Male Infertility on the Rise as Reproduction Rates Drop Worldwide
By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
It affects between 10 and 15 percent of all couples trying to have children, and yet it is one of the most misunderstood and unrecognized health concerns worldwide.
“Infertility is a real medical condition for couples of all races, ages and economic strata,” said fertility specialist and president of the Mexican Association of Reproductive Medicine (AMMR) Álvaro Santibañez.
“It can happen to just about anyone, and while it is more common in older couples, many younger couples also have reproductive problems. But while the good news is that there is treatment available that can help the majority of these couples, most of them do not seek medical attention or wait until it is less likely to be effective.”
One of the biggest deterrents to getting timely treatment is the inherent stigmas that go along with infertility issues, he said.
“People often tend to blame the woman, and many women feel too ashamed or embarrassed to even talk about the subject,” said Santibañez, who spoke during a medical conference organized by the Plan M support and awareness organization for Mexican couples facing infertility.
And men, especially Mexican men with macho complexes, are equally shy to get medical help.
“But in about half of the cases we see, it is not the woman’s body that is the problem, but the man’s,” Santibañez said.
In fact, according to a recent study conducted by Stanford University, it is the male partner that is the root cause of most modern infertility problems worldwide.
The growing rate of male infertility has become a major concern for health practitioners around the globe and the World Health Organization (WHO) has described the trend as a “global existential crisis” that, left unresolved, could threaten human survival.
As Santibañez noted, low fertility in men is not affected by economic factors, and is being registered consistently in low-, middle- and high-income countries.
Normal sperm count ranges from 15 million sperm per milliliter to 200 million per milliliter. The WHO considers a rate below 15 million as “low,” and low sperm counts are now blamed for an astonishing 60 percent of all infertility cases.
But while hormonal and surgical treatments for women are more and more commonly available as the root cause of their reproductive health concerns are better understood, the underlying conditions affecting male fertility are still generally underdiagnosed and undertreated.
And male infertility doesn’t just alter a man’s ability to produce children; it also increases his mortality risk.
According to the Stanford University study, infertile men die younger than their fertile peers and have a 50-percent greater chance of being hospitalized in general.
Moreover, poor male fertility has been linked with increased rates of diabetes, heart disease and cancers.
Recent studies in the United States and Europe have shown that, over the last 40 years, average male sperm counts have dropped by 50 percent.
Some lifestyle choices such as smoking, alcohol consumption, illegal drug use, poor diet and past or present genital infections, as well as exposure to environmental toxins have been shown to increase infertility among both men and women.
Stress and poor sleep habits may also affect a man’s sperm count.
But scientists think that there are other factors afoot in the case of male infertility, and they have, as yet, not identified them.
Despite the evidence of declining sperm counts worldwide and an increasing prevalence of male infertility, there is still limited public awareness of the problem.
In most cases today, male infertility is treated through enhanced artificial insemination and/or invitro fertilization, although there are methods being developed to promote increased sperm production.
“The first step in dealing with the issue is to recognize that both male and female infertility are medical conditions and, like any other medical condition, can be treated,” said Plan M founder Vincent Payet.
“We need to move past archaic stereotypes and misconceptions and stop pointing blame for the reproductive health issues.”
Regardless of whose body is responsible for a couple’s infertility, the main goal is to have a healthy child, and with modern medical science and a greater awareness, that goal is now usually attainable, he said.