Intergenerational Health Effects of Endocrine Disruptors

Article Author: Amanda Thompson, Biology Major, Class of 2023, POB Science Translator

If you’ve followed along with Protect Our Breasts, you’ll be familiar with the term “endocrine disruptors (EDC),” and may know that this type of environmental exposure can initiate a future breast cancer diagnosis. The term “breast cancer” is predominantly associated with those who identify as women, as the female sex forms the majority of those who are diagnosed with the disease. What many people may not know is that in addition to possible male breast cancer, these endocrine disrupting chemicals can also have adverse effects on male reproductive health through interference with sperm cells. 

EDCs have been found to modify sperm cells in males, which contain genetic (what makes up the genes in our DNA) and epigenetic (factors that may affect certain genes) information that inherently impact the DNA and development of the offspring. Therefore, the future generations formed by the sperm become subject to the harmful effects of EDCs through paternal exposure.

While the epigenetic alterations made by these EDCs do impact the genetic expression of the father’s genes, they have the greatest effect on the offspring. Fertilization occurs when a female egg cell and a male sperm cell fuse to form an individual zygote (fertilized egg), also known as the offspring. An offspring is composed of half of the DNA from its mother and half from its father. The condition of the father’s DNA affects the sperm’s contribution to the zygote. 

A 2021 study further explored this relationship between EDCs and the male germline (series of sperm cells). In the study, environmental toxins were found to disturb the epigenome of the sperm. The epigenome is the information on top of the DNA sequence that affects gene function and behavior. This means that while physical nucleotide sequence (genotype) of the DNA may remain the same, the modification of the tags on top of the DNA can alter gene expression (phenotype).

What environmental factors are responsible for these disturbances exactly, you may ask? While there are a number of factors that affect epigenetics such as physical activity, stress levels, and diet, the chemicals in consumer products are a major cause of concern. Some of the major EDCs in consumer products to look out for are phthalates, Bisphenol A (BPA), and dioxins. 

  • Phthalates are closely linked to sperm damage, including effects such as testicular cancer and lowered sperm counts. These chemicals are often used to improve the flexibility and durability of  plastics, or to dissolve other materials in personal care products. 
  • Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical that is found in plastic packaging and the epoxy resin linings on metal food cans. In-utero (in the womb) exposure to BPA is linked to altered sperm count, motility, and density. 
  • Dioxins enter the food chain when vehicle exhaust or soot from incinerated chlorinated compounds falls on crops later eaten by livestock, or enters waters where seafood is caught. The chemicals can accumulate in the fat of marine or wildlife, and consumption can affect reproductive development. 

With this knowledge at hand, men too have an environmental responsibility to be cautious as consumers, not only for the sake of their own health but for that of their children in the future as well. Despite their ubiquity in the environment, many toxic chemicals can be easily avoided through smart consumer decisions. To stray away from phthalates, search for products that use organic ingredients and odors, without added “fragrance” or “parfum.” Choose stainless steel over plastic water bottles. BPA can be avoided by limiting plastic usage, specifically plastics that have recycling code #7. Limit exposure to dioxins by simply eating less fatty fish. It can be overwhelming to make significant lifestyle changes, but targeting specific areas of improvement and consistently making minor changes is a great way to start. By sharing this information with both men and women, your health and that of your future generations can be rescued from major epigenetic alterations. 


Lombó M, Herráez P. The effects of endocrine disruptors on the male germline: an intergenerational health risk. Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2021 Aug; 96(4):1243-1262. doi: 10.1111/brv.12701. Epub 2021 Mar 3. PMID: 33660399.


Disclaimer: The information provided herein is the author’s opinion. Our authors are not scientists. We are not providing medical advice, but simply sharing publicly available information. When we reference data and databases, we do so with the caveat that most are only as good as the data they are based on. While POB strives to make the information as timely and accurate as possible, we make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the completeness, or adequacy of the contents of any site that is shared, and expressly disclaims liability for errors and omissions in the contents of these sites.  POB goes to great lengths to avoid declaring shared products as “safe” as there is no legal definition of the word “safe” at this time.

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