Chemicals in shaving cream could be altering men’s sperm

Researchers were looking at how a man’s environment could contribute to reproductive success.

Scientists are warning men the compounds in their shaving cream may be causing subtle changes in their sperm, reducing their chances of becoming fathers.

The problem, they say, is a ubiquitous class of chemicals called phthalates found in, among other things, personal care products, as well as food packaging (most recently in some boxed mac n’ cheese products).

Phthalates appear to affect the DNA in sperm cells, not by changing the genes themselves, but by attaching little chemical “tags” that stick to some parts of a sperm cell’s DNA.

This can make genes more or less active than usual during sperm production, a change known as an epigenetic effect.

“There has always been this heavy concern in the past with expectant moms not smoking and not drinking, for example, to protect the fetus,” lead author Richard Pilsner, an environmental health scientist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said in a statement.

“In this study, we see that dad’s environmental health contributes to reproductive success.”

Spermatogenesis — sperm production — is a 72-day process, he added. “Our study shows that this preconception time-period may represent an important development window by which environmental exposures may influence sperm epigenetics, and in turn, early life development,” Pilsner said.

“So, in the same way mom needs to be careful, dad also needs to.”

There’s longstanding evidence of sperm changes through epigenetics, but phthalates appear to be a new source and may be contributing to an apparent global slump in sperm counts.

In July, researchers reported a 52.4-per-cent drop in sperm concentration, and a 59.3-per-cent decline in total sperm count among men from Western countries (North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand), with no sign of a levelling-off in recent years.

Phthalates are known hormone disrupters and are “pervasive environmental contaminants,” Pilsner and his co-authors wrote in the journal Human Reproduction. The chemicals have been linked with decreased sperm counts and motility, and increased sperm DNA damage. They have also been known to decrease testosterone in early fetal life at the time the genitals are forming.
By Sharon Kirkey
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