Sperm counts are falling and chemical exposure is to blame, according to epidemiologist Shanna H. Swan. This sounds like something from The Handmaid’s Tale or Children of Men, but is an actual global issue we’re facing today. The co-author of a new book is sharing their research. Recently, they caught USA Today up on their findings. By 2045, for most people, reproduction in the old-fashioned way won’t be fruitful. While there are many contributing factors to lowering fertility rates, Swan’s research outlines why endocrine-disrupting chemicals are causing men to become infertile. The book also outlines how to cut down these risk factors, but it isn’t necessarily clearcut or easy.
There are two main points to understand from their research. The first point is that more men are infertile and that is going to continue to get worse as time goes on. The second point is what’s causing it, which they say is endocrine-disrupting chemicals. So, chemicals that cause changes in our endocrine systems, which changes our hormones, which changes how our bodies function. These are chemicals that are considered forever chemicals. While they include “forever chemicals”, which don’t wash out, we are also susceptible to problems from water-soluble solutions.
How do we avoid these chemicals that are causing more men to become infertile? We don’t. We brush up against endocrine-disrupting chemicals every time we eat processed food, wash our hair with shampoo, or walk barefoot on a vinyl floor. Increasingly, these types of chemicals are showing up in our water. Most of our soaps have phthalates, our plastics have BPA, and when we find BPA-free plastics, they’re mostly created by companies who found another solution but with materials that still have endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
These chemicals are also affecting animals in our environment. They are causing higher rates of infertile males in humans and animals. While their new book covers ways to cut down on plastic and has actions plans for how to improve the situation, their action plan acknowledges that completing avoiding endocrine-disrupting chemicals is not a realistic goal. Within that reality, there are still ways for people to take action to protect themselves and future generations.
The new book has one of the longest titles you’ve ever seen, but the authors wanted you to know their hypothesis straight off. The book is called Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race. The last part is where things get particularly dark and hit home for people. Swan co-wrote with science writer Stacey Colino. The first part of their research covers that sperm counts are falling. More men are becoming infertile. In North America, Australia, New Zealand, and across Europe, male fertility from 1973 to 2011 declined by 59%.
There are researchers that insist we don’t have enough evidence to say that more men are infertile. Those experts say that because research methods have changed over the years, meaning that the standards for data collection have shifted, there is no way to know that the rates of fertility are different. When the suggestion of a decline in male fertility was first brought to attention within the scientific community in the early 1990s, it was looked down on. Today, while there are still disbelievers, this part of the puzzle has been more expected. More men are infertile, and it’s going to get worse.
Now, the argument within the scientific community is about what the causes are. For Swan and Collino, they make very clear that the issue is endocrine-disrupting chemicals. However, there are plenty of contributing factors, which they also acknowledge. Where the hot topic used to be “Are more men even becoming infertile?”, now the focus is on “Why?”. How big of a factor are the endocrine-disrupting chemicals? Is that the main focus when we talk about infertile men, or should the focus be on other health risks?
According to the authors of Count Down, it’s the biggest health risk in terms of an increase in infertile men and many other health risks. Their book suggests doing things like using as much glass in your kitchen as possible and never using anything plastic in your dishwasher or microwave. Still, avoiding plastic isn’t easy for most consumers. Swan and Collino are hopeful that with increased awareness of the situation, government organizations may force companies to prove their products are safe for consumers in these key areas.