Can “Forever Chemicals” Be Causing Male Infertility?

Several takeout containers including cups and bag lying across a counter

In the spirit of bringing you the latest research that affects male fertility, a Danish study¹ was recently published about the effects of forever chemicals and, in particular, PFAS or per and polyfluoroalkyl substances on sperm count and mobility. The study sought to understand how a mother’s exposure to these toxic chemicals during pregnancy could affect the child’s fertility later in life. Why does this matter? Testicular development in males occurs during the first trimester of pregnancy, and this is also a time when external endocrine disruptors can make a big difference. In this case, PFAS made up of thousands of different chemicals, accumulates in the human body and crosses the placental barrier into the child.

What This Study Showed

Approximately 860 men were evaluated. Their mothers provided blood samples during the first trimester of their pregnancy between 1996 and 2002. The study found that mothers with higher PFAS levels had children who were more likely to have a lower sperm count and mobility issues than adults.

Why This Study Matters

When we look at the increasing rates of male infertility, we know that there is no single cause. Instead, cases of infertility must be discussed and evaluated both from an individual and a societal level. It seems that exposure to these, amongst other environmental chemicals, may be partly to blame for some infertility cases. Most Americans have been exposed to and therefore retain PFAS in their blood – remember, once exposed, the body cannot remove these chemicals (hence the “forever” moniker).

Beyond infertility, these chemicals can also cause significant diseases later in life. Research suggests that these chemicals may cause metabolic disorders, including type-2 diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and more, all of which can also affect urinary health.

What’s the Prognosis?

Unfortunately, because of the ubiquitous nature of these chemicals, most pregnant mothers have been exposed to these toxic chemicals. Virtually every adult has been as well. Why? These chemicals are often used in food product packaging to improve their water and grease-resistant properties. The result is that many of your fast food and takeout containers have PFAS. Some of the most egregious packaging includes fast-food wrappers and boxes, popcorn bags, and pizza boxes.

How Can You Avoid These Chemicals?

Unfortunately, we do not yet have a regulatory structure identifying and regulating these chemicals. However, much like BPA and phthalates, consumers and food producers are taking note. Companies like Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, Whole Foods, and Burger King have alluded to or promised to remove these chemicals from their packaging. Of course, the time and cost to do so are such that we can expect to be exposed to these chemicals for many more years unless something is done from a public awareness or regulatory standpoint. For the time being, the fact that PFAS is not visible nor has acute effects (that we are aware of) often makes it a lower priority for many people. Regardless, working with a men’s health specialist like Dr. Kapadia is an essential first step to understanding the potential causes of infertility and developing a treatment plan to address it.

In the meantime, do your research to find out if any of the products you or your family members consume contain harmful chemicals. You may even wish to consider choosing products that specifically exclude these chemicals from their packaging. Even though it’s likely that we have all been exposed to PFAS already, reducing our future exposure can only be beneficial. Be your own health advocate by ensuring that what you eat and drink is not tainted by harmful chemicals.

References:

  1. Petersen KU, Hærvig KK, Flachs EM, Bonde JP, Lindh C, Hougaard KS, Toft G, Ramlau-Hansen CH, Tøttenborg SS. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and male reproductive function in young adulthood; a cross-sectional study. Environ Res. 2022 Sep;212(Pt A):113157. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2022.113157. Epub 2022 Mar 19. PMID: 35318009.

Request an Appointment