of exercise, even a daily sauna.

Chemicals are all around

Yet the more insidious and worrying cause of these changes is likely an omnipresent class of chemicals called endocrine disruptors, which interfere with the body’s production of the hormones testosterone and estrogen.

Plastics have made many wonderful things possible, but, as we wrote in 2018, “it turns out that many of the compounds used to make plastic soft and flexible (like phthalates) or to make them harder and stronger (like Bisphenol A, or BPA) are consummate endocrine disruptors.” Men with excess phthalates in their bodies, for instance, will produce less testosterone and, as a result, fewer sperm.

So what should we do? And, more specifically, what should men interested in having children one day do to keep their sperm in top health? Here an interesting interview of GQ and Swan.

GQ: It’s maybe the hardest number to avoid in the book: Sperm counts in the West have dropped by 50 percent. I don’t mean to sound flippant, but should we be terrified? Are we doomed?

Shanna Swan: Doomed is kind of an emotional word. It’s not a scientific word, right? But let me tell you what I think. I think that sperm counts are really low in many places in the world, and people should be very concerned. Yes, I take it seriously. Am I panicking? No.

GQ: Why should we be concerned but not panicked?

Shanna Swan: The bottom line is that we can do things to improve our reproductive function. We wrote about one guy in the book. This man was having his sperm collected routinely at a sperm bank. He was one of their prime donors, and then suddenly he didn’t make the cut, and they said, “What’s up?” And he said, “Well, let’s see: I changed jobs; it’s more stressful. I have a new girlfriend, she smokes,” and so on. And so he went back and he cleaned up his act, and then after a couple of months, his sperm count returned.

GQ: That’s interesting: We can actually do things to affect our own sperm health. Any tips?

Shanna Swan: If you eat what’s called the Mediterranean diet—that’s a diet that has fruits, vegetables, chicken, fish, whole grains—that improves at least one, if not more, of your semen quality measures.

GQ: I seem to recall many instances in Count Down where you warned about the nature of those foods, though. How they were grown, in other words, and whether they were treated with certain pesticides. What’s the connection to sperm health?

Shanna Swan: We have a study of young men in Rochester, New York. College students. And they filled out a really detailed food frequency questionnaire about what they ate in the last 24 hours and what they usually ate, and so on. And then we looked at how they answered on that food frequency questionnaire and related it to their semen quality. Men could improve their semen quality by eating more fruit and vegetables—as long as they had low pesticide residue.

We actually got a measure of pesticide residues for the foods they ate, and then looked to see how much they ate with a low or high pesticide residue—so, pesticides left on food. If they ate either organic or some other food that was likely to be low in pesticides, eating a lot of those fruits and vegetables improved their sperm count. But when they had high pesticide levels, it decreased their sperm count.

GQ: The book talked specifically about pesticides used on pineapples and their effects on sperm counts.

Shanna Swan: There was a pesticide used in the harvesting of pineapple; it’s called dibromochloropropane. [Better known as DBCP, it was banned from use in the U.S. in 1979.] That pesticide actually totally wiped out men’s sperm. Women were comparing notes, and they were saying that they couldn’t get pregnant—the wives of these men. They tested the men, and they had zero sperm. And you can’t get more dramatic than that. But what they found was that when they stopped using the product, in a couple of months, their sperm count returned.

GQ: A lot of your research, and a lot of the book, focuses on these types of chemicals, these endocrine disruptors. Some are found in pesticides. Many of them are found in common objects, like plastic food containers and plastic bags. What’s the big deal here?

Shanna Swan: The plastics revolution, or the chemical revolution, which I date, and many people date, from the end of the Second World War. So let’s say 1950. If you look at the production of chemicals after that time, it goes up exponentially. It’s a huge climb. For a long time, people paid no attention at all. The initial alarm, I think, was about pesticides. Now people are getting very aware that plastics in the environment—single-use plastics, throwaway plastics—are harming wildlife. We’re used to seeing the poor sea creatures with these plastics all over their necks and in their bodies. But we don’t have those pictures of ourselves.

GQ: And that’s why we don’t know.

