In recent times Hulu’s hit show “The Handmaid’s Tale” has been receiving a lot of praise. The cinematography is beautiful, the storyline is gripping, and the actors are delivering masterful performances. The depiction of the post-apocalyptic Gilead is chilling and its inhabitants are ruthless. One of the main plot points in the series is humanity’s battle with infertility. In the show, women are initially to blame for the epidemic, but later on, all signs point to it being related to an issue with the male reproductive organs.
An overall drop in sperm count in the Western countries has been detected in the period from 1973 all the way up to 2011. Male fertility is not the only reason why a sperm count is useful. A drop in the number of healthy swimmers in a man’s sperm also indicates that there could be something in our surroundings that is making us sick. During testing on a number of men from Europe, Australia, North America, and New Zealand scientists determined that the sperm count has been on a steady decline, and this should worry us all.
Unfortunately, the data gathered for this has been gathered over a period of 40 years. The issue with analysis that uses data gathered in this way is that they only show that something is occurring, they do not show why something like that is happening. So far the studies have shown that chemicals like bisphenol-A and phthalates have an adverse effect on the sperm count. The bigger issue scientists came across while gathering this data is that the decline is showing no signs of stopping.
During research, scientists were expecting to reach a point where the decline starts leveling off. Surprisingly it is not showing any signs of leveling off. In fact, the decline has become even steeper over the years.
On the other hand, data collected in non-Western countries did not show a similar decline. But scientists are advising against making the assumption that the reason for this is the modern environment and the chemicals that men from western countries are exposed to on a daily basis. There is simply no way to prove this from the data available. Another issue is that there is far less data available about this issue in the non-Western studies, especially from the earlier periods.
It is becoming more and more evident that pollution is one of the main culprits when it comes to issues with male fertility. A recent research from China has shown that over a period of 20 years the country has all but caught up to its Western counterparts due to its rapid technological advancements and the ensuing rise in pollution.
Another big issue with the early research is that there was not enough data and that the sampling pools were biased in its evaluation of potential sperm donors.
In order to bypass this, a research team helmed by Hagai Levine from the Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine used only two databases when conducting their tests. These databases were MEDLINE and EMBASE. They searched through these databases for any document containing the word sperm. Since there is a certain lag between the start of a study and the publishing of its results, the earliest that the necessary data could be collected is the year 1973. All this data underwent initial screening, and if the researchers determined that there was enough valid data, it was moved on for full-text screening.
Some 2,500 studies were deemed relevant enough to be included in the final research. Of those 2,500 studies, only 185 of them met all of the necessary criteria. For a study to be completely viable it needed to contain information about the use of a standard method to collect sperm (put in simpler terms, masturbation), and a standard method for sperm counting. Other studies that have been excluded were the ones that contained subjects with infertility, genital, or other kinds of abnormalities. In order for a study to be taken into account, the men used in it had to be completely healthy. When they determined the final number of studies that can reliably be used the scientists started running statistical analyses in order to determine in which way the subjects of the studies changed over time. It took the scientists close to four years in order to gather all the necessary data thoroughly examine it and put the end results together.
In the end, the researchers determined that more testing needs to be performed in order to find specific causes. The biggest issue is that the field connected to male reproduction has not been researched enough. The reasoning behind this takes us back to Hulu’s “The Handmaiden’s Tale”, and the belief that women are the primary cause for the majority of fertility problems. Luckily scientists have already devised a plan on how to combat this growing issue. Advancements in male fertility drugs have been impressive recently, but additional testing needs to be performed in order for us to have a clearer picture of their overall effects on the male reproductive organs. Another measure that needs to be implemented is reducing and even prevention of smoking. Men that are in the process of trying to conceive a child should also be more physically active. Another important factor is monitoring body weight and having a healthy diet.
Unfortunately, implementing all of this takes time and patience. In the meantime, scientists have started determining other risks located in our surroundings that may negatively impact our health. Even though sperm is more sensitive to environmental contaminants than other parts of the male body that does not mean that we are not at risk.
There are very few people on this planet who enjoy their work more than Aner Banner. His friends often readily admit that Aner eats, sleeps, and breaths science 24 hours a day. He is always challenging old methods, proposing new ideas, and seeking to solve difficult problems. Aner spends most of the day imparting his wisdom to the young minds of a small elementary school. Thankfully he has also mastered the art of making science come alive for the future leaders of our nation. He is loved and well respected by students, parents, and faculty alike. His motto forever remains “never stop learning.