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Mass Infertility - Is fatherhood in peril?

Catherine McDiarmid-Watt | Thursday, January 17, 2008 | 0 comments

Washington DC (PRWEB) January 17, 2008 -- Men's sperm counts appear to be declining in some places around the world. If the drop proves real -- and persists -- it could become a significant discontinuity with disruptions ranging from shifts in male-female dynamics to widespread population declines, explains senior analyst Kristin Nauth in a recent report by the Washington DC-based futurist research and consulting firm Social Technologies.

"A British survey suggested 10% of men in the UK may suffer from low sperm counts, and in Australia, reports indicate one in 20 men is infertile. France, Denmark, and Germany have also found declines in sperm density," she reports.

What is triggering the apparent decline? Scientists don't know, but obesity, increasing use of antidepressants, estrogen-like chemicals that are common in plastics and the environment, and diets rich in hormone-fed beef are among the possible culprits, Nauth says, adding: "The bottom line is that this trend points to the possibility of a major fertility crisis, with serious impacts for both consumers and businesses."


Nauth says she could foresee this wildcard affecting foods, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, genetic services, childcare and education providers, adoption services, dating practices, and more. "It could also lead to explosive growth in the use of fertility treatments, or -- at the other extreme -- the possibility of women using genetics to conceive without men's participation," she adds.

Consider some of the factors that appear to be driving the trend:

Endocrine disruptors. These natural and synthetic estrogens and estrogen-mimickers come from a variety of sources including birth-control effluent in municipal water supplies, plastic beverage bottles that contain estrogen-like bisphenol-A or phthalate esters, and chemicals like nonylphenol that are found in cleaners and pesticides.

Consumption of hormone-fed beef. Consumption of hormone-fed beef four or more times per week by pregnant women may affect testicular development in their male offspring. For instance, men born in the US from 1949-1983 were found to have lower sperm counts if their mothers ate beef daily during pregnancy.

Mobile phone use. Prolonged mobile phone use has also been fingered by several studies to impact sperm counts. In one, men who talked more than four hours/ day on a mobile phone produced 40% fewer sperm than men who never used a mobile; in another, men experienced a 30% drop in sperm count when they carried a mobile in their pants pocket.


But Nauth says there are some factors that could reverse the trend, including:

Organic foods. A broad move by consumers to organic foods and household products -- and/ or a move by producers to "greener" manufacturing -- could counter this wildcard.

BPA-free containers. Compelling new evidence about the hazards of estrogen-mimicking chemicals might force companies to switch to containers made from corn-based or other innovative plastics that are free from BPA and other endocrine disruptors.

Government intervention. Levels of endocrine disruptors in the environment may be too low to cause the kinds of damage that have been imputed to them. The US Food and Drug Administration, and its counterparts in Japan and Germany, have stated they see no threat from BPA, for instance.


With any wildcard, the outcomes could go in a variety of directions, Nauth says.

"At present, sperm count declines are geographically limited, but if chemical culprits are clearly identified in a particular area, regulators and industries around the world would likely ban, restrict, or replace the culpable chemicals with alternatives."

Additionally, though signs of rising infertility have been most pronounced in World 1, they could show up in any region -- especially those with significant chemical contamination.

"That suggests infertility could begin to rise in China or other places where regulation is low and chemical use is rising rapidly," Nauth suggests.

If that happens, she believes the market for fertility treatments would surge in response to mass infertility. Consider these potential outcomes:

Pharmaceutical manufacturers might divert substantial levels of R&D funding to fertility treatments. "In turn, other kinds of health issues could increase in the face of reduced funding," Nauth warns.

Services could arise to provide "fertility certifications" to men in the marriage market.
Medicalized conceptions could become the norm.
International adoptions would increase.

Ultimately, women could seek to conceive without the participation of men.

How would that last outcome come to fruition?

"In 2007," Nauth explains, "German scientists announced they will be able to produce sperm cells from bone marrow by 2010 -- raising the possibility that women's own bone marrow could be used to create 'female sperm' and allow women to bear daughters without fathers."


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About Catherine: I am mom to three grown sons, two grandchildren and two rescue dogs. After years of raising my boys as a single mom, I remarried a wonderful man who had never had a child of his own. Unexpectedly, I found myself pregnant at 49!
Sadly we lost that precious baby at 8 weeks, and decided to try again. Five more losses, turned down for donor egg, foster care and adoption due to my age and losses - we have accepted that there will be no more babies in our house.

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