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You are here: Home > Fertility & Trying to Conceive > Fertility Health

Chemicals Linked to Sperm Problems... Including Toothpaste?

by Katlyn Joy | May 17, 2014 12:00 AM
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Concerns over environmental factors in fertility are not strictly feminine concerns. A new study links common household products to impaired fertility in men.

Danish and German scientists looked at particular chemicals that cause a certain reaction, called endocrine disrupters. Endocrine disrupters essentially mess with the endocrine system functions, and the endocrine system rules hormones responsible for everything from sleep regulation to reproductive systems.

Some chemicals categorized as endocrine disrupters include phthalates, mercury, dioxin, PFCs, and BPA. These substances can be found virtually everywhere in our environment, from food, to toothpaste, to toys. Other chemicals exposed in this study included 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC). This is used in some sunscreens as a filter to ultraviolet rays. Another endocrine disrupter identified in the study was Triclosan, which is used in antibacterial products and toothpastes as well.

Researchers in this study found that the bottom line risk of exposure to these chemicals can result in sperm's impaired ability to move, to fertilize an egg or penetrate an egg.

A previous study in 2010 looked at Chinese workers in a factory who were exposed to BPA. Those workers were found to have reduced sperm counts. Other studies have linked phthalates to difficulties conceiving or carrying a child to term.

The scientists in this latest study looked at 96 endocrine disrupting chemicals and how they impacted sperm. The study observed the chemicals singly as well as in combinations. One third of the chemicals were discovered to have negative effects on sperm.

The reasons are varied. In one case, calcium is to blame. Certain endocrine disrupters altered the calcium levels of sperm and calcium ions affect different sperm processes. One specific way is that calcium has an impact on the flagellum, or the tail of the sperm that propels it in forward motion. With improper calcium levels, the sperm loses its proper motility or movement.

Another factor of endocrine disruption impairing fertility is in how they make sperm less reactive to two hormones, progesterone and prostaglandins, which are aids to helping sperm make its way to the egg.

Also, sometimes endocrine disrupters can set off the release of enzymes that help the sperm break through the egg's protective outer covering. Basically, endocrine disrupters are triggering this release too soon, before the sperm is in the vicinity of the egg, thereby wasting the reaction.

Some researchers not affiliated with the study raise the question of whether this is an accurate picture of what happens in actual reproductive situations, since this study was carried out only in the lab with test tubes, not in living mammals.

What scientists and medical professionals generally agree on is that we don't know enough about the effect commonly found chemicals have on humans, including the reproductive processes and more research is required.

The Mayo Clinic advices the following tips for men to improve sperm quality:

Men's Health recommends the following foods to boost sperm quality:


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