The Fertility Problem Facing Men

The Fertility Problem Facing Men


Men and women have been trying to make a family since this world began. There are millions of couples around the world trying to start a family each night and while that happens for many of these couples, there are just as many couples that are struggling to make a baby and suffer from fertility issues. This in itself can create issues within many relationships as the blame game begins. Researchers decided to take a look at this and wanted to find out how known toxic chemicals affected men and women differently. What they found was that women were not as likely to suffer from fertility problems as men were from these chemicals.

The Study

The actual study took scientists four years to complete and in turn, they followed 501 couples that were attempting to have children. One area of the study where big differences were found in men and women was with phthalates. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these chemicals are used in plastics to help make plastics harder to break and more flexible. There are phthalates that are found in solvents of other materials and can be found in vinyl flooring, detergents, lubricating oils and more. The gap in the amount of this chemical in men and women can be linked to women wearing more cosmetics.

The study was published in Fertility and Sterility, and Germaine Buck Louis, the lead author of the study, the males in the study were the “signal.” Buck Louis is a epidemiologist at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and added that men “are driving the effect (of the study).”

More on Phthalates

When it comes to phthalates in the human body, these compounds are known as endocrine disruptors. They have this nickname because of the effect they have on the endocrine system, which is responsible for the production and distribution of hormones in the body. In the past, phthalates have been known to cause a wide range of health problems including birth defects, diabetes and cancer.

The effect of phthalates on the human reproductive system is one that has many researchers worried the most. In the past 20 years, numerous studies have been performed and have made suggestions to the chemical working to “rewire” the male reproductive system. It does this by interfering with various important hormones such as testosterone, which is essential in the male body to reproduce. In turn, experts believe that since the chemical can have such an effect on the body that they could also cause problems with the quality of the sperm being produced and testicular development.

Previous Work

As far back as the early 1990s, information was published by American and European researchers that suggested chemical exposure was being linked to the decline in the quality of semen produced. Niels Skakkebaek was one of the authors of the previous research has stated that he feels the “testicular dysgenesis syndrome,” as he called it, was linked to exposure to compounds in the environment like phthalates were to blame.

In the United States, there has been some suggested links between sperm damage in men with phthalate exposure. These findings were found in studies involving animals like rats, and the research found that the compounds can interfere with “masculinization of animals,” which is being linked to the change in the male reproductive parts.

Heather Patisaul, a biology professor from North Carolina State University is currently taking part in studies examining the effects of endocrine-disrupting compounds during the pubescent ages of boys. She said “they interfere with how testosterone is made.”

Men aren’t the only part of the equation to make babies that are affected, but women aren’t as hurt by men. The female body also features androgenic hormones and while the effects on female fertility are smaller, they are still noticeable.

The Questions

The information released from this study isn’t as cut and dry as some would hope. The CDC says that the exposure of phthalates is widespread across the United States, but it is hard to find the exact levels. The effect of phthalates in smaller quantities is not as well known and there are still studies being conducted to determine exactly what effect small doses has. Tracey Woodruff, from the University of California, San Francisco, is still “pulling the tricky aspects together.”

The different type of phthalates that can affect the human body do so in different ways. Some have larger effects on the body and that was part of the research conducted by Buck Louis and company. They were looking at the wide range of possible compounds and factors from metals that are known to build up in the body. These products can include cosmetics, flooring, PVC tubing, the coatings on pills,  and numerous other products.

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