Sperm Count in French Men Drops by a Third, Environment Suspected

french menFlickr/Nimages DR/CC BY 2.0

Imagine a world without having had Catherine Deneuve, Jacques Cousteau, and Le Corbusier, without baguettes, crepes, and madeleines. Quelle horreur! Might this be the fate of future French phenoms? Might the French be fading away?

According to a recent study, the sperm count in French men has dropped by nearly a third in the last 20 years. There was also a significant decrease of 33.4 percent of normally formed sperm over the same period.

The study published in Human Reproduction found that the sperm count fell almost 2 percent a year between 1989 and 2005, the quality of sperm also declined.

"To our knowledge, this is the first study concluding a severe and general decrease in sperm concentration and morphology at the scale of a whole country over a substantial period," wrote environmental health epidemiologist Dr Joelle Le Moal, and author of the report. "This constitutes a serious public health warning. The link with the environment particularly needs to be determined.”

More than 26,600 men took part in the study. For the average 35 year old man, the number of spermatozoa plummeted from 73.6 million to 49.9 million per milliliter, or 32.3 percent.

"This is the most important study carried out in France and probably in the world considering that you have a sample that's close to the general population,” noted Le Moal. "This constitutes a serious public health warning."

The authors say that there needs to be more research into the possible causes for the decline in semen concentration and percentages of normally formed sperm, and that environmental stresses, including endocrine disrupters, must be considered. Other studies have pointed to the role played by environmental factors such as endocrine disruptors as well.

(And with the prevalence of endocrine disrupting chemicals in everything from plastic bottles and metal cans, to detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides, is it really any wonder?)

“Something in our modern lifestyle, diet or environment like chemical exposure, is causing this, said Prof Richard Sharpe University of Edinburgh. "We still do not know which are the most important factors, but perhaps the most likely is a combination, a double whammy of changes, such as a high-fat diet combined with increased environmental chemical exposures."

Although the sperm counts still fall within the guidelines for fertility considered by the World Health Organisation, which is over 15 million per milliliter, consider the red flag raised.

Sperm Count in French Men Drops by a Third, Environment Suspected
A comprehensive new study points a disapproving finger at endocrine disruptors.

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