Exposure to Phthalates, Toxic Chems, May Harm Male Fertility: Study

Exposure to phthalate chemicals, which are used widely in food packaging, detergents and other consumer products, may significantly reduce fertility among men, according to the findings of new research. 

In a study published last month in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility, researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that men with high levels of phthalates in their urine were more likely to suffer from fertility issues.

The research was part of the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE) Study, testing 500 couples after they stopped using contraception between 2005 to 2009. The study measured the levels of bisphenol-A (BPA) and 14 different phthalate metabolites in participant’s urine.

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Researchers found male exposure to phthalates was associated with a 20% reduction in fertility. Researchers evaluated the chemical levels in their urine for one year or until couples had a positive pregnancy test.

Specifically, men exposed to monmethyl, mon-n-butyl and monobenzyl experienced a reduction in fertility. The couples with men who had high levels of phthalates experienced a significantly longer time to achieving pregnancy with their spouse.

Germaine Buck Louis, the lead author of the study, and his team of researchers also tested the effects of the highly controversial chemical BPA. They found neither female nor male BPA urine concentrations were associated with a longer time to achieving pregnancy.

Researchers say the study highlights the importance of further research concerning the effects of phthalates in both men and women. They hope to “minimize erroneous conclusions” concerning the chemicals, especially concerning the effects on both genders.

The study found women who wore cosmetics has higher levels of phthalates in their urine, however it did not decrease their infertility as it did to men.

Phthalates are a class of industrial compounds commonly known as plasticizers. The chemicals are often used to make plastic more flexible or to help cosmetics slide on more smoothly.

Like BPA, they are known endocrine disruptors, which interfere with the natural way the body regulates and produces hormones.

Phthalates are found in food packaging, detergents, textiles, plastic tubing used in hospitals to deliver medications, the coatings on pills, including some aspirin, and many other products. The pervasive availability of the chemicals allows many more people to become exposed to the harmful effects.

Prior studies have found phthalates may contribute to a slew of side effects, including birth defects, cancer, diabetes and infertility.

Research published in 2011 found phthalates interfere with the proper functioning of the thyroid and can result in a decrease in thyroid hormones by 10 percent following high exposure to the chemical.

A study published last month revealed phthalates, commonly used to seal and contain food products, may leach into the food they package causing severe side effects. Because they are used in so many consumer products, any harmful effects could be widespread.


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