A gonadotoxin is a chemical or substance that affects sperm production by the testis….one of several threats to male fertility. You may have heard this term in relation to cancer treatment or prescription medications, but the doctor’s office is not the only place to run across gonadotoxic agents. There are things you interact with every day that may bring you into contact with chemicals that have a negative impact on your fertility.
Two studies published this year indicate that phthalates, a common ingredient in many plastics, contribute to male infertility.1 In the first study, published in Fertility and Sterility, male exposure to the chemical was associated with an approximately 20% reduction in fertility.2 The second study, published in Environmental Science and Pollution Research, indicates why there might be such a reduction: Exposure to phthalates correlates with a significant decrease in sperm motility and sperm concentration. Additionally, phthalates seem to contribute to DNA damage and may influence the reproductive hormone testosterone.3
What and Where are Phthalates?
Phthalates (pronounced THA-lates) are a group of chemicals often called plasticizers because they are used to make plastics more flexible and difficult to break; polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics are a common source. They are also used as dissolving agents for other materials. This is just a short list of the kinds of products that often use phthalates:4
- plastic packaging
- garden hoses
- inflatable toys
- medical tubing
- vinyl flooring
- lubricating oils
- automotive plastics
- plastic clothes, such as raincoats
- personal-care products, such as soaps, shampoos, hairsprays, and perfumes2
Because phthalates aren’t chemically connected with plastics, they can leach out of the products that contain them, and direct contact with these products exposes a person to the leached chemical.5
What Can I Do to Avoid Phthalates?
Although the authors of the second study point out that their small sample size limits the findings of their report, the fact that these two studies were conducted and published separately indicates that there may be some cause for concern. Below are some suggestions for reducing your exposure to phthalates:5
- Use alternatives to PVC plastics whenever possible.
- Use glass containers for storing food whenever possible, or choose plastic containers that aren’t manufactured with phthalates. Plastic products with recycling codes 3 and 7 may contain phthalates or BPA. Look for plastic with recycling codes 1, 2, or 5. Refer to the American Chemistry Council for a description of recycling codes and plastics used in packaging.
- When in doubt about the type of plastic you are using, ask the manufacturer whether their product contain phthalates.
- Check the ingredients of any personal-care products you use, such as soaps, shampoos, hairsprays, and perfumes; these products should be labeled with their ingredients. For example, dibutyl phthalate and diethyl phthalate are two phthalates you might commonly see in an ingredient list.
- Jones, B. (2014, May 18). Male infertility may partially result from chemicals in plastic. Liberty Voice. Retrieved from http://guardianlv.com/2014/05/male-infertility-may-partially-result-from-chemicals-in-plastic/
- Louis, G., Sundaram, R., Sweeney, A., Schisterman, E., Maisog, J., & Kannan, K. (2014, February 17). Urinary bisphenol A, phthalates, and couple fecundity: The Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) Study. Fertility and Sterility, 101(5), 1359–1366. Retrieved from http://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282%2814%2900067-3/abstract
- Pant, N., Kumar, G., Upadhyay, A., Patel, D., Gupta, Y., & Chaturvedi, P. (2014). Reproductive toxicity of lead, cadmium, and phthalate exposure in men. Environmental Science and Pollution Research. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11356-014-2986-5#
- CDC. (2013, July 16). Factsheet: Phthalates. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/Phthalates_FactSheet.html
- Canadian Cancer Society (n.d.). Phthalates. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.ca/en/prevention-and-screening/be-aware/harmful-substances-and-environmental-risks/phthalates/?region=on