The Environment and your Fertility
Environmental toxins are on the rise. We are surrounded by these toxins daily which have a detrimental effect on your fertility including phthalates and pesticides, as well as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
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 that can affect sperm quality and your fertility.
Diethyl phthalate (DEHP) and di-N-butyl phthalate (DBP) are the most commonly used phthalates (1). They are mainly added to plastic to improve its functionality.
Phthalates are being gradually replaced in many products in the European Union, Canada and the USA because of their negative impact on health in general.
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 were widely deployed as dielectric and coolant fluids in electrical apparatus, in the past. For decades PCBs have been outlawed to use, but because they are highly resistant to degradation, they remain an environmental problem and are contemning food and air.
In the body, PCBs accumulate in fatty tissue, and that is why obese individuals accumulate PCBs significantly more when compared with the lean subject.
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 on the effects of PCBs on the male human reproduction system.
In general, a pesticide is a chemical or biological agent that is added to plants for protection through 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). The mechanism by which pesticides damage sperm quality can be explained by directly lowering testosterone level and increasing oxidative stress, but further investigation is required to state this fully.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
BPA is a synthetic compound used in the manufacture in 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 – This 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), 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 is now increasingly accepted all over the world. The exposure to the cannabinoid compounds released by marijuana shows a correlation between consumption and to male infertility.
In some clinical studies, it has shown that the use of cannabis harms Testosterone level which is crucial to sperm production, but the literature is still not aligned on this conclusion. On the other hand, various clinical studies, both on animal and humans, have reported that episodic use of marijuana can cause reduced sperm counts, motility, viability and sperm cells of normal morphology (8).