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Article posted Oct 23 2008, 1:24 AM Category: Brave New World Source: AAP Print

New Zealand men have poor quality sperm - study

By Tamara McLean

THE quality of New Zealand men's sperm has halved in two decades - the most dramatic drop of any western country.

Research presented to a gathering of international fertility researchers in Brisbane today was told that the sperm volume carried by the average New Zealand man decreased from about 110 million to 50 million per millilitre between 1987 and 2007.

"It's rather dramatic indeed, and one of the largest seen in studies in other parts of the world," said lead researcher Dr John Peek of Fertility Associates in Auckland.

He said the fall represented a drop from very good to good sperm quality.

But if the downward trend continued towards the 20 million "danger mark, we would definitely be running into trouble".

The findings, to be published in the New Zealand Medical Journal, are based on sperm quality data from men volunteering as anonymous sperm donors.

The biggest drop was seen in the first decade with a slower decline in recent years.

This contrasts with Australia and the United States, where no decline has been seen. Studies from Scotland and France show marginal declines.

Dr Peek said there were two broad theories on sperm quality decline, one being that semen was affected by environmental toxins, diet and modern changes in lifestyle.

"The other is that it is a consequence of what happened when the guy was a baby in the womb, and what his mother was exposed to, but it's still unclear," he said.

Sydney specialist Professor Michael Chapman, from IVF Australia, said the trend was "worrying" for our Antipodean neighbours, saying it was to such a degree that it was unlikely to be random chance.

"Maybe they have something else going on over the Tasman," Prof Chapman said.

But Professor Rob McLachlan, director of Andrology Australia in Melbourne, said any trend was likely to be global, and the jury was still out as several studies were contradictory.

"Global trends are differing so we don't have a clear picture on this yet," Prof McLachlan said.

"New Zealand is unlikely to have a different situation unless," he joked, "you consider all the fertile New Zealand men may be heading over here".

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