Reduce Chemicals to Increase Fertility

Because we now know that chemicals in every day products can lead to low sperm counts, there are simple steps that men can take to avoid them.
02/27/2012 10:13 am ET Updated Apr 28, 2012

The last thing you want to think about is whether toxic chemicals will prevent you from starting a family. But with rates of infertility on the rise and testosterone levels in decline, we may need to factor in chemical exposures to the future of our love lives.

Infertility affects one in eight couples in the United States -- that's 7.3 million people who have trouble with pregnancy, according to the CDC. And although it was once thought that infertility was a "female problem," medical evidence shows that infertility is an equal opportunity problem: One-third of infertility is attributed to the female, one-third to the male and one-third to combined factors from both male and female.

This post is for the guys.

Last week, drugstore chains Walgreens and CVS announced they would begin stocking a male infertility test as of April, marking the first time men can get an over-the-counter test of their sperm production. Rising rates of male infertility has created a $440 million market for male fertility tests, according to Bloomberg News.

Scientists such as Dr. Shanna Swan, Professor and Vice-Chair of Preventive Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, have found chemicals play a role in the increase of male infertility in the population. "There is no question that pesticides reduce sperm count," Swan recently told Global News Canada. "The question is how much do you need to do the damage?"

Because we now know that chemicals in every day products can lead to low sperm counts, there are simple steps that men can take to avoid them. These include:

1. Using safer pans: Teflon, the most common non-stick coating, is made from perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). Some research has indicated that men with higher levels of PFCs had fewer normal sperm and lower sperm concentrations.[1] (PFCs are also used in fast food packaging and microwave popcorn bags, so avoid those as well.)

2. Avoid contaminated fish: Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs) were banned in the US in 1979, but they are so persistent, they are still contaminating our food today. Among other things, they have been linked to decreased sperm quality, sperm DNA damage, and lowered testosterone levels. The highest concentrations are found in animal fats, some farmed fish, and freshwater fish from contaminated waters. Use the Environmental Defense Fund's Seafood Selector to help you choose safer fish.

3. Cut the fat: Because PCBs are also found in animal fats, reducing meat consumption can help lower your exposure. If you do eat meat, opt for low-fat cuts, and cut off visible fat before cooking. Use lower-fat cooking methods such as broiling, grilling, roasting or pressure-cooking.

4. Ban the can: Canned foods are often lined using a resin made from bisphenol-A (BPA). Research shows that high levels of this hormone disruptor led to decreased sperm concentrations and mobility. Luckily, BPA can be quickly eliminated from the body. The Natural Resources Defense Council reports that you can cut the amount of BPA in your body by as much as 50 percent in just three days, by following simple steps such as increasing fresh foods, storing food in glass or stainless steel and never microwaving in plastic.

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[1] Joensen UN, Bossi R, Leffers H, Jensen AA, Skakkebaek NE, & Jorgensen N. 2009. "Do perfluoroalkyl compounds impair human semen quality?" Environmental Health Perspectives 117(6): 923-927.