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.

Phthalates

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.

Pesticides

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.

Cannabis

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).

Smoking

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

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