Shanna Swan: That’s what we have to see: We are also getting exposed. Maybe we don’t have a plastic ring around our neck, but we do have plastics coming into our bodies that affect our sperm and, in women, our eggs. That translation is what’s so difficult, and that’s what I’m trying to work on with this book, to educate people on the risk that we’re facing from these plastics. And then we want to pressure the government to demand safer chemicals, so we don’t have chemicals that alter our testosterone and our estrogen racing through our bodies.

GQ: Let’s talk about that for a moment. For example, when I’m holding a plastic bag, or using some sort of aftershave cream that comes in a plastic bottle—are these chemicals just leaching into my body and then messing with my sperm?

Shanna Swan: One of the properties of these plastics is that they do increase absorption. And they’re put into our personal care products specifically for that reason. When you put a cream on your arm or your hand, you don’t want it to be there a half hour later. The phthalates in that product actually increase that absorption.

Unfortunately, the other ways they come in is through our food and our drinks. There’s so many ways that they get into our food, and food is the primary source of exposure to phthalates. If you have a soft plastic tube, you pass food through it, it’s got phthalates in it; that’s what makes it soft. The phthalates are not chemically bound: They leave the plastic; they enter the food; they go into the container; they go into us. Any processed food has the high risk of having phthalates in it.

GQ: Hence your message about the Mediterranean diet, when it comes to what we should eat to ensure healthier sperm.

Shanna Swan: That’s sort of the biggest general takeaway. It’s not that different a message we get for overall health.

GQ: Is this decrease in sperm count really related to a decrease in the overall fertility rate? Aren’t humans just choosing to have fewer kids anyway?

Shanna Swan: It’s a question a lot of people ask. Obviously, if you have no sperm, you can’t have any children. Fertility, the way demographers measure it, is how many children a woman or couple has. That’s called the fertility rate. If that number is at 2.1, then we say we are at replacement. Now the whole world is at 2.4. It was at five children per couple in 1960, and now it’s at 2.4.

Is part of that due to choice? Absolutely. Is it all due to choice? Absolutely not. Another way to look at it is: The same problems that we’re having with fertility, other wildlife species are having. And they’re not choosing it. But they’re subject to the same forces we are.

GQ: Forces, in this case, meaning this chemical-based conundrum.

Shanna Swan: Things like sexual libido, the frequency of sex, all these things are linked to hormones, and can be affected by the same chemicals that affect sperm count. Chemicals in commerce that get into our products, our household products, like our Teflon pan or our flame-retardant cushions and so on, are disruptive.

We are actually all participating in this study, this big study of people exposed to these chemicals, but you didn’t sign up for this, and I didn’t sign up for this.

GQ: In chapter 11 of Count Down, you carefully outline a punch list of what people can do to keep endocrine-disrupting chemicals out of their households. But to bring this back to men and sperm counts: Should we all just start getting screened? As part of our overall health, should we get semen analyses done and see what’s going on with our own sperm?

Shanna Swan: I actually think that’s a good idea, not only for making sure you’ll be able to have a baby when you want to, but also because having poor semen quality actually is a predictor for later disease. There are a number of studies now that show that men with low sperm counts have higher heart disease rates, and higher rates of diabetes, and higher rates of reproductive cancers, and actually die younger. Given that there are things that you can do to increase your sperm count and sperm quality, why not proactively find out if you have a problem so you can take steps to turn it around? [GQ]

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Is that what that movie was about a few years back. They were in awe of a baby? Or is this punishment for abortion by the gad millions?

  2. Aristotle’s Warning // Senator Kennedy’s Deadly Lie // Will Durant’s Wisdom

    Read Aristotle’s warnings:

    On race-mixing: “Another cause of revolution is difference of races which do not at once acquire a common spirit; for a state is not the growth of a day, any more than it grows out of a multitude brought together by accident. Hence the reception of strangers in colonies, either at the time of their foundation or afterwards, has generally produced revolution.”

