Male fertility in Spain

If you wondering why there are alot of worried-looking young Spanish males pacing the streets today, it may be because of this morning’s headline news story on all radio and television news channels concerning the “quality of sperm” of young Spaniards.

A recent study has found that more than 50% of men between the age of 18 to 30 years old (57.8%) have inferior quality semen to the standard considered to be normal by the World Health Organization (WHO). This indicator is believed to be directly connected to industrialization and consequently pollution. According to a recent study led by the Institut Marqués this is why males in Catalonia, Valencia and the Basque Country all have inferior quality sperm. However, this does not mean that young men in these areas are infertile just that they are likely to have problems getting their partners pregnant. The Institut Marqués, looked at 60 reproductive centres throughout Spain and the study was endorsed by the Spanish Association of Male Fertility and the National Association of Assisted Reproduction.

The study found that the environment is the major cause of fertility problems amongst males more than lifestyle factors such as tobacco, alcohol, drugs or stress levels. The list of substances that can affect male fertility is quite long and includes pesticides, solvents and disinfectants and other products used in the manufacture of tins, carpets and armchairs amongst other things.

Manel Elbaile, the author of the study believes that it is no coincidence that the quality of semen in the regions of Spain mentioned above are those where most fertility problems were found given that they are also three of the most industrialized areas of the country where pollution levels have increased a lot over the last 50 years.

The study looked at 1,239 men from 17 autonomous communities.

The men were all asked where their mothers had spent their pregnancies given that Elbaile also believes that male fertility is affected during the embryonic stage.

In order to arrive at this conclusion Elbaile looked at the concentration of spermatozoids. The WHO considers 20 million per millilitre to be normal. However, in Spain the study found that 17% of males came below this figure – 22% of males included in the study came below this figure in Valencia, 22.7% in Catalonia and 18.7% in the Basque Country.

Above the average were males in Madrid (14%), Andalucía, (13.7%) and Galicia (8,5%). Elbaile explains that fertility levels in Madrid are better amongst males despite its high pollution levels because its industry produces less contaminating substances that affect endocrines and the quality of the water is also better.

The study which appears in the latest edition of the magazine Andrología concludes that more than 50% of men in Spain have fertility problems after summarizing all those that experience alterations in the concentration, mobility and morphology of their sperm cells – the three parameters that were used to measure fertility levels.

Previous studies on male fertility have also pointed to the loss of the quality of sperm cells since the beginning of the industrialization process. In 1992 the British Medical Journal published a study by the University of Copenhagen that demonstrated that the quality of semen in Europe had gone down by 40% between 1930 and 1992. In fact it found that the rate of spermatozoids per millilitre had gone down from 113 million in 1938 to 66 million.

Another study into male fertility led by Nicolás Olea, from the Medical Research Laboratory for the hospital Clínico de Granada, and Cristóbal Avivar in the area of Integrated Biotechnology for the hospital de Poniente de Almería, looked at the quality of semen amongst 300 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 20 years old and found that 14.5% of the participants did not meet the minimum criteria of concentration of spermatozoids and 32.8% did not exceed mobility criteria.

Marieta Fernández, a researcher involved in this study points out that despite different methodologies ‘something is happening’ to male fertility in Spain and that it is getting more and more difficult to find sperm donors who meet the strict requirements necessary. Fernández also believes that the environment is more important than lifestyle habits.