An increasing body of research is supporting the belief that the chemicals we come across in our everyday lives are reducing fertility, particularly in men.
A recent book Count Down published in February 2021 by renowned epidemiologist Professor Shanna Swan asserts that the sperm count of Western men has plunged by more than 50 per cent in the past 40 years.
Professor Swan said we can’t keep blaming our fertility problems on delayed childbearing, choice or lifestyle. Chemicals are one of the main causes of fertility issues and they are everywhere surrounding us in our everyday lives from what we eat, breathe to the products we use.
While we know that lifestyle factors like diet, exercise and obesity play a role in fertility health, chemicals are now considered to also have a significant impact on fertility health.
Called endocrine-disrupting chemicals these fertility harming chemicals are everywhere.
Professor Swan said the problem with these everyday chemicals is that they can interfere or mimic the body’s sex hormones – such as testosterone and oestrogen – they can make the body think it has enough of a particular hormone and it doesn’t need to make any more, so production goes down[i].
So what chemicals should men avoid and how do you know if you have a problem?
Chemicals to avoid
The chemicals in society and our workplaces that are most concerning for men include:
- Soft flexible plastics containing phthalate chemicals (often used in food processing, manufacturing and packaging)
- Hardened plastic containing bisphenol (BPA), also found in cash register receipts and some canned-food containers
- Scented household and personal products containing phthalate (used to hold the scent)
- Flame retardants
- Diesel fumes.
In the workplace, men should try to avoid these toxins or use protective safety equipment.
At home, Professor Swan recommends you could avoid overly processed and packaged foods, avoid cooking with Teflon or anything coated in plastic, and don’t microwave in plastic. For personal care and household products use a minimum of simple products and try and avoid those that are scented[ii].
How to check your sperm health?
The methods of evaluating male infertility have typically been limited to a semen analysis measuring the sperm’s count, motility and morphology. However, studies have shown up to 8 per cent of infertile men have high levels of sperm DNA fragmentation despite a normal semen analysis[iii].
New studies suggest that sperm with certain levels of DNA fragmentation serve as a strong predictor of reduced male fertility. The development of a healthy embryo is initiated when the chromosomes from the female’s egg combine with chromosomes from the sperm. These chromosomes consist of strands of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), which can become damaged. Research indicates that sperm with high levels of DNA fragmentation have a lower probability of producing a successful pregnancy[iv].
In an effort to achieve the most effective measurement of male fertility potential, sperm DNA fragmentation analysis is an option.
While DNA fragmentation in sperm can be caused by exposure to chemical toxins, it can also be caused by: drugs; chemotherapy and radiation therapy; cigarette smoking; genital tract inflammation; testicular hyperthermia (use of hot baths, saunas, laptop computers and prolonged periods of driving); varicoceles; hormone factors; infrequent ejaculation; and a male’s age.
Females should also be taking precautions against environmental chemical toxins as Prof. Swan says a lot of the exposure that causes these changes in male fertility occurs in utero when the fetus is first forming. These rapidly dividing cells are most sensitive. The hits then continue through childhood, adolescence and adulthood[v].
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[iii] Sakkas et.al. 2010, ‘Sperm DNA fragmentation: Mechanism of origin, impact on reproductive outcome, and analysis’, Fertility and Sterility, Vol.93, no.4, pp. 1027-1036.
[iv] Evenson, D & Wixon, R 2006, ‘Meta-analysis sperm DNA fragmentation using the sperm chromatin structure assay’, Reprod Biomed Online, vol 12, no.4, pp.466-472.