Tips to preserve fertility as microplastics can cause male, female infertility | Health

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Robust scientific evidence has emerged over the past 15 years demonstrating that preconception and prenatal exposure to toxic environmental toxins can have a profound and lasting effect on reproductive health across the life course and an analysis of National health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 2003-2004 found that every women is exposed to 43 different chemicals. Chemicals in pregnant women can cross the placenta and in some cases can accumulate in the foetus resulting in higher foetal exposure than maternal exposure.

Microplastics can cause semen quality decline in males and female infertility. Here are tips to preserve your fertility (Photo by Jordan Beltran on Unsplash)
Microplastics can cause semen quality decline in males and female infertility. Here are tips to preserve your fertility (Photo by Jordan Beltran on Unsplash)

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Shruti N Mane, Consultant Fertility and IVF expert at Motherhood Fertility and IVF in Navi Mumbai’s Kharghar, explained, “A group of chemicals known as endocrine disrupting chemicals(EDCs) has been shown to interfere with the role of certain hormones, homeostasis and developmental processes. These represent a heterogeneous group of agents used in pesticides, plastics, industrial chemicals and fuels.”

One study shows that the endocrine disrupting chemical bisphenol-A works in a fashion that is comparable to diethylstilboestrol at the cell and developmental level and research has clearly shown that many industrial chemicals can affect thyroid function. Dr Shruti N Mane elaborated, “Exposure to environmental chemicals is linked to various adverse health consequences, and patient exposure at any point in time can lead to harmful reproductive health outcomes. Adult male exposure to pesticides has been associated with altered semen quality, sterility, and prostate cancer.”

Highlighting that exposure to some pesticides can interfere with all developmental stages of reproductive function in adult females, including puberty, menstruation and ovulation, fertility and fecundity, she said, “Most environmental chemicals have entered the marketplace without comprehensive and standardized information regarding their reproductive or other long-term toxic effects.”

What are Microplastics?

Dr Shruti N Mane answered, “Microplastics are pollutants that are present in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems at virtually every level of the food chain. Moreover, airborne microplastic particles have shown to reach and potentially damage respiratory systems. Microplastics have been shown to cause increased oxidative stress, inflammation, altered metabolism leading to cellular damage, which ultimately affects tissue and organismal homeostasis in numerous human cells. Plastics (long polymer chains) are widely used due to their versatility and durability, which has led to the accumulation of substantial plastic waste in the environment (MacLeod et al., 2021). Macroplastics (1 cm and larger) present ecological problems due to entrapment and entanglement, digestive tract congestion, and physical barriers for food supply.”

She added, “Plastic polymers could be also transformed in size (macro-, micro-, and Nano plastics) and in shape (spheres, fibres, and fragments) upon exposure to UV light, heat, or waves in the aquatic environment, or by biological degradation,it forms microplastics. These non-degradable materials tend to contaminate one’s food and water. When one consumes products carrying microplastics, they sit in our tissue and can impact the function of the body. These processes lead to environmental weathering of MPs/NPs, which, similarly to aging of plastic particles , enhances the leaching of chemicals from these pollutants. Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) used as additives to create these plastics, such as the estrogenic and anti-estrogenic phthalates, polychlorinated biphenyls, and bisphenol A, also interfere with the biology of animals and humans.”

Microplastics and its effects on reproductive health:

It is no secret that fertility is the ability to produce offspring and is critically dependent on gonad tissue integrity, as well as egg and sperm quality but chemicals take a toll on one’s fertility. Dr Shruti N Mane revealed, “Microplastics can induce infertility. Here, we decode the relationship between microplastics and infertility. Did you know? Microplastics are commonly found in fruits and vegetables, with apples having the highest concentration. Microplastic particles, which are less than 5 mm in diameter, respectively, have been found in sewage, soil, oceans, seafood, drinking water and even table salts.”

Talking about the effects, she said, “Oxidative stress induced tissue damage and consequent apoptosis, poor gamete quality, developmental abnormalities, neurotoxicity, metabolic disorders or epigenetic changes are some of the direct and in utero exposure effects of microplastics. Chemicals like phthalates, bisphenols poly- and per fluorinated alkyl substances, among others, are commonly used for the production of daily use goods and are therefore frequently released into the environment as waste. For example, bisphenol A (BPA), a plasticiser used for the synthesis of phenol resins, polyacrylates, polyesters, epoxy resins, and polycarbonate plastics, is used for the production of drink and food packaging, and in case of high temperature exposure or pH variation (e.g., washing in washing machines, food heating into the microwave, contact with acid foods) leaches into wastewater, contaminates foods and beverages, thus representing both ecotoxicological and health risks.”

