Scientists have announced that sperm production in young chaps in south-east Spain has fallen 38 per cent in the last decade, and is heading towards the "danger level" where it might prejudice conception.
An international team, headed by the Department of Preventative Medicine and Public Health of the University of Murcia (UMU), first dug out the results of a 2001-2 study by the Medical Research Centre of the University of Granada, which sampled the sperm of 273 men from Almeria aged between 18 and 23 years.
They compared these with "samples collected 10 years later by 215 undergraduates from Murcia, all the while ensuring that both sample groups had the same age range and similar characteristics".
This revealed the number of spermatozoids per millitre is "significantly lower" in the Murcia subjects, who boast just 52 million, compared with the 72 million their Almerian neighbours were pumping out a decade ago.
UMU's Jaime Mendiola warned: "It has been verified in recognised studies that a concentration lower than 40 million per millilitre makes conception more difficult. If the rate of loss we have outlined continues, with an average decline in quality of 2 per cent per year, the sperm of young men could reach this danger level of 40 million/ml in a very short space of time."
The boffins admit their localised result can't be extrapolated to the rest of Spain, but warning bells have also rung in France, following the discovery that the sperm content of Gallic magic water crashed by 32.3 per cent between 1989 and 2005.
The reasons are unclear, although the University of Edinburgh's professor Richard Sharpe fingered "something in our modern lifestyle, diet or environment like chemical exposure" as possible culprits.
The cause of the Spanish sperm crisis is equally obscure, and the UMU team has urged action to identify and tackle the problem. Lead researcher Alberto Torres said: "We believe that some prevention actions involving lifestyle improvements, such as a healthier diet, could increase sperm quality." ®
Thanks to David Pollard for the tip-off.