Sperm count is down in French men, according to a study published today in the journal Human Reproduction. The investigation, led by environmental health epidemiologist Joëlle Le Moal, found that the number of sperm in one milliliter of the average 35-year-old's semen declined from roughly 74 million in 1989 to about 50 million in 2005 — a roughly 32% decrease.
The researchers note that the decline was continuous — about 1.9% per year — and that it was accompanied by a decrease in the percentage of "morphologically normal" sperm (translation: fewer normally shaped swimmers).
Le Moal tells Reuters Health that these sperm counts are still well within "normal" ranges (the WHO defines anything over 15 million sperm per mL as "normal"), but her team's findings are still significant for several reasons:
- The findings are based on perhaps the largest sample size ever utilized for such a study — over 26,600 participants from across the whole of France.
- What the what?! Even if sperm counts are still within a "normal range," it's pretty surprising to see such a dramatic (not to mention steady) decline across the country.
- If sperm counts continue to drop off at the same steady rate, French men risk dipping into what Le Moal calls "the infertile range."
- The researchers' findings add to a growing body of evidence that suggests sperm counts may actually be on the decline worldwide; Reuters Health points to recent studies in Israel, India, New Zealand, Tunisia, and Boston that have yielded similar results.