    On bad democracy: “[T]he last form of democracy . . . [in which] all share alike . . . [and] the leaders have been in the habit of including as many as they can, and making citizens not only of those who are legitimate, but even of the illegitimate . . . This is the way in which demagogues proceed. Whereas the right thing would be to make no more additions when the numbers of the commonality exceeds that of the notables and of the middle class,—beyond this not to go . . . [these] measures taken by tyrants appear all of them to be democratic. Such a government will have many supporters, for most persons would rather live in a disorderly than in a sober manner.”

    On how to install bad democracy: ”Fresh tribes and brotherhoods should be established; the private rites of families should be restricted and converted into public ones; in short, every contrivance should be adopted which will mingle the citizens with one another and get rid of old connections.”

    -RICK

    ####################
    ####################

    Bonnie Erbe’

    and

    “To The Contrary”

    Team :

    What does “Lie” mean to you ?

    Read late Senator Ted Kennedy’s LIE in
    last paragraph, re his LIE to WHITES, about
    his IMMIGRATION bill of 1965 :

    — A Marxian Senator and His Marxian Democrat Supporters‘ Libertine Lies —

    The below quote is from a time when
    the Founders’ America was 93% white
    —and Utopia-like : C I V I L I Z E D !
    (( the growing Marx-inspired Sixties
    Revolt infecting all of WHITE Culture
    with evil Anti-Virtue/Anti-Moral/Anti-
    Soap-and-Water LIBERTINISM not
    withstanding )).

    To no avail, this scribbler has asked
    Beck & Boys and VDARE and the rest
    to put this quote in a MISSION State-
    ment at the top of their Home Page,
    and explain to post-Boomer folks the
    “Noble Lie” told to us, to begin the now
    fully evident GENOCIDE and CULTUR-
    ICIDE of White Christian Civilization,
    here and across the pond (( even asked
    VDARE – over several years of attempts
    – to accept $500 from me for posting the
    Show-the-Lie-that-Got-Us-Here quote,
    put at the top of their web page )).

    Conservatives are not CREATIVE!, and
    not very deep thinkers!—Not To Post
    The Lie Which Effected Today’s Open-
    Borders attitude about this in-our-face,
    ongoing GENOCIDE and CULTURICIDE :

    Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA)
    Commenting on the passage of his
    (( his Commie Handlers’ )) Immigration
    Act of 1965–His (broken) P R O M I S E :

    “Out of deference to the critics, I want to comment on … what the bill
    will not do. First, our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants
    annually. Under the proposed bill, the present level of immigration
    remains substantially the same … Secondly, the ethnic mix of this country
    will not be upset … Contrary to the charges in some quarters, S.500 will
    not inundate America with immigrants from any one country or area, or
    the most populated and economically deprived nations of Africa and Asia.
    In the final analysis, the ethnic pattern of immigration under the proposed
    measure is not expected to change as sharply as the critics seem to think.
    Thirdly, the bill will not permit the entry of subversive persons, criminals,
    illiterates, or those with contagious disease or serious mental illness. As I
    noted a moment ago, no immigrant visa will be issued to a person who is
    likely to become a public charge … the charges I have mentioned are
    highly emotional, irrational, and with little foundation in fact. They are out
    of line with the obligations of responsible citizenship. They breed hate of
    our heritage.” (Senate Part 1, Book 1, pp. 1-3)

    -Rick

    ================
    ================

    And this, from historian Will Durant:

    “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within. The essential causes of Rome’s decline lay in her people, her morals, her class struggle, her falling trade, her bureaucratic despotism, her stifling taxes, her consuming wars. The political causes of decay were rooted in one fact – that increasing despotism destroyed the citizen’s civic sense, and dried up statesmanship at its source.” – The Story of Civilization (Vol.111).

    -Rick

  3. OH Please, give us a friggin break ! This is no more than fantasy fear mongering idiocy. We actually do not need 8 billion people on this planet, so NOT HAVING BABIES would be a boon to us not having them.

    If anything, this might be considered Chemical Castration for all the chemicals being shoved down our throats, but if we can get away from them I believe that our male testes will go back to functioning as they are supposed to, which I believe is the reason for this article’s fear mongering.

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