10+ Shocking Studies on Hormone Disruption in Men

If you asked in any health coach training program what the top issues are that you’ll be helping male clients with, you could probably expect an answer including issues like career change, overcoming grief, and managing diabetes. These are all good examples and things I’ve worked with men on facing.

There’s another issue that belongs on this list which I haven’t heard as much chatter about, but it’s an issue I’ve seen repeatedly in my male clients: low testosterone and infertility.

And, I know, you might be thinking that’s a problem for older men given that men naturally begin losing testosterone with age. It’s not.  The clients I’ve seen facing this issue range from mid-twenties to mid-seventies. Age doesn’t seem to be a defining factor.

But toxic chemical exposure might be.

Below are ten studies documenting modern hormone disruption and infertility in men, and in some cases revealing how toxic chemical exposure is creating these results across the animal kingdom.

Phthalate Exposure Adversely Affects Sperm Mobility, Fertilization Rate

To start, I want to include some newer research into phthalates, the so-called “everywhere chemicals,” which you may have encountered in the news before reading this post. Phthalates are pervasively used in manufactured plastics especially as an additive to PVC, but they do not chemically bind to the materials they are added to, which contributes to our widespread exposure through ingestion, inhalation, and dermal contact.

A 2018 study found that participants who dined out more often than those who dined at home had 35% higher phthalate levels. For teenagers, that value increased to 55%.

While most of the other studies on phthalates I’ve included focus on specific phthalates this new study released in April 2021 documents the effects of exposure to phthalate mixtures. Researchers found that exposure to these chemicals together “adversely affected sperm motility, capacitation, and acrosome reaction, which resulted in poor fertilization rates and repressed embryonic development,” with excessive exposure significantly impacting early embryonic development.

Poor Semen Health and Testosterone Strongly Associated with Phthalate Exposure

In this 2018 review of scientific literature on male reproductive effects produced by six phthalates, researchers identified DEHP and DBP as particularly associated with impacting semen health and testosterone. Both DEHP and DBP are chemicals used to make plastics more flexible. Implicated with these chemicals are products like shower curtains, garden hoses, gloves, shoes, and cable insulation.

High DEHP, DINCH Exposure Linked to Low Testosterone in Older Men

The study documented that men may be susceptible to phthalate exposure in different ways as we age. High molecular weight phthalates, such as DEHP, may affect testosterone levels in men over 60, whereas lower molecular weight phthalates, like DINCH, may primarily affect men under 40.

DINCH is associated with exercise mats, food packaging, wall and floor coatings, and shoes among other products.

Exposure to PFAS Associated with Testicular Cancer

PFAS are another class of chemicals implicated in negative health outcomes. A 2019 study found that childhood exposure to parabens, phthalates, and PFAS resulted in reduced lung capacity that may contribute to chronic lung problems in adulthood.

In 2013, a study resulting from a class action lawsuit regarding industrial contamination of groundwater with PFOA (a type of PFAS which bioaccumulates in humans), linked exposure to the chemicals with “kidney cancer, testicular cancer, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, hypercholesterolemia, and pregnancy-induced hypertension.”

PFOA can be found in non-stick cooking equipment and water repellant gear.

PFAS Exposure Associated with Lower Testosterone and Semen Quality Levels

This review of scientific literature on PFAS exposure documents the chemicals’ negative associations with male fertility and testosterone levels, as well as parallel research in rodents which also supports their negative impact on endocrine disruptors in the reproductive system.

BPA Exposure Linked to Decreased Sperm Counts in Young Men

Fifteen or so years ago, BPA was having a moment in American environmental and health politics. I can remember learning about the industrial chemical when a friend asked if the water bottle I brought on a hike was “BPA-free.” Today many of the plastic containers that one might search for online are allegedly BPA-free, although whether other toxic chemicals have simply replaced the culprit is another issue entirely.

I included this study because not everyone is aware of BPA still, and many of us might still have products which were made before we were aware of it. This study looked at concentrations of BPA in urine along with blood and semen samples from 18-23 year old men. It found that urinary concentration of BPA was “significantly and inversely associated with sperm concentration,” supporting the hypothesis that BPA is linked to decreased sperm counts in young men.

Chemical Contaminants in Indoor Dust Associated with Endocrine Disruption in Men

In my experience, one of the first things people start asking when presented with any of the above information is “how are we being exposed?” We want to know the pathways we need to secure. And while there are actionable consumer choices we can make like minimizing our exposure to plastics, especially in food packaging, the thing about these chemicals is how pervasive they are.

This study found that exposure to chemical contaminants through indoor dust may actually lead to endocrine disruption in men. In essence, just breathing in an indoor environment with contaminated dust may be enough to create tangible effects in the male reproductive system.

Sperm Quality Decreased Significantly Over Time

One of the big shockers that’s been in natural health news lately is the declining rate of sperm quality in men. Where a lot of these studies have looked at individual or small cohorts of men as a population sample, the sperm quality of men in general may also be impacted by these chemicals.

A 1992 study documented around a 50% decline in male sperm count from 1940 to 1990. In 2017, a meta-analysis reiterated these findings, showing around a 52% decline in sperm count between 1973 and 2011.

Birth Rate of Boys Decreasing with Exposure to Man-Made Chemicals

The very number of boys being born may also be declining along with sperm quality.

This research from 2007 showed that chemical exposure can actually alter the sex of unborn child in the womb. In parts of the northern hemisphere, high blood levels of man-made chemicals are causing a decrease in the number of boys being born. The toxins are thought to accumulate through diet or exposure to flame-retardant, DDT, and PCBs.

80% of Male Bass Fish in Major River Now Exhibiting Female Traits, Including Egg Production

Humans, likewise, are not the only species chemical toxicity is impacted. As reported by The Guardian, “More than 80% of the male bass fish in Washington’s major river are now exhibiting female traits such as egg production because of a ‘toxic stew’ of pollutants.”

Typically we might think of hormone disruption as something that only happens to women, or perhaps men if we’re looking at sperm quality, but what these studies show is that the industrial chemicals we are polluting our world with have broad implications not just on human life but all life.

Whether we are coaches looking into the causes of the problems facing men we coach, environmentalists, mothers, fathers, or just men looking after ourselves, chemically induced hormone disruption is something we ought to keep our eye on.

Keep educated. Buy responsibly when you are able to.

About the author

Free to Live Healthy is written by JP Mosley, a board certified health and wellness coach based in Abbeville, South Carolina.

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