RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—According to a new study in press at the journal Reproductive Toxicology, a chemical used in plastics and food cans may damage male reproductive health, possibly leading to fertility problems. The authors found that high levels of the hormone disruptor bisphenol A (BPA) led to decreased sperm concentrations and motility. Unfortunately, it's not the only everyday chemical that could affect male fertility.
THE DETAILS: The study authors recruited 109 men visiting an infertility clinic in Massachusetts and collected both urine and semen samples from them. The urine was analyzed for levels of BPA, and the semen samples were analyzed for sperm concentration and motility and total sperm count. High BPA levels in urine were associated with poor sperm quality. Men with the highest levels of BPA in their urine saw significant declines in sperm concentration (23 percent) and motility (7.5 percent), compared to men who had average levels of BPA in their urine. The authors also noted that BPA could damage sperm DNA; men with the highest levels of BPA experienced a 10 percent increase in DNA damage.
WHAT IT MEANS: It's one more reason to avoid this too-common chemical, which is found in many plastic products, including the lining of canned food cans. "This was a fairly small study but it was still somewhat surprising, what we found," says the study's lead author John Meeker, ScD, assistant professor in the department of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. "Taken together with some of the other studies [on BPA] coming out, it does create some concern," he adds.
Meeker notes, however, that the impact of BPA on male reproductive health hasn't been studied very thoroughly in humans, and that his study was small and needs to be replicated with a larger sample size before anyone can jump to conclusions. Still, there are other reasons men should eliminate BPA from their homes as much as possible. Meeker's past research has looked at the impact of other household chemicals, such as phthalates, flame retardants, and indoor pesticides, on male reproductive health, and often his research has revealed that these chemicals have an adverse effect on sperm quality, too. Considering that men and women alike come into contact with phthalates (hormone-disrupting chemicals used in artificial fragrances, plastics, and some building products) and flame retardants, as well as BPA, on a daily basis, the compounded effect of all of these on sperm quality could be significant.