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Study finds possible reason for massive decline in worldwide sperm counts: 'Action to reduce ... exposure is needed'

The decline in worldwide sperm counts has seemed to be accelerating.

The decline in worldwide sperm counts seemed to be accelerating.

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Two common pesticides may be responsible for the plunge in worldwide sperm counts.

CNN reported on Nov. 15 that an analysis of studies shows a "strong association" between the 51% decline in worldwide sperm counts over the last 50 years and the use of organophosphates and N-methyl carbamates.

What's happening?

The analysis, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, evaluated 25 studies that tracked 1,774 men.

Researchers noted sperm concentrations — the number of sperm per milliliter of semen (a fluid ounce is about 30 milliliters). While sperm count is a better indicator of future fertility, sperm concentration allowed the study authors to account for variability in semen volume, according to CNN.

Those with high exposure to the pesticides, including agriculture workers, "had significantly less sperm concentration than men who had the least exposure," CNN's Sandee LaMotte wrote.

Organophosphates are used to create herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, nerve gas, plastics, and solvents, according to an article posted by the National Library of Medicine.

"They are widely used in agriculture on the crops we eat," senior study author Melissa Perry, dean of the College of Public Health at George Mason University, told CNN.

The outlet noted, "N-methyl carbamates are structurally and operationally similar to organophosphates, killing insects by damaging their brains and nervous systems."

Why is this important?

CNN reported last year that the decline in worldwide sperm counts has seemed to be accelerating.

"This really is a public health issue," Perry told CNN. "We can take an individual approach, but it is on a population basis that people are being exposed to pesticides and other factors.

"Action to reduce insecticide exposure is needed, so that if men want to father children, they're going to be able to do so without being concerned about overall reductions in sperm concentration."

What can be done?

One way to avoid pesticides is to eat organic food, which has little to no pesticide residue, CNN reported earlier this year.

If organic food is not an option — its availability and cost can be prohibitive — consumers can get rid of pesticides by gently rubbing produce while thoroughly washing it under water. If it needs to be peeled, that step should come afterward.

Growing your own food — even if you live in an apartment — also ensures you control what it contacts.

Before preparing fresh food, wash your hands with soap and warm water. Scrubbing produce with a clean vegetable brush and drying it with a clean cloth or paper towel can help remove bacteria too.

"My best advice is to be aware of insecticides in one's environment and to recognize that avoiding unnecessary insecticide exposure is a good thing, especially if you're planning on a family and wanting to conceive children," Perry said.

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