Do Common Household Products Harm Male Fertility?

No one should in good conscience seek to avail themselves of a scientifically backed excuse to avoid housework, but with subprime fertility in men affecting more than a third of couples trying to have children, it’s wise to take every reasonable precaution to preserve the integrity of one’s fertility.

That’s especially true when household cleaning products aren’t the only items of concern. And when those same items could wind up impacting the fertility of that companion animal colloquially known as man’s best friend.

In fact, a new study indicates that the “independent and combined effects” of two chemicals could have negative effects on motility (swimming ability) and DNA fragmentation in the sperm of both humans and dogs. High amounts of DNA fragmentation can have the effect of reducing male fertility as the “rungs” that comprise the double-helix “ladders” of DNA become damaged, or fragmented, by the effects of age, smoking, infection, testicular cancer, heat exposure, and toxin/chemical exposure.

When it comes to the area of phthalates (pronounced “fth-ah-lees”), a 2014 study found that the difference of these substances on men and women was significantly pronounced: Men, it turned out, were much more likely to experience problems with fertility as a result of exposure. The most recent study takes these findings a major step further.

Uncommonly common

The latest research, published in the March 4, 2019 issue of Scientific Reports — Nature, examined the potential impact of diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP), a plastic element often used in clothes, toy, upholstery, and carpets, and polychlorinated biphenyl 153 (PCB153), an industrial chemical that is found in a variety of food products even though its usage has been banned all over the world.

Scientists from the University of Nottingham collected semen samples from 11 stud canines as well as nine human registered sperm donors. The samples were subsequently incubated with DEHP and PCB153 in various strengths. The chemicals were also combined in some cases in order to simulate conditions present in some environments.

According to Medical News Bulletin, scientists determined that neither DEHP nor PCB153 impacted sperm motility when the chemicals were applied to individual semen samples. But when the two chemicals were applied in combination, sperm motility was inhibited.

What’s more, both DEHP and PCB153 increased readings of DNA fragmentation in human sperm, regardless of whether they were applied individually or in combination. Similar results were reported to have been discovered in the samples taken from canines.

A true sentinel

Science News quoted study authors as saying that the results provide support for the idea that a dog can serve as something of a model for observing reproductive decline in human males. The findings also suggest that human-manufactured chemicals that have been extensively used in work and home environments may be at fault for the decline in sperm quality found in men and dogs that share the same environment.

This also lends fuel to the notion that that dogs possess something of an extra sense or a close degree of conviviality that leads them to “understand” the health of their human companions. Proponents may now have some added scientific support for this theory – at least as far as this particular area of health is concerned.

Study author Richard Lea, associate professor in reproductive biology at the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science, said that while the group’s previous study in dogs demonstrated that the chemical pollutants observed in the sperm of adult dogs, as well as in some pet foods, had an adverse impact on sperm function, he added that “[t]his new study is the first to test the effect of two known environmental contaminants, DEHP and PCB153, on both dog and human sperm in vitro [in the lab], in the same concentrations as found in vivo [in real life]”.

Professor Gary England, Dean of the School of Veterinary Medicine and Science and Professor of Comparative Veterinary Reproduction, noted that industrial-strength chemicals are typically found in regions where industry is located. As a result, he said, “An important area of future study is to determine how the region in which we live may effect sperm quality in both man and dog.”

All the more reason to take proactive measures for protecting assets before harmful effects that have been suspected for decades take an irreversible toll on plans to start a family. After all, when the dog notices trouble, it’s time to pay close attention – even, or perhaps especially, in matters of fertility.