Is This Ubiquitous Toxic Metal Lowering Men’s Sperm Counts?
Does aluminum, a toxic metal that has become so common it can found in things we eat and use everyday, have an impact on sperm count? Does it contribute to low sperm production among other ailments?
Falling sperm counts and rising infertility are phenomena that have been observed for decades in the developed world. Today, researchers estimate that up to twenty per cent of young men have a low sperm count defined as fewer than 20 million sperm per millilitre and it is the main problem for about one in five couples having trouble conceiving and a contributing factor to an additional one in four cases.
Most research has pointed to environmental factors that disrupt hormones such as BPA in plastics and birth control in drinking water as possible causes underlying climbing male infertility. Smoking, pesticides and psychotropic drugs have all been implicated too. But a new study suggests that the ubiquitous household metal aluminum may be a leading culprit for dropping sperm counts.
At the Eleventh bi-annual Keele Meeting on aluminium, a gathering of about 75 aluminum researchers from all over the world held in Lille, France this month, French researcher Jean-Philippe Klein presented his findings on the impact of aluminum on sperm, published recently in the journal Reproductive Toxicology.Klein and his colleagues at the University of Lyon and leading British aluminum researcher Christopher Exley at Keele University in England analyzed the aluminum content of semen samples from 62 men who were seeking help for fertility issues and found high concentrations of the metal – especially in semen of men with low sperm counts. What’s more, fluorescently-stained aluminum was clearly visible microscopically; settled in the DNA-rich heads of the sperm, raising questions about its impact on the ability of sperm to fertilize an egg and the effect of that aluminum on newly developing embryos.
Aluminum is the third most abundant element on the earth (behind silicon and oxygen) and is extremely bio-reactive, but bound up in the earth’s crust it is biologically inert and harmless. However, in the past 125 years the metal has been “unleashed” through industrial processing and increasingly used in everything from food packaging to architecture. As a result, human beings have been exponentially exposed in ways they have never been in history. Presentations over the four-day conference discussed the impact of this freed aluminum on living organisms from fungi to human beings, and without exception, they all described the metal as unequivocally detrimental.
Aluminum’s toxicity is well documented. It is an experimentally demonstrated neurotoxin, able to penetrate the blood brain barrier. It has been implicated in the development of the amyloid “plaques” found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients and studies have linked it to autism and other poorly understood neurological diseases such as Amyotropic Lateral Sclerosis. It has been linked to chronic immune system dysregulation and a wide array of autoimmune diseases from type 1 diabetes to multiple sclerosis. Researchers at the Keele Meeting were discussing its role in autism, Alzheimer’s and breast cancer. New research presented at the conference demonstrated that, experimentally, it can cross and damage the intestinal barrier and therefore may play a significant role in “leaky gut” syndrome underlying many allergies and autoimmune diseases.
According to Klein’s study, it is a “known pro-oxidative, excitotoxic, immunogenic, pro-inflammatory and mutagenic agent.” In previous studies it has been detected in various biological fluids including urine, cerebrospinal fluid, sweat and semen, and it was in this light that Klein and his colleagues set out to discover if the metal could be implicated in the mysterious modern decline of sperm.
Using semen samples from 62 patients (average age 34 years) who were seeking consultation for fertility problems in France, the researchers evaluated their sperm based on generally accepted parameters: sperm count, motility, vitality and morphology. Thirty-three of the patients were classified as having “normal” sperm and 29 exhibited at least one pathological sign: 12 had low sperm counts (oligozoospermia), 14 had sluggish sperm with reduced motility (asthenozoospermia), 5 had dead or immobile sperm (necrozoospermia) and 15 had abnormal sperm (teratozoospermia). Seven patients had sperm counts too low to allow the researchers to assess vitality and morphology
The researchers at Keele University then used high-tech spectroscopic imaging to analyze the aluminum content of semen samples. On average, they contained 339µg of aluminum/L.
“There is a lot of aluminum in human sperm,” Klein told the conference – at least of those samples in the study, but analysis revealed it was statistically higher in those with low sperm count compared to those whose sperm was found to be “normal.” Interestingly, there was no correlation between smoking and semen quality, he reported, despite the high exposure to the metal in regular smokers.
A UBIQUITOUS TOXIN
Toxic as it is, aluminum is now practically ubiquitous: it’s in the air we breathe, many of the foods we eat, a wide range of cosmetics and toiletries including antiperspirants and toothpastes. It is in medicines people consume on a daily basis and most disturbingly, it is a common ingredient in many vaccines injected into healthy individuals including newborn babies.
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