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Sperm Health & Plastics

Sperm Health & Plastics

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Do we need to be worried about plastics and sperm health? Well, potentially. We all know that we are dealing with an environmental crisis and plastics are one of the worst culprits when it comes to damaging our climate. 300 million tons of plastic are produced every year and ultimately end up in our landfills and waterways. This is obviously bad news for the planet – but could it be bad news for our fertility?

Sperm count in decline

Over the last couple of years, talk of declining sperm count has been rife in the media – however, it’s definitely not the first time we are hearing about it. Back in the 1990s, a Danish study reported that between 1940 and 1990 average sperm count declined by 50%. This has been backed up by a more recent study that noted once again, that over a roughly fifty-year period (this time 1973 to 2011) sperm count decreased by 50%-60%. That’s around a 1% decrease each year.

One doctor involved in this research, Dr Shanna Swan, who is a professor of environmental medicine and public health at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and the author of Count Down – a book all about the worrying decline of both male and female fertility. She believes that by 2045, the majority of couples will have to use assisted fertility, such as IVF or ICSI, to have a baby. She also believes that plastics could be playing a huge role in the decline in male fertility.

Sperm health and plastics

Look, holding a plastic bottle once in a while is not going to render you infertile, but Dr Shanna Swan has a point. Here we’ll try to explain a bit about how consistent exposure to plastics could impact your sperm health.

First, let’s talk about endocrine disruptors

To understand how plastics could be impacting sperm health, we first have to understand the role of endocrine disruptors – chemicals found in plastic, food, and household items, that can harm your hormone health. The endocrine system of our bodies are responsible for hormone production and regulation. Hormones play a key role in many processes in our bodies – including reproduction. The key reproductive hormones – testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone, to name a few, need to be working in balance if men and women are to have a good chance of conceiving naturally.

Endocrine disruptors do exactly what they say – they disrupt your endocrine system – meaning they mess up hormone production and balance.

They do this by mimicking your body’s natural hormones and tricking your body into thinking there are more hormones being produced than there actually are. Because your body wants to be in balance, if it thinks you have too much testosterone, for example, it will start to produce less testosterone. This is bad news for your health, and potentially your fertility because if your body isn’t in balance, which could get in the way of healthy sperm production.

Are endocrine disruptors in plastics?

Endocrine disruptors can be found in many things that we come into contact with every day – from our food to our cleaning products – and they can definitely be found in plastics.

Two of the most common endocrine disruptors linked to plastics are BPA and Phthalates.

BPAs and sperm health

Bisphenol A aka BPA is an industrial chemical used to make plastic. It can be found in many plastic products including food storage containers and plastic bottles. BPAs are most commonly released when the plastics are heated up – so putting that plastic container in the microwave to heat up your leftovers is a real danger zone.

Whilst most research in this space needs to be done some studies have noted a link between BPAs and reduced sperm quality. One study found that men with detectable levels of BPA in their urine had more than three times the risk of lowered sperm concentration and sperm vitality, more than four times the risk of lower sperm count, and more than twice the risk of lower sperm motility than those who did not. BPAs can also have a detrimental impact on female fertility.

Phthalates and sperm health

Phthalates are chemicals used to make plastics more flexible. They can be found in a lot of packaging and things like cling film. They can also be found in a lot of skincare and beauty products, so your skincare routine could be damaging your health!

There have been some studies looking into the link between men’s exposure to phthalates – with mixed results. But things get really interesting (and a bit concerning) when you look at the exposure to phthalates during pregnancy.

Dr Shanna’s research indicates that the biggest impact of phthalates came in-utero. In her study, she found that male rats who were born from mothers who had been exposed to phthalates had smaller penises, which can affect fertility later in life. Another study published in Human Reproduction found sons of mothers exposed to endocrine disruptors during pregnancy – including phthalates – were twice as likely to have low semen volume and concentration compared to sons of unexposed mothers.

How can we reduce our risk of plastics impacting sperm health?

So whether you are a guy looking to protect their fertility or a pregnant mother hoping to protect the fertility of your unborn baby, making some swaps to reduce plastic exposure is not a bad idea!

There are some incredible products out there now that make avoiding plastic easier than ever. Instead of cling film, try beeswax wraps. Commit to using a glass or metal water bottle, rather than a plastic one. Invest in a stainless steel lunchbox and containers so that your food stays fresh without the risk of endocrine-disrupting chemicals making their way into your meal. Another big one is to avoid takeaways – not only are they not great from a nutritional point of view, but they often come in plastic containers that have been warmed up on the journey – a real risk for BPA exposure.

Avoiding plastics alone won’t protect your sperm health – things like having a healthy weight and quitting smoking are probably more important. However, making these swaps will definitely help protect the planet and could protect the fertility of you, and future generations, in the process. So it’s definitely worth considering when you next make a purchase – is this bit of plastic really necessary?

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Wearing tight pants and underwear

Studies show that men who wear looser underwear have higher sperm concentration and total sperm count compared to men who wear tighter underwear. So, lose the tight clothes and wear something loose to give your testicles some air.

