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Mother's lifestyle and environment can harm son's fertility, review finds

26 April 2010
Appeared in BioNews 555

Expectant mothers' lifestyles and environment could have a 'major impact' on their sons' sperm counts, a study has found.

A review of existing research by Professor Richard Sharpe of the Queen's Medical Research Institute in Edinburgh has shown that several lifestyle and environmental factors, including smoking, obesity and exposure to chemicals and pollutants, could cause damage to both prenatal and adult testes.

Professor Sharpe also found that damage occurring during pregnancy could be irreversible. This is because exposure to toxins in the womb cuts sertoli cell numbers - cells needed to 'nurse' young sperm to maturity during a man's adult life. But he found no evidence that environmental chemicals like pesticides, food additives or persistent organic pollutants, such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), affected sperm counts in most adult men. 

A study of the after-effects of a major chemical leak from an Italian factory showed no significant effect of sperm count of men who were adults at the time. But men who were in utero had low sperm counts in adulthood.

'There is a widespread belief that environmental pesticide exposures can adversely affect sperm production in men at large. However, this seems largely untenable', he wrote, according to the Daily Mail. 'Overall, the present view is that there is no firm evidence that exposure of adult men to common environmental chemicals has any major impact on fertility'.

Dr Allan Pacey, a Sheffield University expert in male fertility, said: 'This review reminds us that the sperm production capacity of men is probably established quite early in life and perhaps even before they are born. This highlights the importance of women having healthy pregnancies and not exposing their baby to harmful chemicals, such as cigarette smoke'.

Environmental/lifestyle effects on spermatogenesis
Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B |  27 May 2010
Mothers-to-be who smoke 'can harm son's fertility' say scientists
Daily Mail |  19 April 2010
Women who are obese or smoke during pregnancy 'can low sperm count in sons'
The Telegraph |  19 April 2010
2 November 2015 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
A recent study suggests that embryonic gene activity may be altered by factors present in the womb even before implantation. This finding triggered a somewhat misleading newspaper article entitled 'Infertile mums "pass on DNA"', which claimed the research means recipients of donor eggs are passing on their own DNA to their child. This isn't the case...
19 November 2012 - by Holly Rogers 
A preliminary study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), USA, suggests that environmental pollutants including industrial chemicals and pesticides may be impairing human fertility, despite being banned more than thirty years ago....
13 September 2010 - by Seil Collins 
Two new studies have revealed further evidence of the harmful effect of smoking on both male and female fertility...
10 May 2010 - by Professor Allan Pacey 
Nearly 10 years ago, Professor Niels Skakkebæk from the Copenhagen University Hospital, published details of a new syndrome to account for the apparent increase in problems related to the male reproductive system that had been documented in many countries...
6 April 2010 - by Dr Sophie Pryor 
Consuming large volumes of soft drinks may lower mens' sperm count, suggest the results of a new Danish study....
15 February 2010 - by Gozde Zorlu 
Boys conceived through IVF tend to have short fingers - a trait linked to infertility, say researchers in a study published in the journal of Reproductive Biomedicine Online...
8 February 2010 - by Dr Will Fletcher 
Women who eat too much fibre may ovulate less and have lower oestrogen levels, according to a recent study...
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