Infertility is becoming an increasing problem worldwide, but especially in the West, and it is not just women who are becoming infertile, but men as well. Sperm counts have been dropping steadily among men in the west for the last 50 years, and according to a study carried out at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem four or five years ago they are currently falling at an average rate of 1.4% every year.
Worryingly, it seems that scientists donít know what is causing this decline in sperm count, nor do they know what to do about it. After the Jerusalem study, another one was carried out and published in Human Reproduction Update. This one analysed over 100 previous studies on the subject and Professor Daniel Brison of Manchester University said that itsí shocking results should act as a "wake-up call to prompt active research in the area".
The World Health Organisation described current knowledge of male infertility as "very low", a relative ignorance that has since been acknowledged by the UK Medical Research Council, which has issued a call for scientists to put forward projects in the field for funding. Professor Chris Barratt of Dundee University said: "We are still relatively ignorant about the causes of male infertility, and as a matter of urgency we need to increase, substantially, our research effort into male reproductive health."
Professor Richard Sharpe of Edinburgh University said: "The end of humanity is not approaching," but at the individual level, for affected people, this trend could be tragic. We have no treatments for improving sperm production in infertile men, and we have no idea about what is the cause of the condition. We cannot remedy it. So we are completely hamstrung."
Sharpe also said that the problem is particularly urgent in the West because couples are leaving it a lot later to have families. According to the Office of National Statistics, 55% of new mothers in 2017 were over 30 which was an increase on 48% in 2007 and 43% in 1997. 67% of fathers were over 30. Furthermore, in 2017, there were 679,106 live births in England and Wales which was the lowest number since 2006.
In addition, when a woman reaches the age of 32 her chances of conceiving start to decline, until by the age of 40 it has fallen by half. At the same time, more and more men now have sperm counts low enough to affect their ability to reproduce. According to Professor Sharpe, this is a double whammy because couples wait until they are over 30 and then find that they are having problems. This seems to be partly due to the fact that more women want to establish themselves in their careers and become financially independent before starting a family.
The problem gets even more complicated because nobody knows what is causing the decline in sperm counts. It has been blamed on everything from cannabis, to oral contraceptives affecting drinking water, to mobile phones, but there has been no evidence to link any of these to the problem. Furthermore, the problem seems to be mainly confined to men in the West.
One possible problem may be stress. There is no doubt that in the 21st century life is stressful. Getting to and from work can easily be an hourís commute each way, and then more and more is expected of us at work. Everybody seems to be rushing about all the time because there is so much to do.
One way of treating stress and reducing it is the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine, which has gained much greater acceptance in the West in the last 50 years. Acupuncture for fertility in London is being used more widely and has produced some promising results in both men and women. Couples who have been striving to conceive in their 30ís are now managing to do so after sessions using acupuncture. While there is not a 100% success rate, the percentage of couples managing to conceive is quite high, although there do not seem to be any definite figures quoted.
Nonetheless, if you are a couple in your 30ís that is struggling with starting a family, a course of acupuncture may very well prove to be the answer.