Male infertility and environmental issues – Alliance VITA

Male fertility decline was identified about thirty years ago. In the Report on the causes of infertility [1]Given to the former Minister of Health, Olivier Veran in February 2022, a meta-analysis published in 2017 was mentioned in the Human Reproduction Update. According to her, there was a decrease of more than 50% in the average sperm concentration of men in industrialized countries during forty years (between 1973 and 2011). In 2019, a survey – published in the journal Urology – was conducted on 120,000 Spanish and American men who had consulted a medical assisted reproductive center. It shows that the number of men with less than 15 million motile sperm per milliliter (the average considered normal by the World Health Organization, the lower limit we’re talking about is oligospermia) increased between 2002 and 2017, from 1 in 8 to 1 every 5 in just fifteen years. A French study from 2018 runs in the same direction as these international findings. It deplores the significant and persistent decline in sperm concentration between 1989 and 2005, with an annual decrease of about 1.9%.

Several reasons have been cited, among them: environmental factors. On June 9, 2022 in the International Journal of Environment, researchers from London and Copenhagen published a study that starts from this assumption of a link between male fertility and daily pollutants. Its authors hypothesize that infertility problems (sperm quality, egg insufficiency, increased incidence of testicular cancer, etc.) are partly related to increased human exposure to certain chemicals. They chose about thirty molecules It is already suspected to have an effect on sperm quality and the literature provides information on its acceptable level of exposure. Then one hundred male volunteers looked for the presence of these substances in various samples, such as urine.

“We then reported estimated population exposure for each substance at the level at which effects no longer occurred,” Kortenkamp of Brunel University in London told Le Monde. “What we are showing is that the combined exposure to so many products greatly exceeds this safety threshold. We are talking about the average exposure exceeding the acceptable exposure by a factor of 20. The most exposed individuals in our sample exceed this threshold by up to 100 times. It is significant “.

The study concluded that the permissible exposure to substances associated with the deterioration of sperm quality is greatly exceeded. It is believed that the cause of these risks are BPA, polychlorinated dioxins, phthalates and analgesics. This analysis has a predictive nature and can be verified in adequate epidemiological studies on sperm quality, as the authors specify in their article.

In France, the results of the Esteban study (Health study on the environment, vital monitoring, physical activity and nutrition, and more specifically, the section on human vital monitoring), published in September 2019 by Santé public France, show a general human impregnation. Blood and bodily fluids are six families of contaminants found in everyday consumer products, including BPA and phthalates.

But defining the cause-and-effect relationship between the action of the condemned molecule and its precise harmful effects remains complex.

In addition to the consequences for reduced fertility, the authors of a 2017 meta-analysis noted that sperm quality can be a general indicator of overall health. In fact, three large studies today link poor semen quality to increased mortality and morbidity in men from all causes.[2].

In France, 3.3 million people are directly affected by the issue of infertility. More than 15% of couples of childbearing age consult about the difficulty of having children. The numbers are alarming and getting worse. According to studies conducted in 195 countries, the infertility rate has increased by 0.29% annually for men and by 0.37% for women over the past 20 years.

So it is a huge challenge, both on an individual level for those who experience it and on a collective level. This question, intimate and social, must be placed at the center of the great contemporary political challenges.

[1]Fix putting the link to FA because the link on the site doesn’t work: Infertility: Report focused on prevention and research

[2] Report on the causes of infertility – 1.4.1.3



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