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BMJ. 1994 Jul 2; 309(6946): 19–22.
PMCID: PMC2542636

Decline in sperm counts: an artefact of changed reference range of "normal"?


OBJECTIVE--To investigate a reported fall in sperm counts during 1940-90 in relation to the reduced lower reference value of "normal" during the same period by assuming the null hypothesis that no change had occurred in the probability distribution of the sperm concentration. DESIGN--Analysis by using various mathematical models of the probability distribution of sperm concentration together with experimental data which supported a model employing a logarithmic distribution. SUBJECTS--235 men presenting for stimulated in vitro fertilisation at Midland Fertility Services, Aldridge, in 1992 together with samples of 20 ejaculates from each of five men attending the same centre during 1992-3. RESULTS--The effect of the change in lower reference value for the "normal" sperm concentration (from 60 x 10(9) to 20 x 10(9)/l) depended on the probability distribution of the concentration in the population. If that distribution was normal or uniform, then very little of the reported decline was a consequence of the change in lower reference value. If it was heavily skewed, then most or all of the reported decline may have been a consequence of that change. The limited experimental data available indicate that the distribution was heavily skewed. CONCLUSIONS--Depending on the actual distribution of sperm concentration in the population, the reported decline in concentration may have been accounted for entirely or in part by the change in lower reference value. The original evidence does not support the hypothesis that the sperm count declined significantly between 1940 and 1990.

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  • Carlsen E, Giwercman A, Keiding N, Skakkebaek NE. Evidence for decreasing quality of semen during past 50 years. BMJ. 1992 Sep 12;305(6854):609–613. [PMC free article] [PubMed]

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