Plastic and fertility

1 July 2021

by Giorgia Tortiello

Reading time 2 minuts

How plastics are changing also reproduction

Shanna Swan is a professor of environmental medicine and public health at Mount Sinai school of medicine in New York City.

In the last twenty years she has studied the fertility changes and trends.
In 2017 she documented how the average sperm counts among western men have more than halved in the last 40 years.
Reproductive problems are tied to the environment.
We’re living a reproductive health crisis.
For sure the environment is not the only cause, but chemicals in plastics play an important causal role.
Female fertility declines rapidly after the age of 35, but her studies show an increase in altered fertility in younger women.
In addition, the risk of miscarriage has increased among women of all ages.

What are the most dangerous chemicals?

Some chemicals interfere with the sexual hormones of the human body, such as testosterone and estrogen.
Phthalates, used to make plastic flexible and soft, are a serious problem. They are mainly absorbed through food, because we daily use soft plastic in food production, processing and packaging.

When the urinary concentration of DEHP (phthalates) increases, there is a diminishing sperm count.
On women, the effects of phthalates are decreased libido and increased risk of early puberty, premature ovarian insufficiency, miscarriage and premature birth.

Bisphenol A (BPA), that is used to harden plastic, alters the female endocrine balance and interferes with estrogen production.
In men, it can cause a decrease in sperm quality, reduced libido and higher rates of erectile dysfunction.

Plastic generation: phthalate syndrome

These problems have even more dramatic effects on the developing fetus. And the absorption of dangerous chemicals then continues in childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
Phthalate syndrome has been shown experimentally in rodents since 2000.

Shanna Swan’s studies show that for humans it’s the same.

The study started from the anogenital distance analysis (AGD). It is a very important indicator of reproductive health. AGD is usually much longer in males than females.
Shorter AGDs in males and longer AGDs in females indicate less reproductive success.

Future and solutions

The data are alarming: in 20 years most couples will not be able to have children and will have to use assisted reproduction.

What can we do?

The chemical industry should start to produce chemicals that are not non-hormonally active. Unfortunately, there are huge economic interests preventing stricter regulation.

Every country should recognise the problem and choose to invest not only in research, but also in awareness-raising and information to the population.

In the middle time, we should not trust the BPA free packages and indications, which certainly do not contain bisphenol A, but may contain other free bisphenols.
We should also eat unprocessed foods, we're not supposed to use plastic packaging and plastic in the microwave.

Regarding personal hygiene, it is better to use products without fragrance. Phthalates are in fact added to cosmetics to hold scent for a long time.

Couples wishing to have children should avoid bringing home any product containing these chemicals.

Finally, we should purchase consciously and remember that our choices have consequences not only for us, but also for next generations.

Source: The Guardian

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