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What's the evidence on falling testosteron and sperm counts in men?

by Self-Embedded Agent1 min read10th Aug 202010 comments

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One occasionally hears some concerns about falling testosteron/sperm counts, usually in some narrative about the Good Olden days when Men were still real Men, etc. It sounds a little like ' they are turning the frogs gay' type of stuff, but perhaps there is something to the scientific claim after all.

EDIT: It seems my phrasing has unnecessarily antagonized people. Please believe this is a good-faith question. Also, after researching the issue I have become significantly more concerned than before.

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This is a lazy post. You can easily find papers on this in google scholar.

See e.g. doi: 10.1210/jc.2006-1375

"A Population-Level Decline in Serum Testosterone Levels in American Men"

There has also been a large decline in sperm counts. The declines seem to have started about mid C20.

At one point, sceptics were quite vocal in their view this was not real but they have gone quiet of late e.g. Professor David Handelsman.

It is interesting that because "normal" levels are based on population samples, the normal levels have been reduced in some places as a result. Levels considered normal now would have been considered seriously low not too long ago.

There is little or no interest in finding out why this is happening. Theories abound.

Estrogen mimics in foods (soy. industrial milk, grains and grain and soy based oils), pesticides, water supplies (excreted estrogen from women taking birth control). My own suspicion is that it is due to a combination of factors

Note in this space be aware that many of the studies have been industry funded and seemingly rigged to produce a desired outcome that product X "has no [statistically] significant effect." Which result is not surprising given that the study was seemingly made so small and of such a short duration that only a huge effect would give the magic p<0.05.

I STRONGLY suspect it has a lot to do with xenoestrogen and endocrine disruption effects from plastic and rampant pesticide/herbicide use.

-4Aaron Franklin Esq7moI strongly suspect that its Estrogen/ Estradiol being prevalent AND subsidized vs Testosterone being a scheduled drug - illegal (They even lowered the amount considered "low" for medicinal purposes). After 30 years, well, people follow incentives. Cascading downstream endocrine effects are expected.
4CellBioGuy7moYou will run across many orders of magnitude more plastic lechate, pesticide, and herbicide than you will of pharmaceutical estrogens unless you are taking them. They don't even double the quantity excreted by women taking them as contraceptives, so the main exposure route is barely affected.

Thank you Waveman.

For the record, it wasn't my intention to antagonize anybody with my tongue-in-cheek phrasing. Nostalgic macho cowboys have feelings too =)

From Waveman's article:

These findings indicate that the past 20 yr have seen substantial age-independent decreases in male serum T concentrations, decreases that do not appear to be the consequence of the contemporaneous trends in health and lifestyle considered here. It remains unclear to what these apparent population-level decreases in T are attributable.

I would add that your narrative that this is a myth propagated by nostalgic macho cowboys is not evidence.

Coming back at this issue it seems possibly quite serious, it certainly seems underexamined.

I found this Vox article and the wikipedia page useful. It seems quite clear that there is quite a large drop in Western countries. That a similar drop isn't seen in non-Western countries is especially telling.

The Vox article also points towards research into in-utero exposure to certain chemicals permanently decreasing sperm count. This also seems quite scary.

For example, there’s compelling data that in utero phthalate exposure is linked to a decrease in something called “anogenital distance,” or AGD, in male babies. AGD is the space between the anus and the genitals, and a man’s is usually twice as long as a woman’s. In men, a shorter AGD has been associated with poorer semen quality, less testosterone, and a higher risk of infertility.

One of the scientists to first describe this phenomenon, Mount Sinai’s Shanna Swan, told Vox that these early chemical exposures have lifelong results. “The lowered androgen and alteration of development that happens in utero [results in] changes that are lifelong,” she said. “They are not correctable. Maybe in the future with genetic modification, you can alter a man’s germ cells that produce his sperm — but for now, if those are impacted adversely, a man will have a lowered sperm count his whole life.”

Separately, a March 2019 study found exposure to phthalates and polychlorinated biphenyl — again, two ingredients found in plastics — damaged the quality of sperm exposed to the chemicals.

 

This Forbes article is a typical piece about falling testosterone counts in men. Much is made of changing cultural mores, social expectations of men, etc. The biological component seems to get mentioned only in passing.

I found this article by urologists quite frightening. The effect size is eye-popping.

After controlling for confounders—including year of study, age, race, BMI, comorbidity status, alcohol and smoking use, and level of physical activity—total testosterone was lower among men in the later (2011-2016) versus earlier (1999-2000) cycles (P < 0.001). Mean total testosterone decreased from 1999-2000 (605.39 ng/dL), 2003-2004 (567.44 ng/dL), 2011-2012 (424.96 ng/dL), 2013-2014 (431.76 ng/dL), and 2015-2016 (451.22 ng/dL; all P < .0001).

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They didn't turn the frogs gay, they turned them *trans*: https://news.berkeley.edu/2010/03/01/frogs/

Amphibians are basically the semi-permeable canaries in the coal mine when it comes to environmental toxins and pollutants. If it damages frogs that means it damages everything, just slower.

Interestingly, the "turning the frogs gay" thing was actually related to a real scientific study that showed real effects (including castration) of certain chemicals on frogs. However, Alex Jones was trying to say that this somehow was an evil government plot to turn humans gay, which it isn't.