News: Is the environment making you infertile?

Could chemicals in our environment have an impact on male cancer rates and sperm quality? It would seem so, according

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Could chemicals in our environment have an impact on male cancer rates and sperm quality? It would seem so, according to a recent study of Finnish men conducted by the University of Turku, reports BBC News. But where is the link?

The study, published in the International Journal of Andrology, looked at the semen quality of a total of 858 men born between 1979 and 1987. What they found was that men born in the late ’80s not only had lower sperm counts than those born earlier in the decade, but there was also an increase in the incidence of testicular cancer in men born in the early ’80s, compared to those born 30 years earlier.

It’s interesting to note that in the past, Finnish men were believed to have higher sperm counts than men anywhere else in the world. Researchers hypothesized that this may be linked to the rate at which Finns have been exposed to industrial pollution’something we’re certainly not lacking here in North America.

"These simultaneous and rapidly occurring adverse trends suggest that the underlying causes are environmental and, as such, preventable," wrote the study’s authors, led by Niels Jørgensen. "Our findings necessitate not only further surveillance of male reproductive health but also research to detect and remove the underlying factors."

While the study’s authors stressed that the data should be interpreted with caution, it is difficult not to be concerned by the idea that environmental pollution might be making us infertile.

"The best working theory we have to explain why sperm counts may be declining is that chemicals from food or the environment are affecting the development of testicles of boys in the womb or in their early years of life," Dr. Allan Pacey, senior lecturer in andrology at the University of Sheffield, said in an interview with BBC News. "[The] inter-generational effect makes it difficult to study, but it is clear that more research is needed to identify dangerous chemicals so that we can try remove them from the environment and protect future generations."

What’s your take on this study? Are we helpless to stop the decline in fertility, or is this simply a reminder that we all need to be more mindful of our impact on the environment, and how that impact affects our own health?

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