Infertility has been a growing problem over the last three decades, with most of the attention focused on women’s reproduction. However, 40 to 50 percent of cases of infertility are caused by male infertility. Research shows sperm quality has dropped by 50 percent in the last 80 years. Sperm quality of dogs has also declined sharply over recent years.
Now, a recent study shows common pollutants in the environment and in the foods we eat affect male fertility.
The British study looked at the effects of two common pollutants on the sperm of both men and dogs. For this study they studied a common plasticizer that is ubiquitous in our environment and the industrial chemical polychlorinated biphenyl 153, which, though banned, is still abundant in our foods and the environment.
They found that when sperm is exposed to both these chemicals at levels found in the environment it damaged the sperm. They reduced sperm motility and fragmented DNA in the sperm. Male infertility is linked to DNA fragmentation in sperm.
Many studies link pollutants to poor sperm quality
The declining rates of sperm quality since the rise of industrialization are no surprise; other studies show links.
For instance, past research has shown that environmental pollutants not only impact male fertility but also raise the risk of testicular cancer. Poor sperm quality has even been linked to the chemical exposure of a man’s mother prior to his birth.
Also, chemicals called “endocrine disrupters” have long been shown to impact male fertility. That’s because they mimic human hormones — the female hormone estrogen primarily, thus throwing male hormones off balance.
Again, it’s the chemicals in plastics that are to blame for skewing male hormones and promoting infertility.
Low sperm counts and poor sperm quality have also been linked to benzenes, toluene, xylene, pesticides, herbicides, organic solvents, painting materials, and heavy metals.
Sugars and processed carbs impact male fertility
While industrial pollutants take their toll, so does a dietary pollutant that is a staple of the modern American diet: foods high in sugar and processed carbohydrates that spike blood sugar and insulin levels.
Eating a diet high in these blood sugar-spiking ingredients triggers a man’s body to over produce estrogen. This not only gives him more feminine characteristics but also impacts his fertility.
Symptoms of too much estrogen in men include:
- Low libido
- Decrease or loss of morning erections, fullness of erections, and the ability to maintain erections
- Mental fatigue and poor concentration
- Lack of motivation
- Decrease in physical stamina
Men with excess estrogen also often have high cholesterol and triglycerides, insulin resistance, elevated blood pressure, abdominal weight gain, the development of “breasts” and “hips,” and varicose veins or hemorrhoids. Some men even have hot flashes thanks to high estrogen.
A variety of factors are shown to contribute to estrogen dominance in men, including estrogen mimicking chemicals in pesticides and environmental chemicals, poor essential fatty acid status (too much omega 6 fatty acids and not enough omega 3), gut infections, and poor liver detoxification.
However, the most common cause is the effect of a high-carbohydrate diet on overall health.
When a man consistently eats a diet that is high in starchy and sugary foods, such as sweets, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, soda, and sweet coffee drinks, this chronically over produces insulin in order to low high blood sugar.
This type of diet triggers an enzyme called aromatase, which synthesizes estrogen. The constant activity of aromatase also leads to insulin resistance—when insulin cannot escort glucose into the cells—which causes hormonal imbalances.
Addressing excess estrogen in men
Don’t be fooled into thinking using testosterone gel is the way around high estrogen. Thanks to aromatase, the additional testosterone will simply be converted into estrogen too. The excess testosterone can also cause testosterone resistance, which makes symptoms of low testosterone worse. Instead, a hormone panel that includes levels of testosterone and estrogen will reveal the mechanisms of the imbalance and what the best course of action is for you.
Functional medicine strategies for male infertility
While we can’t rid the environment of pollutants, we can minimize our exposure and help buffer our bodies. In addition to replacing toxic items in your home, body care, house cleaning, and diet with non-toxic alternatives, you can also help your body by supporting your liver detoxification, antioxidant glutathione status, and body’s stress handling abilities.
It’s also vital to use diet and lifestyle changes to support healthy testosterone levels. Ask my office about functional medicine therapies to support healthy male testosterone and fertility.