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Sperm Counts Dropping: Phthalate Exposure Threatens Human Survival

Infertility has become increasingly pervasive in recent decades. In “Sperm Count Zero,”1 GQ Magazine discusses this troubling fact, noting the situation has become so dire that “within a generation we may lose the ability to reproduce entirely.”

The article highlights research2,3 published last year, which found total sperm counts in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand dropped by nearly 60 percent between 1973 and 2013. (South American, Asian and African men had no noticeable decline, although this discrepancy could be due to the smaller sample sizes obtained from those countries.)

The paper in question was a meta-analysis of 185 studies and the largest of its kind. In a nutshell, men in many areas of the world are producing less semen overall, and the semen they do produce contains fewer sperm. What’s worse, the researchers found no evidence to suggest this downward trend is leveling off. As noted by GQ:

“Sperm counts went from 99 million sperm per milliliter of semen in 1973 to 47 million per milliliter in 2011, and the decline has been accelerating. Would 40 more years — or fewer — bring us all the way to zero?”

Aside from the implications this has on the human species as a whole, reduction in sperm production is also a warning sign that men’s health is in serious jeopardy, as poor semen quality has been linked to a number of other health issues, including a higher risk for diabetesheart diseasecancer and early death. Researchers also warn that men are becoming increasingly less male overall.

Testosterone Levels Are Dropping Too

Along with sperm, men’s testosterone levels have dropped in recent decades as well, and exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in utero and beyond appears to be a driving factor.4 GQ reports:5

“One of the most significant markers of an organism's sex is something called anogenital distance (AGD) — the measurement between the anus and the genitals. Male AGD is typically twice the length of female, a much more dramatic difference than height or weight or musculature.

Lower testosterone leads to a shorter AGD, and a measurement lower than the median correlates to a man being seven times as likely to be subfertile and gives him a greater likelihood of having undescended testicles, testicular tumors, and a smaller penis.6,7

‘What you are seeing in a number of systems, other developmental systems, is that the sex differences are shrinking,’ [reproductive epidemiologist at Mount Sinai and one of the lead authors, Shanna H.] Swan told me. Men are producing less sperm. They're also becoming less male.”

Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals Wreak Havoc With Male Gender

GQ also interviews 82-year-old Dr. Niels E. Skakkebæk, a pediatric endocrinologist at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen, Denmark. In Denmark, 1 in 5 men cannot father children, and Skakkebæk has been investigating the country’s growing infertility trend since the 1970s, when he discovered infertile male patients with an identical yet curious abnormality he’d never seen before.

“What he found was a new form of precursor cells for testicular cancer, a once rare disease whose incidence had doubled,” GQ writes. “Moreover, these precursor cells had begun developing before the patient was even born.” In other words, Skakkebæk discovered that testicular cancer actually originates in utero.

What’s more, he suspected that if testes were not developing properly, the likelihood of something else misdeveloping was also high. Skakkebæk eventually came up with the name “testicular dysgenesis syndrome” to describe a collection of reproductive problems that appear to originate in fetal development. These include:

 

  • Hypospadias (a birth defect in which the opening of the urethra is on the underside of the penis instead of at the end)
  • Cryptorchidism (undescended testicles)
  • Oligospermia (low sperm count) and poor semen quality
  • Testicular cancer

 

The cause of these problems? So-called gender-bending endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The chemical revolution foisted thousands of chemicals upon the population, and many of them are now being found to have significant health impacts. Among the most pernicious are plasticizing chemicals such as phthalates,8 which makes plastic soft and pliable.

Phthalates and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as bisphenol-A are estrogen mimickers, and when male fetuses are overexposed in utero, it permanently alters their reproductive system, rendering them less male and more female.

In adults, the more phthalates a man has in his system, the lower his testosterone level will be, and the lower his sperm count. Other recent research9 also confirms that environmental estrogens have generational effects, which is why males are successively becoming increasingly more sterile with each passing generation.

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