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Male fertility under threat from plastics.

More scary news about men's sliding fertility... and now the spotlight falls on plastics - with chemicals in sunscreen and clothing implicated too.

Here, I should add a reassuring note that lower sperm counts don't necessarily signify lower fertility.

Men make millions of sperm every day and millions in excess of needs. The sperm count has to drop quite a way before fertility is eroded.

But sperm quality is another thing. In the sperm a man produces, there's a minimum required amount of healthy sperm (because a lot aren't normal).

Healthy sperm are defined as those being anatomically normal and very active in moving about (sperm motility). If either or both of these features are questionable in large numbers, then so is fertility.

And numbers of good sperm are declining. A study from Denmark reports only one in four men has good quality sperm. One in six has very poor quality and would need fertility treatment to be able to father children. For a further one in three, sperm quality was bad enough that they'd have to try a long time for a baby.

Plastics are thought to be the main culprit for the drop in quality.

Chemicals called phthalates - found in plastics and in products such as shower curtains, car dashboards and cleaning materials - can be breathed in, consumed or absorbed through the skin of pregnant women.

This can inhibit testosterone production in male foetuses leading to sons born with low sperm counts.

Other chemicals, known as PFCs and found in raincoats and non-stick pans, are also linked to poor-quality sperm.

Niels Jorgensen, an associate professor from Copenhagen, says we should be "very worried" by studies showing falling sperm quality across Europe.

Men are taking longer to father a child, often with older women, so increasingly need fertility treatment, he said.

Prof Jorgensen warned women should be wary of sunscreen too "because what you put on your skin, you absorb."

Laboratory tests on sunscreen have shown an effect on semen quality, he added, saying: "If I was to advise my own family I would say, 'Don't use it'."

In France, tubes made with DEHP, a type of phthalate, will be banned in neonatal, paediatric and maternity units - the first country to do so.

Other studies have found that lifestyle factors could affect sperm. One showed that the more saturated fats a man ate, such as those found in butter and cheese, the lower his sperm count.

Another linked hours of television watching to lower quality sperm.

All this is made worse with the trend among women to leave it later and later to start a family - when their own fertility is dropping.

Lifestyle can affect sperm quality too

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Title Annotation:Features; Opinion Column
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jul 28, 2015
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