As for male infertility, Dr Shruti N Mane said, “You will be shocked to know that increasing toxic chemical consumption including the toxic chemicals used in plastics, has been associated with alarming levels of reduced sperm counts. Male fertility gets impacted owing to low sperm counts having dropped almost dramatically. This is how male infertility cases are expected to rise in the upcoming years. It is not possible to completely avoid using plastic. It is everywhere that is in food packaging, household products, furniture, clothes, and cars, and the list is long and never-ending.”

Microplastics and male infertility:

The growing rate of infertility has displaced attention to gametogenesis and gamete quality as once considered a “woman’s trouble”, infertility is on the rise in males and semen quality has declined in recent decades. Dr Shruti N Mane cautioned, “In about 40% of men with impaired spermatogenesis, the etiology remains unknown after a complete diagnostic work-up. Decreased sperm quality has been reported in subjects exposed to environmental pollutants.”

She said, “Tissue-accumulation kinetics and distribution pattern strongly depend on the size of microplastic particles. MPs accumulate in tissue in one’s testicles. They lead to oxidative stress, inflammation and tissue damage. Oxidative stress together with the age-dependent decrease in antioxidant activity and mitochondria dysfunctions are the main causes of testicular and sperm damage.”

Blaming reactive oxygen species (ROS) overproduction as responsible for spermatogenesis failure, she said, “This can affect sperm production as well as the quality of the sperm, which can cause infertility and the couple will not be able to achieve pregnancy. Studies in humans compared urinary BPA levels to semen parameters, providing evidence of possible BPA association with poorer semen quality.”

Microplastics and female infertility:

According to Dr Shruti N Mane, endocrine-disrupting chemicals or EDCs are present in food packaging, personal care products such as makeup, food additives and many more products. She pointed out, “They impact the cells of a very early embryo during pregnancy leading to problems. Phthalates are used to make plastic soft and flexible and as a preservative agent for scents in personal care products. They can lead to poor egg quality and early puberty in young girls. Ovarian fibrosis, apoptosis and pyroptosis of granulosa cells are the main consequences of MPs-induced oxidative stress in female rats.”

She added, “It has been suggested that long, constant exposure to environmental pollutants from prenatal life to puberty may influence the predisposed genotype to reveal the PCOS phenotype in females. Plasticisers have been found in animal models to impact DNA methylation leading to a PCOS-like phenotype. BPA may directly impact the ovarian theca cells to secrete androgens and additionally can displace Testosterone from SHBG, thereby increasing the free androgen index and disrupting the androgen-to-estrogen balance. Evidence from rat models has demonstrated that exposure to high doses of BPA during the neonatal period resulted in a PCOS-like phenotype in adulthood, including increased serum Testosterone and Estrogen levels, reduced Progesterone, and leading to ovarian cysts.”

Dr Shruti N Mane emphasised, “Such exposure also leads to alteration GnRH pulsatility and pituitary GnRH signalling as well as reproductive parameters, which may be crucial in PCOS development. Exposure to such plasticisers and their chemicals may affect ovarian steroidogenesis, which in turn can disrupt the intrafollicular environment and impair maturation of oocytes in females. They have also been shown to disrupt oocyte development, growth, and maturation in preovulatory follicles and cause anovulation in females.”

Microplastics and miscarriage:

Environmental toxins have been suggested to play a role in spontaneous miscarriage. Dr Shruti N Mane said, “Not only can environmental toxins impact the developing embryo, there is also a potential for alteration of the endometrium of pregnancy, that is, the decidua. Successful implantation requires a complex biochemical dialogue to occur between the blastocyst and decidua. Many studies have shown a dose-dependent increase in miscarriage with these endocrine disrupters due to altered gene expression of the endometrium, abnormal growth and proliferation of the endometrium.”

Recommending tips to preserve your fertility, she said, “It will be imperative for everyone to eat organic foods and avoid processed ones. Avoid using products such as pots and pans with Teflon or other coatings. Do not drink water that is kept in plastic cups or bottles and instead choose reusable bottles made of stainless steel or glass. Remember not to microwave food or beverages in plastic containers. When it comes to using personal care products, they need to be unscented or natural products.”

Dr Shruti N Mane concluded, “Women in the preconception period and women who are pregnant or lactating to eat fruit, vegetables, beans, legumes, and whole grains every day, to avoid fast food and other processed foods whenever possible, and to limit foods high in animal fat. Patients should be advised that some large fish, such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish, are known to contain high levels of methylmercury(EDC), which is known to be teratogenic. Taking these measures can help you to preserve your fertility and improve your chances of having a baby.”



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