Endocrine Disruptors Linked to Male Infertility
Have you or someone you know struggled to conceive a child, sought the help of a reproductive medicine specialist, or wrestled with the prospect of infertility? Many couples have confronted difficulty conceiving or outright infertility. Often, it’s assumed that the prospective mother is responsible for any fertility issues. But increasingly, the problem may lie with prospective fathers.
A sobering new report suggests that endocrine disruptors—chemicals that mimic estrogens and interfere with the body’s reproductive functions—are numerous. And they’re widely distributed in the environment. They’re getting into our bodies as infants and persisting in our bodies as we mature into adults. You might think that estrogens would impact women’s health most dramatically. But their effects on male infertility are especially dire.
In some ways, it’s been difficult to prove that these hormone-like chemicals are affecting human fertility and health. That’s because they’re so extremely common and widespread, it’s difficult to find anyone—anywhere—who has not been contaminated with them. That makes it difficult to compare the reproductive health of exposed and non-exposed individuals. There are no healthy control subjects to refer to. We’ve all been exposed, like it or not. These chemicals are used to make plastics more pliable. They’re even showing up in household and personal care products, like sunscreens or toothpaste.
Numerous chemical substances—mostly found in common plastics—are believed to be endocrine disruptors. They bind with receptors for estrogens on tissues throughout our bodies, having effects that we can only guess at. We now know they’re affecting male fertility.
According to Danish researcher, Niels E. Skakkebaek, “For the first time, we have shown a direct link between exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals from industrial products and adverse effects on human sperm function.” In amounts routinely measured in men’s bodies through everyday exposure to these chemicals, the researchers showed that sperm underwent biochemical changes that would almost certainly affect the tiny cells’ ability to fertilize an egg.
Among the common chemicals identified by researchers that may be especially problematic were triclosan (common in antibacterial hand soaps and in toothpaste), a sunscreen ingredient called 4-MBC, and a chemical called di-n-butylphthalate (DnBP).
Schiffer C, Müller A, Egeberg DL, Brenker C, Rehfeld A, Frederiksen H, Wäschle B, Kaupp UB, Balbach M, Wachten D, Skakkebaek NE, Almstrup K, Strünker T. Direct action of endocrine disrupting chemicals on human sperm. EMBOreports, 2014 DOI: 10.15252/embr.201438869