Sebastian Kaulitzki/shutterstockFertility rates are in steep decline—and for men, they take a nosedive at this surprisingly young age. Just last year, the CDC reported that U.S. fertility rates had dropped to the lowest ever since 1909, when the government first began keeping track. And a new study, published in the journal Human Reproduction Update, suggests that sperm counts in men from America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand have plummeted in the last 40 years.
In the newest study, researchers in Israel reviewed studies that had included nearly 43,000 men from 50 different countries who had provided semen samples between 1973 to 2011. They checked the studies for the quality of data, and analyzed the men’s fertility, age, amount of time spent abstinent, and geographic location. They discovered that men in several Western countries experienced a 50 percent decline in sperm counts, while men from South America, Asia, and Africa held steady.
Although the study didn’t analyze reasons for the decline, the researchers point to past studies suggesting that falling sperm count can be linked to a number of health issues on the rise. In 2015, Harvard researchers found that men who ate produce with higher levels of pesticide residues—think strawberries, spinach, and peppers—had lower sperm counts than men who got cleaner produce, such as avocados, cabbage, and oranges. Another study suggests that mothers who smoke while pregnant can drive down sperm counts in their sons. Stress and obesity also seem to harm sperm counts, and both are prevalent problems in the countries experiencing the dramatic decline.
Hagai Levine, who co-led the work for this study, told cnbc.com, “This study is an urgent wake-up call for researchers and health authorities around the world to investigate the causes of the sharp ongoing drop in sperm count.”
In the meantime, mothers can help protect their sons’ sperm count by breastfeeding and avoiding pesticides and smoking, suggests research. And men—preserve and even boost your counts with exercise, weight loss, and a clean diet that features plenty of organic food.