Over the last seventy-five years, men have seen a sharp reduction in reproductive capacity, and evidence suggests that commonly found chemicals are to blame.
A recent piece in the New York Times drew attention to an important issue that, in my mind, is extremely troubling. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals in everyday consumer products are killing or disabling sperm and making men sterile.
Scientists say that approximately 90% of sperm in a typical young man are extremely misshapen (sometimes with two heads or two tails) and are unable to swim correctly.
Additionally, sperm counts have decreased sharply over the last seventy-five years. Andrea Gore, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Texas at Austin and the editor of the journal Endocrinology, put it this way:
Semen quality and fertility in men have decreased. Not everyone who wants to reproduce will be able to. And the costs of male disorders to quality of life, and the economic burden to society, are inestimable.
There’s a great deal of evidence to suggest endocrine-disrupting chemicals are the major cause of this problem. They’re found in plastics, pesticides, and many other products. Quite simply, these chemicals disrupt the proper functioning of hormones. One study by Canadian scientists found that adding endocrine disruptors to Lake Ontario turned male fathead minnows into intersexual fish (fish with both male and female characteristics), which are unable to reproduce.
Unfortunately, it is far from the only study showing a link between chemicals and infertility. Pat Hunt, a molecular biologist at Washington State University and co-author of the aforementioned study states:
“There’s a hypothesis now that this might be due to these estrogenic exposures to the male testes — because it’s not just sperm counts that seem to be changing,” she added, noting the similarly rising rates of testicular cancer, undescended testes and other abnormalities in male genitalia throughout the developed world.
Another frightening study found that, of sperm donor applicants in Hunan Province, China, 56 percent qualified in 2001 because their sperm met standards of healthiness. By 2015, only 18 percent qualified.
“The semen quality among young Chinese men has declined over a period of 15 years,” concluded the study, which involved more than 30,000 men.
The crisis for male reproductive health seems to begin in utero. Male and female fetuses start pretty much the same, and then hormones drive differentiation of males from females. The problem seems to be that endocrine disrupting chemicals mimic hormones and confuse this process, interfering with the biological process of becoming male.
What Can You Do About It?
- Avoid plastics! It’s time to start opting for glass containers and water bottles again. Don’t eat or drink from plastic containers, especially if they’ve been heated.
- Eat organic as much as possible! Pesticide residues have recently been found in a large number of processed foods. Eating organic is the best way to avoid these chemical residues.
- Ditch the receipts! Thermal paper has a coating that turns black when heat is applied (the printer in a cash register applies heat to the paper, allowing it to print numbers and letters). It also contains BPA, and research shows that handling this type of paper is enough to increase your bodily levels. A study in Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry found that of 13 thermal printing papers analyzed, 11 contained BPA. Holding the paper for just five seconds was enough to transfer BPA onto a person’s skin, and the amount of BPA transferred increased by about 10 times if the fingers were wet or greasy (such as if you’ve just applied lotion or eaten greasy food).
For more information on chemicals to avoid, refer to the consumer guides at The Environmental Working Group’s website, EWG.com.