Fertility & Sperm: The Lowdown

Hadassah On Call: New Frontiers in Medicine
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Season
4
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Episode
4

Our latest episode dives into the findings of a new study showing a drastic decrease in sperm count and sperm concentration over the past decades. Listen as Professor Hagai Levine, public health physician, epidemiologist and head of the environmental health track of the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health, discusses how this can impact fertility. 

About this episode

Professor Hagai Levine is a public health physician, epidemiologist and head of the environmental health track of the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health. His experience is in both the academic and practical components of disaster and emergency preparedness. Dr. Levine is also assistant professor at the Hebrew University and adjunct assistant professor at Mount Sinai, New York. He has authored 70 peer-review publications and his area of research includes the public health perspective on preparedness and mitigation of environmental disasters, epidemics and pandemics. He is currently the chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians and has had past roles in the Israel Defense Forces (Head of Epidemiology Section) and the Ministry of Health. Dr. Levine has trained Israeli and international teams on the epidemiological and public health aspects of emergency preparedness.

Dr. Levine earned a Bachelor of Medical Sciences degree, with honors, from the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in 1999. He went on to earn a BA, with distinction, also at Hebrew University, where he then earned his medical degree (2003). He did his medical residency from 2005 until 2010 with Israel Defense Forces’ Medical Corps and earned a MPH Magna cum laude at the Sackler Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University in 2010.


"We have a serious problem on our hands that, if not mitigated, could threaten mankind's survival," Professor Hagai Levine of the Hebrew University-Hadassah Braun School of Public Health tells host Maayan Hoffman in the newest episode of the Hadassah On Call: New Frontiers in Medicine podcast.

A new paper by Levine has shown a drastic decrease in sperm count and sperm concentration over the past decades. This decline could impact fertility.

Specifically, Levine and a team of scientists from Denmark, Brazil, Spain and the United States found that between 1973 and 2018, there was a 52% decline in sperm concentration and a 62% decline for total sperm count among men from all around the world.

Even more striking, Levine adds, is that when examining sperm count and concentration since the year 2000, the declines have more than doubled. There is a 2.6% decline in sperm count each year beginning this century. "That means that children today, when they reach age 20, have lower sperm counts than their fathers at age 50," Levine explains.

What is causing this?

The causes are multifactorial, but Levine says some of this is likely linked to external factors impacting pregnant mothers: what environmental toxins they were exposed to, what they ate (was their food ridden with pesticides?) and how stressed they were.

Levine specifically highlights the negative impact of endocrine disrupting chemicals such as plasticisers, pesticides and herbicides, as well as heavy metals, toxic gasses, air pollution and poor lifestyle choices, such as sedentary behavior, poor diet and smoking, as all are tied to abnormal sperm count.

Beyond reducing the chances of conceiving, low sperm count can also lead to increased morbidity and earlier mortality.

"We urgently call for global action to promote healthier environments for all species and reduce exposures and behaviors that threaten our reproductive health," Levine says.

Further learning:

"Hadassah On Call: New Frontiers in Medicine" is a production of Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America. Hadassah enhances the health of people around the world through medical education, care and research innovations at the Hadassah Medical Organization. For more information on the latest advances in medicine please head over to hadassah.org.

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The show is hosted by Maayan Hoffman and produced by the team at the Hadassah offices in both New York and Israel.

Read a transcript of this episode.

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Our recent episode with Dr. Inbal Reuveni:

If you are enjoying this episode, you'll want to check out our previous episode, "The Truth About Hormones & Women's Mental Health" with Dr.Inbal Reuveni, a discussion about hormones and their effect on women's mental well-being, from PMS to pregnancy to post-menopause, and the research currently in progress to determine risk factors and personalized treatment protocols.

You can find that episode of "Hadassah On Call" on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcast. Or on the web at  hadassah.org/hadassahoncall.

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Watch the interview below.