Newspaper article International New York Times

A Threat to Male Fertility from Household Products ; Study Sets off Alarms over a Chemical's Effect on Reproduction

Newspaper article International New York Times

A Threat to Male Fertility from Household Products ; Study Sets off Alarms over a Chemical's Effect on Reproduction

Article excerpt

A growing body of work suggests that phthalates interfere with hormones such as testosterone that play big roles in male development.

To study the impact of everyday chemicals on fertility, American researchers spent four years tracking 501 couples. One of the findings stood out: While men and women were exposed to known toxic chemicals, men seemed much more likely to suffer fertility problems.

The gender gap was particularly wide when it came to phthalates, those ubiquitous compounds used to make plastics more flexible and cosmetic lotions slide on more smoothly. Women who wore cosmetics often had higher levels of phthalates, but only in the males did phthalate levels correlate with infertility.

"It's the males in the study that are driving the effect," said Germaine Buck Louis, an epidemiologist at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the lead author of the report, published in February in Fertility and Sterility. "They're the signal."

Phthalates belong to a group of industrial compounds known as endocrine disruptors because they interfere with the endocrine system, which governs the production and distribution of hormones in the body. The chemicals have been implicated in a range of health problems, including birth defects, cancers and diabetes.

But it is their effect on the human reproductive system that has most worried researchers. A growing body of work over the past two decades suggests that phthalates can rewire the male reproductive system, interfering with the operation of androgenic hormones, such as testosterone, that play big roles in male development. That mechanism, some experts believe, explains findings that link phthalate exposure to changes in everything from testicular development to sperm quality.

"I wasn't surprised at all by this finding," Andrea Gore, a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Texas, and editor in chief of the journal Endocrinology, said of the new report. "We see the cell studies, the animal studies and now the human epidemiology work, and they are all showing us a similar picture."

The focus on male fertility dates back to the early 1990s, when researchers in the United States and Europe published a paper suggesting chemical exposures could be linked to a steady decline in semen quality. One of the authors, Niels Skakkebaek, a reproduction researcher at the University of Copenhagen, has since suggested that an increase in malformations in male reproductive systems may be linked to environmental exposure to compounds including endocrine disruptors like phthalates. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.