The Environment and your Fertility

The environment and your fertility

Environmental toxins are on the rise. Toxins like phthalates, pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) surrounds us on a daily basis. This environment has a detrimental effect on your fertility and sperm quality.

What kind of deadly dangers are there?

There are many toxins in the environment – some we know a lot about and others a little less. In this article, we look at the most thoroughly investigated well-known toxic compounds in the environment that can affect fertility and sperm quality.


The most commonly used phthalates are Diethyl phthalate (DEHP) and di-N-butyl phthalate (DBP) (1), which can improve the functionality of plastic. However, because of their negative impact on health in general, the European Union, Canada and the USA gradually replaces phthalates in many products. Clinical studies have shown that DEHP exposure (among other phthalates) is associated with decreased sperm motility [2], increased sperm DNA damage and sperm apoptosis, and reduced serum estradiol and testosterone [3].

In a study from 2017, decreasing phthalate exposure was associated with some recovery of semen and hormone levels, but not all values improved [4]. This means that there is a high need for awareness and limited exposure to phthalates when trying to conceive.

Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs)

PCBs are organic pollutants that functioned as dielectric and coolant fluids in different electrical equipment. Authorities have banned the use of PCBs for decades.

For decades, PCBs have been forbidden to use. But because they are highly resistant to degradation, they remain an environmental problem and are contemning food and air.

PCB accumulates in fatty tissue in the body. That is why obese individuals accumulate PCBs significantly more when compared with lean individuals.

In animal studies, PCBs exposure causes the increasing number of wrong shaped sperm cells and impaired testosterone level [1].

The data on the PCB load in human sperm lacks in terms of studies. Especially the effects of PCB on the male human reproduction system. The data on the PCB load in human sperm lacks in terms of studies on the effects of PCBs on the male human reproduction system.


A pesticide is in general a chemical or biological agent used to protect plants by killing fungal and animal pests. Their full impact on male reproductive health is less understood.

In a review from 2014, it was found that some pesticides have the potential to cause direct toxicity to male hormones and a negative effect regarding how sperm swim (motility) and look like (morphology [5]. Pesticides damage sperm quality by lowering the testosterone level and increasing oxidative stress. But in order to state this fully, it needs further investigation.

Bisphenol A (BPA)

BPA is a synthetic compound used in the manufacture of household plastics. BPA exposure can be through water, air and dust.

This chemical can interfere with hormonal balance exhibiting estrogen-mimicking, hormone-like properties, with a negative impact on sperm quality in animal studies [6]. Over the last ten years, there has been some discrepancy between studies that investigated the association between BPA and male fertility. For example, it could be due to sampling size, a dose of BPA, or duration of exposure.

A study from 2018 with 315 men showed that BPA exposure (detected in urine) is associated with an increase of the percentage of immature sperm cells and a decrease in sperm motility [7]. Therefore, this finding indicates that PBA can be harmful to sperm cell production and also to the DNA in the sperm that can be inherited to the offspring.


Marijuana use becomes increasingly accepted all over the world. The exposure to the cannabinoid compounds released by marijuana shows a correlation between consumption and male infertility.

Some clinical studies have shown that the use of cannabis harms the testosterone level, which is crucial to sperm production. However, this conclusion is still not aligned in the literature. On the other hand, various clinical studies, both on animals and humans, have reported that episodic use of marijuana can cause reduced sperm counts, motility, viability and sperm cells of normal morphology [8].


Read more about smoking and fertility in the blog post Smoking and how it affects your sperm quality.


More to explore

Endometriosis and fertility

Guide to Endometriosis and Fertility

Endometriosis is a condition that impacts 1 in 10 women and people with periods, but it is so often misdiagnosed and misunderstood. Whilst many women with endometriosis can conceive naturally, there is a chance the condition could impact a fertility

Read More »

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.