evidence indicates that male fertility is impaired by exposure to
heavy metals at levels much lower than previously thought clinically
significant. According to a recent study in Environmental Health
Perspectives, even moderate exposure to toxins such as lead and
cadmium can significantly impair reproductive function in men.1
measured blood lead and cadmium levels in healthy men moderately
exposed to these heavy metals at work or through lifestyle habits
such as smoking. Higher blood lead levels were associated with several
indicators of lower semen quality, including lower sperm count,
less motility (spontaneous movement), and increased structural abnormalities.
Higher cadmium levels were also independently linked to a greater
percentage of pathologic sperm.
these effects occurred at heavy metal blood levels far below those
defined as toxic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Although
WHO defines lead toxicity only at blood levels greater than 400
ug/ml, in this study men with blood lead levels between 50-350 ug/ml
had, on average, 65 million fewer sperm in each semen sample than
men with lower lead levels.
to the researchers, this means "a decrease in human sperm count
may occur even within the lead exposure range that is common for
general populations worldwide." Both cadmium and lead are "pervasive
in the human environment and accumulate in the human body over a
lifetime," they point out. Smoking, aging, and alcohol were
other independent factors associated with impaired reproductive
function in the men.
fertility in humans is a relatively delicate thing. While animals
such as rabbits and bulls have up to 1400 times as much sperm in
their semen as they need to maintain maximum fertility, the human
male sperm count is typically only 2 to 4 times higher than the
threshold at which fertility drops significantly. This may make
reproductive function in human males much more susceptible to impairment
from environmental toxins and other harmful influences, the researchers
and cadmium disrupt the metabolism of zinc, a metal that the body
depends on for optimum reproductive function, as well as protein
synthesis, tissue repair, and immune function.
Analysis provides a thorough assessment of element toxin
and nutrient levels in the body. Each specimen provides a unique
clinical vantage point: Hair shows long-term toxic exposure and
nutrient intake; blood (packed erythrocytes) reveals current or
recent exposure; and urine evaluates the release of metals from
tissues following a provocative challenge.
S, Cvitkovic P, Jurasovic J, Pizent A, Gavella M, Rocic B. Semen
quality and reproductive endocrine function in relation to biomarkers
of lead, cadmium, zinc, and copper in men. Environmental Health
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