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Plastics Chemical Could Harm Sperm

Plastics Chemical Could Harm Sperm

By Christen Brownlee

A chemical that’s commonly found in the lining of food and beverage containers could be harming your sperm.

In a new study published in an upcoming issue of the journal Fertility and Sterility, researchers found that men who had higher levels of bisphenol-A (BPA) in their urine were more likely to have low-quality sperm than guys with lower levels.

Scientists have long suspected that BPA has a variety of harmful health effects, especially on the male reproductive system. That’s because this chemical appears to behave like estrogen in the body and block male hormone functions, explains study leader De-Kun Li, M.D., Ph.D., at Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente.

Some animal studies, as well as a human study by Li and his colleagues, also have shown that BPA can put a damper on male sexual function. However, he notes, researchers didn’t know what effect BPA might have on sperm in people.

To investigate, Li’s team worked with 218 workers recruited from Chinese factories, 130 of which were exposed to BPA through the course of their jobs. The remainder had similar demographics to the other workers but weren’t exposed to BPA at work.

All the participating workers submitted urine and sperm samples. The researchers analyzed the urine for the presence and concentration of BPA, and they analyzed the sperm for four measures of quality: count, concentration, vitality (percent alive), and motility.

Their results showed that the men who had the highest levels of BPA had the lowest sperm quality by all these measures. Even when Li and his colleagues examined only the men who were not exposed to BPA on the job—who had much lower levels of BPA in their urine—the correlation still held true, especially in relation to total sperm count and concentration. These unexposed men typically had BPA levels slightly lower than average for men in the United States, Li adds.

The take home message? Avoid BPA as much as possible, Li says. “Semen is a sensitive measure of environmental exposure because production only takes 90 days,” he explains. “That’s relatively short, but other problems like cancer take decades to develop. You have to wonder what else BPA is doing.”