Are Chemicals Responsible for Low Sperm Counts?

Reduction in quality and quantity of sperm counts in men, coupled with an increase of testicular and breast cancer, appear to be linked to chemicals in food which interfere with sex hormones, the Department of Environment said yesterday.

A report for the Government by the Institute for Environment and Health at Leicester said laboratory experiments show that chemicals interfered with sex hormones, reducing the quality of sperm and the surrounding seminal fluid.

The Government accepted the report and has commissioned more research but, to the dismay of environmental groups, is not moving to ban any of the 3,000 chemicals on the suspect list.

The report said there was strong circumstantial evidence of a causal link between these chemicals in the environment and low sperm counts in men, but no direct evidence.

Professor Lewis Smith, director of the institute said, “Adverse effects on reproductive function in wildlife increase the concern that a link may indeed exist.”

Are Chemicals in Food Causing Low Sperm Counts?

Chemicals in food are most likely to be responsible, but which ones have not been isolated. Research shows that the quantity of sperm in the average male has dropped an average of 2 percent a year for the past 18 years, and abnormalities have increased.

Prof Smith said it did not mean that the human race was in danger of dying out but that the one in five to one in 10 men who had a low sperm count would become functionally infertile.

He was cautious about a clamor to ban certain chemicals as potential culprits.

Prof Smith said: “Just because a certain chemical tried out on rats in a lab causes reduced sperm count, it does not mean that tiny doses in the environment have the same effect on man and it should be banned. We are not in the business of making the world safer for rats to live in.”

Should We Ban Chemicals That Hurt Sperm?

Banning certain chemicals because they were suspected in reducing sperm count was the wrong approach.

“We may feel we have solved the problem only to find later we had spent a lot of money on a ban, lost the services of a valuable chemical and something else was to blame after all. What we need is to find out the cause of what is going wrong.”

The report said that a strong possibility is that the damage is caused when the chemicals enter the fetus or young child and upset its hormone balance before puberty. In this case the problems now being noticed were caused years ago and worse could yet be to come.

Gwynne Lyons, the World Fund for Nature pollution consultant, said: “We cannot afford to wait.

“All around the world we are witnessing low sperm count in people and wildlife. Scientists have acknowledged that unless action is taken the population of many long-lived species will decline to the verge of extinction.”