Hands holding fertility test

Are Microplastics Increasing the Need for Assisted Reproduction?

(Technology Networks – July 28, 2023)

The prevalence of microplastics throughout our environment has been well reported in recent years, with researchers even finding the tiny particles in the remotest oceans on Earth. One major concern of this pollution is the ability of chemicals used in plastic production to disrupt the normal function of hormones, namely in reproduction and immunity.

In one study of microplastic pollution in Monterey Bay, researchers found that all diving seabirds examined had microparticles in their digestive tracts, and 23% had particles that exhibited the potential for hormone-disrupting effects. Concerningly, this is not a problem restricted to animal life. According to a report from the Endocrine Society and the International Pollutants Elimination Network, human samples consistently show that nearly all people have endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in their bodies, which are actively used in plastic production. “EDCs are manmade chemicals that can interfere with the actions of our body’s hormones. Since some can mimic the actions of estrogens and androgens – hormones essential for female and male reproduction – they have the potential to disrupt the normal process of making eggs and sperm,” says Patricia Hunt, regents professor in the School of Molecular Biosciences at Washington State University. “Exposures that occur during development are of even greater concern since they can cause aberrations in the developing reproductive tract of both sexes and affect the germline (the cells that ultimately give rise to eggs and sperm).”

Effects of BPA exposure
Hunt has been focused on the effects of EDCs since 1998, when her research mice were accidentally exposed to one such chemical generally used to harden plastic, bisphenol A (BPA). “Our subsequent studies revealed effects on the earliest stages of oogenesis (the process of making an egg) that occur in the fetal ovary. We also found an effect in males: Perinatal exposure alters the stem cells of the testis (the cells that make continuous sperm production possible), leading to an increase in errors and cell death during spermatogenesis and, ultimately, a decrease in the number of sperm produced,” says Hunt.

Read more about BPA, Perfluoroalkyl and fertility trends in this excellent article.