BPA Linked to Male Infertility

Study links sperm problems to BPA, a chemical found in food cans, receipt paper, and all sorts of plastic products.

August 12, 2010

Hidden cost: your fertility? A chemical found on reciept paper can damage sperm.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—According to a new study in press at the journal Reproductive Toxicology, a chemical used in plastics and food cans may damage male reproductive health, possibly leading to fertility problems. The authors found that high levels of the hormone disruptor bisphenol A (BPA) led to decreased sperm concentrations and motility. Unfortunately, it's not the only everyday chemical that could affect male fertility.

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THE DETAILS: The study authors recruited 109 men visiting an infertility clinic in Massachusetts and collected both urine and semen samples from them. The urine was analyzed for levels of BPA, and the semen samples were analyzed for sperm concentration and motility and total sperm count. High BPA levels in urine were associated with poor sperm quality. Men with the highest levels of BPA in their urine saw significant declines in sperm concentration (23 percent) and motility (7.5 percent), compared to men who had average levels of BPA in their urine. The authors also noted that BPA could damage sperm DNA; men with the highest levels of BPA experienced a 10 percent increase in DNA damage.

WHAT IT MEANS: It's one more reason to avoid this too-common chemical, which is found in many plastic products, including the lining of canned food cans. "This was a fairly small study but it was still somewhat surprising, what we found," says the study's lead author John Meeker, ScD, assistant professor in the department of environmental health sciences at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. "Taken together with some of the other studies [on BPA] coming out, it does create some concern," he adds.

Meeker notes, however, that the impact of BPA on male reproductive health hasn't been studied very thoroughly in humans, and that his study was small and needs to be replicated with a larger sample size before anyone can jump to conclusions. Still, there are other reasons men should eliminate BPA from their homes as much as possible. Meeker's past research has looked at the impact of other household chemicals, such as phthalates, flame retardants, and indoor pesticides, on male reproductive health, and often his research has revealed that these chemicals have an adverse effect on sperm quality, too. Considering that men and women alike come into contact with phthalates (hormone-disrupting chemicals used in artificial fragrances, plastics, and some building products) and flame retardants, as well as BPA, on a daily basis, the compounded effect of all of these on sperm quality could be significant.

Want to protect your fertility from chemical influence? Try these tips:

• Eat less meat, more lettuce. One easy way to make it easier for your sperm to battle BPA and other chemicals is to eat a diet low in meat and dairy and high in antioxidant-rich foods like leafy greens, tomatoes, blueberries, apricots, and peaches. A study last year in the journal Fertility and Sterility found that men with poor-quality diets also had low sperm quality and motility.

• Ban BPA. It's not enough anymore to just give up canned food, which is sold in cans lined with an epoxy resin made from BPA. Recent research has found high levels of BPA on receipt paper, and although BPA has been removed from most baby bottles made with polycarbonate plastic (which is made from BPA), polycarbonate plastic cups, pitchers, and dishware intended for adults are still likely to contain BPA. Decline or discard receipts whenever you can, and keep the rest in an envelope rather than in your wallet, where the BPA can rub off onto your credit cards and cash. Then, feast off of ceramic plates, and hydrate yourself using glasses or stainless steel water bottles.

• Axe the Axe. You may want to look like the Old Spice man or let everyone in your office know you use Axe body sprays, but both these products contain phthalates, some of which can lower sperm quality and interfere with male hormone levels, according to studies by Meeker and other researchers. Switch to regular unscented soaps and body washes instead. Eating those antioxidant-rich veggies will help, too. A recent study from Korea found that adults who went on a 25-day vegetarian diet had lower levels of phthalates in their bodies at the end of the study than before they embarked on the diet.