Year-End Cleaning? Consider Reducing BPA in Your Home to Protect Male Fertility
Last updated: 11/23/2022
If a year-end cleaning is on your agenda in the next week or two, put this on your list of items to consider getting rid of: Plastic items like water bottles and food containers that contain BPA. It's a relatively easy step you can take on your TTC journey, as BPA can negatively affect male fertility - as well as female fertility and baby's cognitive development. Let's dive into the research.
What is BPA?
BPA is a chemical commonly used to make clear plastic (polycarbonate) more resilient. A vast majority of BPA finds its way into polycarbonate, used to make food containers, lenses for glasses and containers for cosmetics. A small amount is also used in linings of cans to prevent rust formation.
BPA is a known endocrine disruptor. It behaves like estrogen once it enters our body, interfering with hormonal processes that support our health, including our reproductive and sexual health. (Scientists have also raised alarms about its effects on the environment.) Because of these health and environmental concerns, manufacturers of plastic products have shifted to using other chemicals than BPA, and t’s become much easier to find BPA-free products.
Animal studies suggest that BPA reduce male fertility
Many animal and in vitro studies have suggested that excessive levels of BPA may interfere with the processes involved in male reproductive health. For example, studies in mice and rats found that BPA exposure results in a significant decline in sperm counts, sperm motility and sperm morphology, as well as an increase in sperm DNA damage.
BPA exposure may be one reason sperm count has been declining significantly in the last 5 decades.
Animal studies have also identified a clear pathway: interference with the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis, the three organs that work together to regulate reproductive hormones. As a result, male animals with higher BPA exposure had lower levels of gonadotropins and testosterone – key hormones in spermatogenesis.
Human studies on BPA and male fertility are mixed
Healthy sperm and testosterone levels are key to reproductive success in men. Results in humans, however, have been mixed, partly because large, prospective studies comparing the reproductive outcomes of men with and without BPA exposure are difficult to conduct.
Importantly, however, some of the studies that found no relationship between BPA levels and various fertility parameters had generally low levels of BPA among the study participants. This means that these studies don't rule out the possibility that fertility of men with higher BPA levels may indeed be affected.
- Sperm parameters: One prospective study found that higher levels of BPA in the urine are associated with poorer sperm parameters, including lower sperm concentration, count and motility. However, other (non-prospective) studies failed to identify an association between BPA and sperm parameters, except for with progressive motility (the sperm’s ability to move straight ahead).
- Reproductive hormones: Multiple studies have linked BPA exposure to changes in various reproductive hormones, including testosterone, luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, inhibin B and estrogen. Although it appears that BPA does affect reproductive hormones, as this 2016 review summarized well, it’s difficult to draw a universal conclusion from these studies. BPA concentrations were quite different between study groups, and no one hormone was affected in the same way across all the studies.
- Reproductive outcomes of couples: Several studies, including this 2015 study of 400+ IUI and IVF cycles, examined the relationship between reproductive outcomes like fertilization rate, implantation rate, quality of embryos and live birth rate. Possibly due to the relatively low overall BPA levels among men in the studies, these studies didn’t find a statistically significant correlation.
- Sexual health: Studies have found that men with higher levels of BPA have a higher likelihood of erectile and ejaculatory dysfunction, as well as reduced sexual desire.
Higher-than-normal BPA exposure among women has also been implicated in fertility struggles in couples. Taken together, scientists think, BPA exposure can be a contributing factor when couples experience difficulty getting pregnant or keeping a healthy pregnancy.
Reduce your exposure to BPA and let your body do the work
On the TTC journey, it may be a good idea to reduce your exposure to BPA. It may help protect your – and your partner’s – fertility from this chemical’s possible interference. Importantly, reducing parental exposure to BPA during the preconception and prenatal period may also help reduce the baby’s risk of a wide range of health issues, including obesity, mental health issues like anxiety and depression, while supporting the healthy development of the baby’s brain and cognitive functions.
As we wrote in this article about BPA and female fertility, however, our take is to try to reduce your exposure to BPA, rather than aim for a complete elimination of BPA from your life. Partly, it’s because BPA is still quite common, and it can be difficult to know if something contains BPA.
There is another reason: Our bodies are pretty good at getting rid of BPA, once we take steps to reduce exposure. (For example, an interventional study found that switching to eating unpackaged fresh foods for just 3 days reduced the amount of BPA in the urine by two-thirds.)
Take a look at this article for tips on how to reduce exposure to BPA – and reach out to us if you have any questions. We are here to help.
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