Most men in the US and Europe could be infertile by 2060, according to a new study

Sperm count in men from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand declined by 50-60% between 1973 and 2011, as per to a new study from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Surprisingly, the study, which analyzed data on the sperm counts of 42,935 men, found no decrease in sperm counts in men from Asia, Africa and South America, although there was restricted data from these areas.

In general, this is a very disturbing report. There has been a longstanding debate among scientists as to whether sperm counts have declined or not. But what’s different about this study is the quality of the analysis. It was done in a systematic manner, accounting for numerous of the problems that had affected earlier studies, such as the method utilized to count sperm and comparing studies performed at times decades apart. As such, most experts consent that the data presented is of a high quality and that the conclusions, although alarming, are reliable.

So what is going on? There has been concern for a number of years about an increase in abnormalities in male reproductive health, such as testicular cancer. The decline in sperm counts is consistent with these increases and this adds weight to the concept that male reproductive health is under attack and is declining fast.

In fact, if the data on sperm counts is extrapolated to its logical conclusion, men will have little or no reproductive capacity from 2060 onwards. The most rational explanation for the decrease in male reproductive health is the changes in the environment. Current research recommends that the male fetus is mainly susceptible to exposure to pollutants and so changes that take place early in fetal life can have a very significant effect on the adult.

What can be done?

The easy answer is that we require much more research to find out why this decline in sperm count is happening. We cannot be complacent about the possible negative effect on fertility and must now urgently rally to substantially increase the research effort into male reproductive health.

Also, although the prevailing proof shows a decline in reproductive health, not all studies show this; there are some geographical differences. It will be critical to determine what the key differences between geographical regions are—such as genetic differences and exposure to specific pollutants—so we can then examine treatment strategies to limit these negative effects.

If it’s the fetus that is largely affected, what can the adult man do? Even in adults, exposure to chemicals, such as bisphenol A, which are thought to affect fertility, can have a negative effect, so men should limit their exposure to toxic chemicals. This includes stopping cigarette smoking. Also, a healthy lifestyle is very important as there is a known link between obesity and decreased sperm count.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.