Threats to Male Fertility: Plastics

Environmental contaminationA gonadotoxin is a chemical or substance that affects sperm production by the testis….one of several threats to male fertility. You may have heard this term in relation to cancer treatment or prescription medications, but the doctor’s office is not the only place to run across gonadotoxic agents. There are things you interact with every day that may bring you into contact with chemicals that have a negative impact on your fertility.

Two studies published this year indicate that phthalates, a common ingredient in many plastics, contribute to male infertility.1 In the first study, published in Fertility and Sterility, male exposure to the chemical was associated with an approximately 20% reduction in fertility.2 The second study, published in Environmental Science and Pollution Research, indicates why there might be such a reduction: Exposure to phthalates correlates with a significant decrease in sperm motility and sperm concentration. Additionally, phthalates seem to contribute to DNA damage and may influence the reproductive hormone testosterone.3

What and Where are Phthalates?

Phthalates (pronounced THA-lates) are a group of chemicals often called plasticizers because they are used to make plastics more flexible and difficult to break; polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics are a common source. They are also used as dissolving agents for other materials. This is just a short list of the kinds of products that often use phthalates:4

  • plastic packaging
  • garden hoses
  • inflatable toys
  • medical tubing
  • vinyl flooring
  • adhesives
  • detergents
  • lubricating oils
  • automotive plastics
  • plastic clothes, such as raincoats
  • personal-care products, such as soaps, shampoos, hairsprays, and perfumes2

Because phthalates aren’t chemically connected with plastics, they can leach out of the products that contain them, and direct contact with these products exposes a person to the leached chemical.5

What Can I Do to Avoid Phthalates?

Although the authors of the second study point out that their small sample size limits the findings of their report, the fact that these two studies were conducted and published separately indicates that there may be some cause for concern. Below are some suggestions for reducing your exposure to phthalates:5

  • Use alternatives to PVC plastics whenever possible.
  • Use glass containers for storing food whenever possible, or choose plastic containers that aren’t manufactured with phthalates. Plastic products with recycling codes 3 and 7 may contain phthalates or BPA. Look for plastic with recycling codes 1, 2, or 5. Refer to the American Chemistry Council for a description of recycling codes and plastics used in packaging.
  • When in doubt about the type of plastic you are using, ask the manufacturer whether their product contain phthalates.
  • Check the ingredients of any personal-care products you use, such as soaps, shampoos, hairsprays, and perfumes; these products should be labeled with their ingredients. For example, dibutyl phthalate and diethyl phthalate are two phthalates you might commonly see in an ingredient list.

References

  1. Jones, B. (2014, May 18). Male infertility may partially result from chemicals in plastic. Liberty Voice. Retrieved from http://guardianlv.com/2014/05/male-infertility-may-partially-result-from-chemicals-in-plastic/
  2. Louis, G., Sundaram, R., Sweeney, A., Schisterman, E., Maisog, J., & Kannan, K. (2014, February 17). Urinary bisphenol A, phthalates, and couple fecundity: The Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) Study. Fertility and Sterility, 101(5), 1359–1366. Retrieved from http://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282%2814%2900067-3/abstract
  3. Pant, N., Kumar, G., Upadhyay, A., Patel, D., Gupta, Y., & Chaturvedi, P. (2014). Reproductive toxicity of lead, cadmium, and phthalate exposure in men. Environmental Science and Pollution Research. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11356-014-2986-5#
  4. CDC. (2013, July 16). Factsheet: Phthalates. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/Phthalates_FactSheet.html
  5. Canadian Cancer Society (n.d.). Phthalates. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.ca/en/prevention-and-screening/be-aware/harmful-substances-and-environmental-risks/phthalates/?region=on

Andropause: Should I be worried?

Young, sad man deep in thought, troubled by bad newsAfter age 30, men begin to produce decreased levels of androgen, or the hormones that control the development and maintenance of male sex organs and secondary sex characteristics, such as facial hair, increased muscle mass, and low percentage of body fat. This aging is often compared to menopause in women and is commonly referred to as “andropause.” Some scientists, however, more appropriately use the term “androgen decline in the aging male,” or ADAM.1

Unlike menopause, ADAM is a slowly progressive condition, and it is somewhat difficult to diagnose because there is disagreement about what the normal level of testosterone is for any given patient. Additionally, many symptoms may indicate the presence of other disorders or diseases, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, or medications.2 Still, researchers have noticed links between low androgen levels and abnormal health.3

Testosterone’s Role

The most well-known androgen is testosterone, and when it is on the decline, there are several adverse health effects.2

Physiological changes include:

  • diminished libido, sexual activity, and erections
  • decreased lean body mass and increased fat
  • reduced muscle strength
  • reduced energy
  • osteoporosis
  • lower quality of sleep

Psychological and cognitive changes include:

  • mood changes and depression
  • reduced cognitive function
  • reduced sense of well-being

Testosterone Therapy

Although there have been no long-term studies conducted to determine prolonged safety, several clinical studies have shown supplemental testosterone, or testosterone replacement therapy, to be beneficial and safe, alleviating symptoms and sometimes even reversing them.2 However, testosterone supplementation is not without its own concerns4.

If you are experiencing any of these physiological, psychological, or cognitive symptoms, you may want to talk to your doctor about testosterone therapy. If a blood test confirms a low testosterone level, you can choose one of a number of testosterone treatments, depending on individual benefits, side effects, and cost. Treatments include oral tablets, injections, subcutaneous implants, skin patches, or topical gels.5

One thing to keep in mind, however, is that testosterone therapy is not advised for men who have or have had prostate cancer or breast cancer. Associations between testosterone therapy and prostate health are being studied, so it is important to talk with your doctor about the potential benefits and risks of treatment.6

References

  1. Morales, A., Heaton, J., & Carson, C. (2000). Andropause: A misnomer for a true clinical entity. The Journal of Urology163(3), 705–712. Retrieved from http://www.jurology.com/article/S0022-5347(05)67788-9/abstract
  2. Brawer, M. (2004). Testosterone replacement in men with andropause: An overview. Reviews in Urology, 6(Suppl. 6), S9–S15. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1472881/
  3. Testosterone and the aging male – Balancing risks and benefits http://bit.ly/1p0X1B7
  4. WebMD (n.d.). Low testosterone and your health. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/men/what-low-testosterone-can-mean-your-health
  5. WebMD (n.d.). Erectile dysfunction: Testosterone replacement therapy. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/erectile-dysfunction/guide/testosterone-replacement-therapy
  6. WebMD (n.d.). Low testosterone: How do you know when levels are too low? Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/men/features/low-testosterone-explained-how-do-you-know-when-levels-are-too-low