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Phthalates Linked to Male-Factor Infertility

Phthalates Linked to Male-Factor Infertility

Phthalates Linked to Male-Factor InfertilityAn August 2015 study from researchers at National Cheng Kung University College of Medicine shows that there is a relationship between exposure to industrial plasticizers, specifically phthalates, and incidents of hormone imbalance in men as well as male-factor infertility.

What are Phthalates?
Phthalates are a family of chemicals added to plastics to increase their flexibility, yet make them harder to break. Many, actually most, conventional consumer products, contain phthalates including:

  • packaged food and beverages
  • fragrances – perfumes and colognes
  • cosmetics
  • body and hair care products – shampoos, styling products, body wash, bath gel and shaving cream
  • children’s clothing and soft children’s toys
  • building materials (PVC to name one)
  • home-decorating materials (paint for example)
  • cleaning products and laundry detergents
  • medical devices

Phthalates are endocrine system disruptors known to cause infertility, reduced testosterone levels and, most worrisome, cause abnormal development of the male reproductive system while in utero. Phthalates have also been linked to and may cause allergies, asthma, and hormone disruption in both men and women. As if all of this wasn’t concerning enough, phthalates are also linked to recurrent miscarriage.

Professor Ching-Chang Lee of the National Cheng Kung University Dept. of Environmental and Occupational Health and co-author of this study said, “People are now often frequently exposed to plasticizers, including from hot or cold food and drinks contained in bags or boxes containing plasticizers. Males who used more bath wash, shampoo, shaving cream and colognes were also found to have higher concentrations of plasticizers in their systems.”

The Study Details

Lee and his colleagues aimed to evaluate, through their case–controlled study that ran from 2010 to 2012, how exposure to phthalates causes hormone imbalance in men.

Participants: There were 176 male participants who were either infertile males recruited through infertility clinics in Taiwan, or fertile males recruited from childbirth preparation classes (location not stated).

Study Method: Each male gave urine samples through which concentrations of “11 phthalate metabolites were measured, along with serum levels of FSH, LH, total testosterone (TT), estradiol, sex hormone-binding globulin and Inhibin B” along with levels of androgens (free testosterone (fT) and the free androgen index (FAI)) and insulin-like factor 3 (INSL3).

Study findings: The infertile men had increased amounts of phthalates in their urine which correlated with them having significantly lower levels of hormones, specifically serum Inhibin B, the Inhibin B to FSH ratio, the TT to LH ratio and the level of INSL3.

Conclusion: Researchers concluded that the mechanism of action of phthalates within the male body is through the function of Leydig cells*. Phthalates are believed to inhibit testosterone and INSL3 (a marker of Leydig function) secretion by the Leydig cells.

*Leydig cells reside within the testes and they are responsible for the production of testosterone and insulin-like factor 3 (INSL3) which both play a role in the creation of sperm and quality.

How Men Can Reduce Their Exposure to Phthalates

The #1 thing to do is to avoid exposure to xenohormones. To do this, try to avoid plastics, especially eating, drinking or storing food in plastic containers. Be sure to also choose natural body care products with non-chemical ingredients. Attention should also be paid to:

Thoughts From The Author
Most healthy males produce millions of sperm each day. New sperm take between 42-76 days, which is only 2-3 months, to fully mature. Begin today to reduce your exposure to phthalates and improve your body’s ability to detoxify itself from these chemicals by eating a healthier diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding xenohormones. Should you find out your sperm count or health is suffering, consider natural therapies that support sperm health such as herbs and nutritional supplements. These natural options can have a profound impact on your fertility and can increase the chances of conception in a relatively short amount of time (months). For a couple preparing for fertility, male fertility health is important too!


Dr. Christine Traxler M.D., OB/GYN
Dr. Christine Traxler M.D., OB/GYN

Dr. Traxler is a University-trained obstetrician/gynecologist, working with patients in Minnesota for over 20 years. She is a professional medical writer; having authored multiple books on pregnancy and childbirth; textbooks and coursework for medical students and other healthcare providers; and has written over 1000 articles on medical, health, and wellness topics.  Dr. Traxler attended the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences and University of Minnesota Medical School,  earning a degree in biochemistry with summa cum laude honors in 1981,  and receiving her Medical Doctorate degree (MD) in 1986.

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