Toxic Chemicals May Be Affecting Your Sperm
Chemicals may be affecting Your Sperm
Let’s start with sex.
As a couple finishes its romantic encounter, millions of sperm begin their travels; rushing towards an egg to fertilize it. But these days, scientists say, an increasing proportion of sperm—now about 90 per cent in a typical young man—are misshapen, sometimes with two heads or two tails.
Even when properly shaped, today’s sperm are often pathetic swimmers, veering like drunks or paddling crazily in circles. Sperm counts also appear to have dropped sharply in the last 75 years, in ways that affect our ability to reproduce.
Shanna Swan, an epidemiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai feels that there has been a decrease not only in sperm numbers but also in their quality and swimming capacity and their ability to impregnate the egg. Epidemiologists study patterns of disease and health in specific populations and their studies determine risk factors to the human population and how to prevent them. Ms.Swan has linked semen problems to shorter life expectancy.
Other researchers have agreed with her findings such as Andrea Gore, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Texas at Austin and the editor of the journal of Endocrinology. She feels that 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 cannot even be imagined.
Human and animal studies suggest that a crucial culprit is a common class of chemical called endocrine disruptors, found in plastics, cosmetics, couches, pesticides and countless other products. Because of the environmental links, numerous studies over the past 25 years have shown that sperm are in trouble.
And so are men and boys. Apparently related to the problem of declining semen quality is an increase in testicular cancer in many countries; in undescended testicles; and in congenital malformation of the penis called hypospadias (in which the urethra exits the side or base of the penis instead of the tip). This actually happened to my first born son and had to be corrected by surgery but not until he was about 2 years old. Scientists love to give conditions big names and categorize them so all of the above conditions are known as testicular dysgenesis syndrome.
There is still disagreement about the scale of the problem and the data are not always reliable. But how long to we wait to act before we face a crisis in human reproduction?
One recent study found that of sperm donor applicants in Hunan Province. China, 56 per cent qualified in 2001 because their sperm met standards of healthiness. By 2015 only 18 per cent qualified. That study, done over 15 years involved more than 30,000 men.
Perhaps even more alarming, Canadian scientists conducted a seven year experiment on a lake in Ontario, adding endocrine disturbing chemicals and then observing the impact on fathead minnows. The problem seems to be that endocrine disrupting chemicals mimic hormones and interfere with the biological process of becoming male.
The crisis for male reproductive health seems to begin in utero. Fetuses all begin life as females and then either stay that way or are differentiated by specific hormones to become males. The problem is that endocrine disrupting chemicals mimic hormones, mostly estrogen and interfere with the ability of the fetus to become male.
If you take this a step further, because this process could vary depending how much disruption was caused, it could explain all the new genders we seem to be seeing today, making it more difficult to distinguish pure males from pure females.
How can we protect our population from these events? We should start by avoiding plastics as much as possible, including food or drinks that have touched plastic or even been heated in plastic. We should eat organic as much as possible to avoid pesticide residues in our food. Tylenol and other painkillers should be avoided during pregnancy. Receipts from thermal printers, which you accumulate all day long as you shop, are also suspect.
This situation cannot be changed by voluntary action among us. Public policies may have to be put in place to ban most of these pesticides and plastics that can affect our evolutionary process.
Europe has been much more aggressive than us in regulating toxic chemicals and we have to follow their lead by testing all of these products for their safety.
Unfortunately, as Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is one of the worst forms of government, but not the worst”. In our democracy money fuels the government decisions. It is the large chemical companies, the huge producers of plastic bottles and their like that spend millions to keep on producing products that not only harm our environment but harm our ability to reproduce. We must get these polluters under control and regulated because our society is only as healthy as our sperm.