Studies reveal effect of PFAS, food additives on reproductive health

Two major studies reveal devastating effect of PFAS and food additives on male and female sexual health: From sperm damage to smaller testicles, early menopause and ovary cysts

  • Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals can damage reproductive health
  • These substances are found in everyday products like plastics, soaps and food
  • READ MORE: How YOUR home is crawling with ‘forever chemicals’ 

In recent years concerns about the contaminants in our foods and everyday products have made headlines due to their links to cancers.

But a growing body of research suggests the microscopic molecules also have a devastating effect on fertility and may be contributing to America’s ‘baby bust’.

In two new reviews of scientific literature, researchers from across the globe looked at the impact of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) on male and female reproductive health.

They found these substances can cause infertility, genital malformations, lower sperm count and quality, early menopause and an increased risk of breast and testicular cancers. 

EDCs include PFAS but also pesticides, phenols, a group of chemicals found in toys and dental products; phthalates, a group of chemicals in food packaging; parabens, a group of chemicals used as food preservatives; and triclosan, an antimicrobial agent used in soaps and hand sanitizers.

Some impacts in women from EDCs include early menopause, an increased risk of breast cancer, endometriosis, which can lead to infertility, and metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes

In men, researchers looked at data from multiple animal and experimental studies and concluded it demonstrated strong evidence for negative effects on male reproductive health and exposure to EDCs

Some primary sources of PFAS and other contaminants include plastic food containers, makeup, cleaning sprays, medications, contaminated food and pollution of water and air. 

Researchers from Vietnam, India, New Zealand and the United States reviewed more than 300 sources of information, including previous experimental studies and data from national and international health monitoring databases, as well as animal studies. 

In the review of the impact on women, the team looked at studies that had analyzed levels of and exposure to contaminants and tested and evaluated placenta, urine, blood, hormone levels and tissues.

Researchers found exposure to Bisphenol A, or BPA, can lead to a decline in the development and quality of eggs and an increased risk of implantation failure, when fertilized eggs do not implant in the uterine lining correctly, frequently resulting in pregnancy loss. 

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a leading contributor to infertility, and a risk factor for endometrial cancer and diabetes, has also been linked to BPA exposure. 

BPA is a type of plastic used to make plastic dinnerware, car parts, toys, beverage containers and CDs. 

Exposure to phthalates, compounds in soaps, shampoos, lubricating oils and plastic packaging, was associated with a reduced probability of pregnancy and lower-quality eggs. 

Additional impacts in women seen in the previous studies, include early menopause, an increased risk of breast cancer, endometriosis, which can lead to infertility, and metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. 

These harmful substances can also result in longer menstrual cycles and early onset of puberty, which has been linked to depression, substance abuse, sexual assault and adult breast cancer. 

The EDC group of PFAS has been linked to a reduction in a mother’s lactation period, the timeframe that a woman produces breast milk, and researchers found a type of pesticide led to shortened menstrual cycles, which can affect reproduction.  

During pregnancy, exposure to EDCs has been linked to maternal obesity, high blood pressure and preeclampsia, a life-threatening blood pressure condition. 

Studies have also shown mixed results on EDC exposure and preterm birth.

Based on their results, researchers strongly advocate for eating organic food and avoiding plastics and canned foods and beverages. 

Data also supports avoiding fast food, following a vegetarian diet, changing personal care products and reducing dust.

Using stainless steel or glass bottles and containers, as well as cardboard wrapping instead of plastic packaging and avoiding plastic utensils and non-stick cookware will also help reduce exposure to contaminants. 

Endocrine disrupting compounds can come from many sources, including plastics, makeup, personal care products and pharmaceutical products. 

Women are commonly exposed to EDCs in products they use every day, like makeup, soaps, shampoos and certain medications. 

PFAS is a common contaminant in many household items from cookware to hamburger wrappers. It can remain in the environment as well as human tissue for years, even decades, before being cleared out

The researchers stress the importance of reducing exposure especially during the time just before pregnancy and in the early stages of pregnancy.  

In men, researchers looked at data from multiple animal studies and concluded EDCs also have negative effects on male reproductive health.

Phenols, a large group of chemicals used in building materials, dental products, food packaging, hand sanitizers and food preservatives, were shown in animal studies to decrease sperm count, damage DNA and alter testosterone levels, as well as lead to testicular damage. 

Phthalates, a group of chemicals found in personal care products, dietary supplements, medications and home furnishings, were shown in animal studies to lead to the malformation of the male reproductive tract, as well as adverse reproductive effects, including reduced size of the testicles, malformation of external genitals and impaired production of sperm. 

Semen quality is the most prevalent cause of male infertility, accounting for 40 percent of cases, and poor testicular function has also been associated with a higher risk of chronic disease and mortality. 

Pesticides, harmful substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling or mitigating pests, are used widely in agriculture and the industry accounts for 90 percent of total pesticide use.

Surveillance data from across the US shows nearly all Americans have detectable levels of pesticides in their urine or blood.

Asian-Americans have double the amount of toxic PFAS ‘forever chemicals’ in their blood compared to most people, study suggests 

A study that tested the blood and urine of more than 3,000 Americans found the average levels of per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were 89 percent higher in Asian-Americans

Diet, in particular the consumption of fruits and vegetables, is the primary source of exposure to pesticides to the general population – and the Food and Drug Administration has shown a considerable share of domestic fruits and vegetables have detectable pesticide residue or residue levels exceeding the government standards. 

There is strong experimental evidence in animal studies, researchers say, that shows pesticide exposure disrupts hormones, lowers sperm count and motility, reduces testosterone and alters sperm DNA.  

As with the female studies, researchers advocate for organic diets.

They also concluded additional studies, particularly on PFAS and air pollution, are needed to investigate the relationship between these EDCs and male reproductive health.  

EDCs are compounds that disrupt the function of the endocrine system, which is responsible for regulating the body’s hormones and all biological processes from conception into old age, including the development of the brain and nervous system and the growth and function of the reproductive system.

The ovaries and testes, as well as the pituitary, thyroid, and adrenal glands are major components of the endocrine system. 

A type of EDC, PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a group of synthetic chemicals present in food packaging, clothes and thousands of other products in the US.

Because of their ubiquity, they leach into soil, drinking water, the air and food, exposing Americans to the toxins almost everywhere.

They’ve been deemed ‘forever chemicals’ because they don’t break down in the environment or human body and have been linked to birth defects and an increased risk of an array of cancers.

Aside from the burden these medical problems will have on an already stressed healthcare industry, the decline in fertility will add to the fertility crisis across the country. 

Fertility rates in the United States are at a historic low and show no sign of reversing, with experts warning a continuing decline in births sets the US up for an economic crisis. 

The studies were published in the journals Environmental Research and Fertility and Sterility.

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