You are here
Environmental Risks to Men
According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), infertility affects both men and women equally, and, unfortunately, male infertility appears to be on the rise. Scientists suspect problems with male infertility can be traced to environmental factors, a number of which are under scrutiny for causing infertility in men.
"I do feel that male infertility is suffering due to environmental factors,” says Marc Goldstein, MD, Director of the Center for Male Reproductive Medicine and Microsurgery at the New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill Cornell Medical Center. “Phthalates, which are ubiquitous in all plastic wraps and products — even IV tubing and bags — are known to have a feminizing effect on male rat fetuses. Even low-level contamination of drinking water from birth control pills excreted in women's urine can have a negative effect.
“Pesticides, products of gasoline combustion, lifestyle changes resulting in elevation of testis temperature — sitting at a desk or computer all day, especially with the legs crossed — have a negative effect,” he continues.
Laptops, Cell Phones and Sitting
The temperature of a man’s scrotum (the sac of skin that holds the testicles) averages about 6 degrees Fahrenheit lower than his internal body temperature. The lower temperature is essential for sperm production — when the scrotal temperature rises, sperm production slows.
Some of today's modern devices may be heating things up too much. A 2010 study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility found that when men used laptops on their laps with their knees together, it took only 28 minutes for the scrotum’s temperature to elevate by almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit.
In addition, researchers in Austria and Canada found that while cell phone use appears to increase the level of testosterone circulating in the body, it may also lead to low sperm quality and a decrease in fertility.
Hot baths, hot tubs, waterbeds, saunas, heated car seats, etc., may also affect sperm production, as can sitting too long at a desk or in a car.
Chemicals and Toxins
If you work around chemicals and toxins, your fertility may be at risk. Men working in the metal industry, for example, are exposed to metals and vapors that affect sperm quality, particularly in welders, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration. An in vitro fertilization (IVF) study out of Austria found that male agricultural workers had more infertility than non-agricultural men due to exposure to pesticides.
Men looking to avoid toxins should wear face masks, get proper ventilation, and wear protective clothing to prevent chemicals from being absorbed into the body.
Studies have found that Bisphenol-A (BPA), a chemical used to make resins and strengthen plastics, has been linked to decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, impaired semen quality and a drop in sperm count. The chemical is found in commonly used products like hard plastic drinking bottles, metal food container linings, dental sealants, and cash register receipts.
Phthalates, also found in plastics, are known to have a feminizing effect on male rat fetuses.
Alcohol, Cigarette Smoke and Drugs
Cigarette smoking has been associated with a decrease in sperm count and motility. Even when men do not smoke, the toxins from secondhand smoke and its role on infertility are under further investigation.
In men, alcohol may result in abnormal liver function and a rise in estrogen levels, which may interfere with sperm development and hormone levels. Doctors generally recommend that men drink less than four drinks per week.
Cocaine or heavy marijuana use appear to temporarily reduce the number and quality of sperm. Marijuana stays in the testes for two weeks.
Even caffeine might be a problem for male fertility, and it is recommended that those who are trying to conceive should limit caffeine to less than 300 mg (two cups of coffee) per day.
Both radiation from X-rays and chemotherapy can damage sperm and cause permanent infertility in men. If you are having X-rays, make sure you ask for a lead shield to protect the groin area.
One study of men undergoing radiation for prostate cancer demonstrated that 70 percent of patients experience erectile dysfunction. For men undergoing radiation who hope to have biological children in the future, it is recommended that they freeze their sperm (cryopreservation) prior to receiving treatment.