Television Halves Sperm Count
If you're worried that there simply aren't enough people in this world, then you'll be horrified to learn that sperm count is on the decline. Everywhere on the planet, the quantity of men's sperm seems to be dropping steadily.1 And now a new study just published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reveals what one of the culprits might be: too much television. The study shows that men who watch more than 20 hours of TV a week have sperm counts 44 percent lower than men who watch the fewest hours.2 And no, it doesn't matter if those television-addicted guys spend their time rooting for their favorite football team versus enjoying Family Feud. Apparently sports shows do not confer masculinity on those who merely watch.
It seems that sitting watching TV afflicts the same region of the anatomy as tight shorts. Dr. Allan Pacey of the University of Sheffield in Great Britain explains, "We know that men who wear too tight underwear have poorer sperm. So it's not a million miles away from sitting on the sofa ... for too long and heating up your testicles for too long. It's the same mechanism I would suspect."
The sperm study, out of the Harvard School of Public Health, involved 189 healthy young men between the ages of 18-22. The researchers controlled for diet, smoking, stress levels, exercise, and television-watching habits. Not only did they find that TV watching habits affect sperm; they also discovered that those subjects who exercised vigorously more than 15 hours a week had sperm counts 77 percent higher than those who only exercised five hours or less. Not surprisingly, those who exercised the most spent less time watching TV anyway. For those who did manage to both exercise and watch plenty of television, the benefits of exercise were cancelled out, sperm-wise; in other words, intense exercise didn't raise sperm count if accompanied by lots of hours in front of the TV.
It seems, though, that the type of exercise matters. The researchers found that light effort, such as a stroll around the neighborhood with Rover, doesn't raise sperm count no matter how much time it involves. For the sperm boost, the exercise needs to be at least moderately strenuous. On the other hand, previous research has shown that certain forms of strenuous exercise, such as bike riding and running in tight shorts, actually impairs sperm production.
So the formula for prolific sperm production seems to be steer clear of TV watching, wear baggy boxer shorts and hit the gym for at least two hours a day. Scientists warn that this is an important prescription because sperm count across the globe has been on the rapid decline for years. In 1992, a study published in the British Medical Journal concluded that sperm count had been halved in the preceding 50 years, from 116 million per ml to 66 per ml by 1990.3 Then a subsequent study of 26,000 French men, published in the journal Human Reproduction, found that in the short 17 years between 1989 and 2005, average sperm counts plummeted by yet another one-third, from 73.6 million sperm per milliliter to 49.9 million/ml.4 Also, one-third fewer of the sperm tested later were normally formed.
The low sperm count numbers don't necessarily spell infertility. Male infertility is usually defined as fewer than 15,000 sperm per milliliter, but the World Health Organization does say that a sperm count under 55,000 can indicate at least a delay in successful conception. Given the downward trend and the fact that the French study found an average sperm count under that 55,000 threshold in 2005, a fertility crisis may well be looming.
But the world population is now over seven billion and expected to grow to 10.5 billion by 2050, so you might not consider a fertility crisis a bad thing.5 Fewer people means less competition for parking spots, fewer high-rises cluttering your view of the skyline, and a decrease in fumes on the freeway during your commute home. You may, in fact, wonder where one-third more people would even fit. But the scientists say that their concern isn't so much about the possibility of declines in population growth. Rather, they worry that, beyond tight shorts and TV, sperm decline may be a side effect of environmental changes that could have implications for other devastating health effects over the long haul.
"If the decline is real, then an essential aspect of the human animal is being changed very rapidly in only a few generations," said Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist from the University of Ottawa. "Rapid changes in reproductive function may indicate serious changes in our environment, which may be affecting our health so far in undetectable ways."
Some experts suspect the sperm decline may also be linked to soy-based products, which have estrogenic effects, as well as to additives in food which upset the body's hormonal system. For instance, farmers often give hormones to cows to increase their milk production, and then consumers ingest those hormones when they eat dairy products. Also, most of us unwittingly suffer frequent exposure to pollutants that have estrogenic effects, such as BPA, the omnipresent plastic additive. As Jon Barron has noted in the past, studies show that 90 percent of us have BPA in our urine. BPA has been linked to erectile dysfunction and reproductive problems, as well as to cancer, Alzheimer's Disease, Down syndrome, obesity, and diabetes.
Other environmental toxins and factors also may play a role--even cell phones, some suspect. Also, high-fat diets may be linked to low sperm count. A recent study published in Human Reproduction found that subjects who had the highest intake of saturated fat had a 43 percent lower sperm count compared to those who consumed the least fat.6 Another study back in 2003 found a link between exposure to pesticides and lower-than-average sperm count.7 And yet other studies have connected low sperm counts with junk-food diets.
In short, as global use of synthetics expands, as the diet worldwide trends Westward, as pesticides and toxins seep into the soil and water everywhere, and as we spend more and more times glued to our TV's, our bodies react and revolt. One manifestation of that revolt may be the ever-dwindling average sperm count that could eventually lead to a sterility crisis that's the stuff of science fiction. Right now it seems that significant exercise can counteract the negative effects to some degree--at least if you don't spend too much time glued to the TV. But the message is clear: we've got to clean up our acts if we want to live long and prosper.
- 1. Laurence, Jeremy. "Scientists Warn of Sperm Crisis." 15 December 2012. The Independent. 6 February 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/scientists-warn-of-sperm-count-crisis-8382449.html
- 2. Broyd, Nicki. "TV Viewing Linked to Lower Sperm Count." 5 February 2013. WebMD. 7 February 2013. http://men.webmd.com/news/20130205/tv-lower-sperm-count
- 3. Gammon, Katherine. "Sperm Quality & Quantity Declining, Mounting Evidence Suggests."28 August 2012. Live Science. 7 February 2013. http://www.livescience.com/22694-global-sperm-count-decline.html
- 4. Laurance, Jeremy. "Scientists Warn of Sperm Count Crisis." 5 December 2012. The Independent. 7 February 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/scientists-warn-of-sperm-count-crisis-8382449.html
- 5. "World Population. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_population
- 6. Ðiet ‘linked' to low sperm count." 14 March 2012. BBC Health. 7 February 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-17353804
- 7. Rubin, Rita. "Pesticides lower sperm levels, study finds." 17 June 2003. USA Today. 7 February 2013. http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/health/2003-06-17-pesticide-usat_x.htm