CONCLUSION: learn more about how heat can affect sperm quality here.


Besides higher mortality rate and various diseases, stress is associated with low sperm quality. Stress is known to be associated with lower testosterone levels and oxidative stress with both playing an essential role in producing and maintaining healthy sperm cells.

CONCLUSION: If you feel stressed, we recommend you get some help so you can have a balanced mental health. For a stress management guide, download the ExSeed app for free and start your personalized action plan today.

Physical activity

Scientific studies show that men who are physically active have better semen parameters than men who are inactive. Fertility specialists also state that regular physical activity has beneficial impact on sperm fertility parameters and such a lifestyle can enhance the fertility status of men.

Prioritizing exercise can help improve your overall health and result in healthy, fast swimming sperm cells that have good chances of fertilizing an egg.

CONCLUSION: Try incorporating exercise in your weekly schedule to you ensure exercising at least twice weekly. We recommend a combination of cardio training and strength exercise. Read more about exercise and male fertility on our blog.


Fast Food
Processed foods damage the health of sperm-producing cells and cause oxidative stress, which lead to poorer sperm quality. Heavy consumption of junk food (every week) can increase the likelihood of infertility since men who consume vast amounts of unhealthy food are at risk of having poor sperm quality. Besides harming your fertility, junk food enlarges your waistline, harms your cardiovascular system, kidneys, and more.

Eating more fruit and vegetables can increase your sperm concentration and motility. It’s important that you consume a healthy diet filled with antioxidants and that you eat vegetables every day. Foods such as apricots and red bell peppers are high in vitamin A, which improves male fertility by nurturing healthier sperm. Men who are deficient in this vitamin tend to have slow and sluggish sperm.

Sugary snacks/beverages: several times a week Excessive consumption of high sugar items can lead to oxidative stress, which negatively impacts testosterone levels and sperm motility. Sugary snacks and beverages are also highly associated with obesity and low fertility.
CONCLUSION: To boost sperm quality, stay away from fast food, processed food, and sugary snacks or beverages. You need to implement a healthy prudent diet filled with necessary superfoods needed for good sperm production. Check out our guide to Male Fertility Superfoods. For personalized guidance and support on how you can start improving your sperm health, check out the Bootcamp.


Direct heat can inhibit optimal sperm production and cause Sperm DNA damage. Sperm cells like environments that are a couple of degrees lower than body temperature. Avoid overheating from warm blankets, seat warmers, heat from your laptop, hot showers, and saunas.

Cigarette smoking

The exposure to tobacco smoke has significant negative effects on semen quality. The damage of cigarettes and nicotine of course depends on how many cigarettes you smoke per day and for how long, but even low usage (up to 10 cigarettes / day) can inhibit healthy sperm production.  

CONCLUSION: Stay as far away from cigarette smoking as possible if you care about your general health and your fertility. Read more here.

Cell phone

When you have your cell phone in your front pocket, your testicles are exposed to electromagnetic radiation, which studies have shown to damage the sperm cells. Put your phone in the back pocket of your pants or in your jacket pocket.


There is a clear association between obesity and reduced sperm quality. At least part of the reason for this is that obese men may have abnormal reproductive hormonal profiles, which can impair sperm production and lead to infertility. 

A BMI higher than 30 can lead to several processes in the body (overheating, increase in oxidative stress in the testes, sperm DNA damage, erectile dysfunction) that can have a negative impact on male fertility. This can result in problems when trying to conceive.  

CONCLUSION: BMI is one of the risk factors that influence semen quality and, for example, sperm motility.  


A beer or glass of wine now and then do not really harm sperm quality. But excess alcohol drinking (more than 20 units per week) can reduce the production of normally formed sperm needed for a successful pregnancy.

CONCLUSION: If you want to stay safe, stay under 14 units of alcohol per week. For more information on how alcohol can affect male fertility, take a look at our blog: “Alcohol and Sperm Quality”.


Studies show that women younger than 35 and men younger than 40 have a better chance of getting pregnant. Men can produce sperm cells almost through their entire life, but the sperm cell DNA is more fragile and prone to damage after the age of 40.

As men age, their testes tend to get smaller and softer resulting in a decline in sperm quality and production. These changes are partly because of an age-related decrease in testosterone level, which plays a very important role in sperm

production. Higher male age (>40 years) is not only associated with a decline in sperm production but also with increased sperm DNA fragmentation and worsened morphology (shape) and motility (movement). These negative effects make the sperm cells less qualified for egg fertilization.

CONCLUSION: with an age under 40, you shouldn’t have to worry much about age as a factor in itself. However, studies have shown a slow decline after the age of 30-35 years

and if you are above 40 years of age, your sperm quality can be affected due to increased sperm DNA damage resulting in a decrease of sperm motility and concentration. Remember that you cannot evaluate the quality of a sperm sample by just looking at it – this requires a sperm analysis.