Plastic, male infertility and what to do about it

I read this powerful article the other week on dropping sperm counts, and needless to say, it’s both shocking and sobering. Please go read it!  Essentially, average sperm counts in men have halved in approximately the last 40 years, as shown by rigorous systematic reviews.  Unless something is done to halt the decline, human men may be completely infertile in a few decades. But while you don’t actually need much sperm to make babies and the IVF industry and other fertility industries will probably prevent the end of the human species, it points to a much wider health issue. Just take the following quote from the article:

“Almost all the scientists I talked to stressed that not only were low sperm counts alarming for what they said about the reproductive future of the species—they were also a warning of a much larger set of health problems facing men. In this view, sperm production is a canary in the coal mine of male bodies: We know, for instance, that men with poor semen quality have a higher mortality rate and are more likely to have diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease than fertile men.”

Basically, whatever is causing the dropping sperm counts is harming the health of men and almost certainly of women too. While the obvious things like diet, stress, and other lifestyle factors play a role for sure, the author of the article goes on to talk about the chemical revolution, and the introduction of thousands of new unseen-before chemical compounds that have been unleashed into the world since WW2, of which the long term effects aren’t fully understood. In particular, endocrine disrupting chemicals that are used in the manufacture of plastics, are likely to be responsible in large part for the effing-up of human endocrine hormones.

Most people these days are clued up on how and why plastics are destroying the environment around us; everything from micro-plastics in the sea, to large chunks suffocating sea creatures. But not many people realise  how much we absorb into our bodies and how this causes harm to human (and other species) long term health. The oestrogen mimickers in plastics have been linked to lowered sperm counts, but also neurotoxicity ,breast and prostate cancer, alzheimer’s disease and even cardiovascular disease. And unfortunately, plastic is EVERYWHERE. The CDC estimated that approx 93% of people have BPA in their bodies.

If you the think regulatory agencies and governments are protecting you, for example from consuming too much plastic in the food you eat, think again. Just read the end of this study. The EPA in the US cites it’s reference dose for food consumption of BPA  (maximum daily dose) as 50 μg/kg-day (set in 1993, way before most of the BPA studies done), and the European limit is more conservative at 5 μg/kg-day. However neither take into account cumulative exposures from other sources and of other endocrine disruptors over time .

Okay, so you know how bad this stuff is. What can you actually do to minimise your intake of  plastics? Below are some things that I do to limit my exposure…

  1. Try and buy products in glass or paper as much as possible. This can be hard, but I try to buy meats that aren’t shrink wrapped, and whenever I’m at the farmers market I ALWAYS ask for my meat to be wrapped in paper rather than plastic. I ask for my raw  cream in glass jars that I provide (fats leach the most plastics so I’m ULTRA cautious about fatty food in plastic). I’ve found some yogurt brands that come in glass  and in general always opt for food packaged in glass.
  2. Store food in glass or ceramic or steel. Even when I buy food/drink in plastic I will immediately transfer it to a food-safe container to limit any leaching.
  3. Never drink bottled water – it is one of the biggest sources of BPA. I take a stainless steel bottle with me filled with my filtered water from home, and if I have to buy water when out I always buy in Glass. San pellegrino and Highland spring are great companies
  4. Avoid canned foods, especially acidic foods like tomatoes or fatty foods. A good alternative is passata in glass jars, or use fresh tomatoes and cook for longer.
  5.  Try to avoid taking receipts when possible. Receipts are known to contain BPA that gets absorbed through your skin when you handle them. I always decline them at shops unless I know I need them.
  6. If you have kids, use BPA free bottles – ideally glass covered in protective rubber. Babies are much more sensitive to chemical exposures than adults. The EU even banned baby bottles made from BPA in 2011. Also be cautious in pregnancy as many plastics cross the placenta, and the fetal detoxification system is immature, meaning potential development problems and life long effects.
  7. Don’t trust a lot of the “BPA-free” products, because these just contain other forms of plastic, for which we have less data and could be just as bad or worse.
  8. Try and avoid non-stick cookware, as the plastic PTFE used in these has been shown to be toxic.
  9. Look at the ingredient labels of your soaps/hairsprays/shampoos/make-up and other cosmetic products. Most contain harmful plastics such as pthalates, PCBs, microplastics and more. I use the EWG skin database to find safe cosmetics.
  10. Finally, because all of us will inevitably be exposed to harmful plastics no matter how hard we try to avoid them,  make sure you’re healthy in other ways and support your detoxification pathways so your body can successfully excrete as many plastic compounds as possible. Supplements/foods that support the liver include milk thistle, N-acetyl-cysteine, and broccoli sprouts.

I hope that this article helps you understand how plastics pose serious health risks, but also makes you feel empowered to take as many steps as you can to mitigate the effects of living in this post-industrial world.




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