Does a Man’s Lifestyle Choices Cause Reproductive Problems or Infertility?

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According to the American Physiological Society, certain environmental and lifestyle factors can be damaging to a man’s reproductive health. These factors could also be playing a larger role in decreasing the fertility rates of men in industrialized countries. A new study published in Physiological Review found that socioeconomic influences and female reproductive health can’t solely be to blame for higher rates of infertility.

The Study:

A team of specialists in reproductive health from Denmark, the United States and Finland, reviewed information from the available population and animal studies on reproductive health. The team examined incidences of testicular cancer and male sexual organ development disorders, levels of testosterone, sperm quality, frequency of childlessness, ratio of male-to-female born and the instances of assisted reproduction techniques.

The scientists also looked at factors that may affect a man’s reproductive health. These factors included; gene mutations, environmental and lifestyle factors, chemical exposure, the occurrence of traumatic events, fitness and nutrition.

Upon evaluating this evidence, the scientists found poor semen quality led to an increase of infertility and increased the use of assisted reproduction technology. It also showed higher incidences of testicular cancer all over the world, with it being most common in areas of the world with Caucasian populations.

Lower levels of testosterone in males and an increased incidence of congenital abnormalities of the sex organs in male infants was also noted.
Dr. Niels Skakkebaek, lead study researcher, noted, “I was surprised that we found such poor semen quality among young men ages 20 to 25. We found that the average man had more than 90 percent abnormal sperm. Normally, there would be so many sperm that a few abnormal ones would not affect fertility. However, it appears that we are at a tipping point in industrialized countries where poor semen quality is so widespread that we must suspect that it results in lower pregnancy rates.”

Many of the issues experienced by male fetuses, were witnessed in utero. While these issues could be the results of genetic changes, the team wrote, “Recent evidence suggests that most often it is related to environmental exposure of the fetal testis.”

Dr. Skakkebaek went on to further state, “Since, the disorders in male genitals are increasing in a relatively short period of time, genetics cannot explain this development. There is no doubt that environmental factors are playing a role and that endocrine [hormone]-disrupting chemicals, which have the same effect on animals, are under great suspicion. The exposure that young people are subjected to today can determine not only their own, but also their children’s, ability to procreate.”

This new study has significant health implications for the general public, according to Skakkebaek, “Governments in industrialized countries seem much more interested in the current economic aspects of low birth rates and do not see the writing on the wall for the long-term environmental effects on our population’s ability to reproduce.”

Conclusion to the Study

Skakkebaek stated in closing, “If socioeconomic factors alone were behind the current trends, they could be reversed by political measures. On the other hand, if our populations have become less fertile or more people have become infertile, it is a much bigger problem for our society. Only biomedical research can identify and solve problems.”


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