Fathers and Phthalates
We are all aware of plastics polluting our oceans, but did you consider that they might also be polluting your body? And—if you’re a man—affecting your reproductive health?
Phthalates are endocrine-disrupting compounds found in PVC products (such as plastic food containers, to-go boxes, plastic wraps) and in scented products (cologne, deodorant, and body spray, for example). They are estimated to be detectable in nearly 100 percent of the U.S. population.
Richard Pilsner, assistant professor at UMass Amherst’s School of Public Health and Health Sciences, is leading epigenetic studies in how these chemicals in the environment might affect men’s sperm: specifically, how external factors influence the way genes are expressed. Pilsner has found that phthalate levels in expectant fathers have an effect on their reproductive success.
Pilsner’s team recruited study participants from an IVF clinic at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts. They found that fathers who had higher exposure to phthalates were associated with embryos that were less viable, while those with low exposure produced embryos of higher quality. Pilsner’s studies are groundbreaking for showing that a father’s environmental health contributes to reproductive outcomes. He recently received a $2.3 million grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to extend his research.
So, while companies are exploring safer alternatives to plastic packaging, what’s an aspiring father to do?
The good news is that phthalates have a short half-life; limiting exposure allows them to pass quickly out of your system. Pilsner urges environmental responsibility in fathers-to-be, to “watch what you’re consuming and what you’re putting on your body” about three months before trying to conceive, by limiting use of synthetic body-care products and plastic packaging—so the solution to outer pollution, and inner pollution,
is the same.