(Beyond Pesticides, March 13, 2014) Part deux of a 2012 study finding that sperm counts in French men had decreased 30% over the past 16 years came to a second startling conclusion in a 2014 analysis: the cause for those dramatic decreases may be pesticides.
2012 Sperm-Count Study
Published in the scientific journal Human Reproduction, the landmark 2012 study showed an alarming 30 percent decrease in sperm counts across France between 1989 and 2005. Because the data for the 2012 study were drawn from Fivnat ””a French assisted reproduction technology database”” researches made sure to limit analysis to 26,600 sperm samples from otherwise virile 35-year-old men whose partners’ fallopian tubes were either blocked or missing. This control was added to ensure that the each couple’s infertility was due to these latter problems and not a problem with the man’s sperm. Broken down, the 2012 studies identified a 1.9 percent continued annual dip in sperm concentration and also found that there was a significant 33.4% decrease in the percentage of normally formed sperm over the entire 16-year period.
At the time of release, the 2012 study’s authors wrote: “To our knowledge, it is the first study concluding a severe and general decrease in sperm concentration and morphology at the scale of a whole country over a substantial period. This constitutes a serious public health warning. The link with the environment particularly needs to be determined.”
Missing from the 2012 study was the reason for the decline. While researchers made adjustments for variables that could affect the results, such as men’s age, the season, the location where sperm samples were collected, and differing in vitro techniques, 2012 study controls were unable to address socioeconomic factors, including smoking and weight.
Joëlle Le Moal, Ph.D., lead scientist for both studies, speculated in 2012 that environmental factors, such as exposure to endocrine-disruptors, could be the cause of the decline but had not analyzed data to confirm that suspicion.
2014 Sperm-Count Study
Now it looks like the suspicion was correct. Using the same 2012 data and again led by Dr. Joëlle Le Moal, researchers went one step further and looked at which geographic regions had the steepest decline in sperm count rates over the same 16-year period. In Semen quality trends in French regions are consistent with a global change in environmental exposure, researchers conclude that while most regions demonstrate the overall trend of decline in sperm counts and quality, the strongest decreases and lowest values are consistently observed in the regions of Aquitaine, Midi-Pyrénées, and Burgundy ””densely populated and highly agricultural regions.
This time, Dr. Moal and her team were able to discount alcohol and cigarettes as possible causes, because the most affected areas are not those where the consumption of tobacco and alcohol are highest, and said genetic factors could not explain the rapid rate of decline.
Instead, exposure to pesticides used throughout these regions where agriculture provides substantial portions of the local economy and are some of the largest agricultural regions for the entire country of France, are the likely culprit.
A Problem for All Men
We suggest U.S. men (and all nationalities) take heed as recent scientific literature reviews came to similar conclusions regardless of where a man calls home.
In a U.S. review, researchers counted semen quality according to concentration of sperm over an area, their motility and ability to move, as well as their shapes. Researchers targeted studies on DDT, HCH, and abamectin, grouping pyrethroids and organophosphates by class. What they found was striking: almost all the studies reported a decrease in sperm concentration; decreased motility was also reported though less frequently; and, while morphological changes were not strongly associated in studies””only two indicated any changes to sperm shape.
The French findings build on the now growing body of evidence that pesticide exposure at environmental or occupational levels diminishes sperm health. For many, the connection is an obvious one: endocrine disruption. Sperm production is regulated by the endocrine system, a highly sensitive form of hormone regulators. Pesticides in both high and low doses are potent endocrine-disruptors, meaning that they disturb the highly-sensitive endocrine system that regulates many other bodily systems.
While the endocrine-disrupting effects of many pesticides have been documented, U.S. regulators have been extremely slow to move forward with the statutorily-mandated review of pesticides for the previously unevaluated risk of potential endocrine disruption. Yet, findings like Dr. Moal’s studies and many others highlight the importance of generating strong pesticide regulations that take into consideration endocrine disrupting effects when evaluating safety standards for worker protection and human health impact.
Until better protections are in place, Beyond Pesticides recommends supporting organic agriculture as method of avoiding exposure to these dangerous pesticides.
Want to continue the conversation and learn more about what independent and, ground-breaking scientists are discovering about the dangers of pesticides and what we can all do to protect ourselves and the environment? Join us at Beyond Pesticides’ 32nd National Pesticide Forum, Advancing Sustainable Communities: People, Pollinators and Practices, April 11-12, 2013, Portland State University, Portland, OR to discuss organic solutions for protecting our environment. This years’ forum will focus on solutions to the decline of pollinators and other beneficials; strengthening the organic food production system; regulating and right-to-know genetically engineered food; improving farmworker protection and agricultural justice; and creating healthy buildings, schools and homes.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.