Current Research Suggests Phthalates Adversely Affect Male Fertility and Reproductive Development

Article Author: Kira Levenson, Biochemistry Major, Class of 2022, POB Science Translator

Plastic products and packaging are everywhere, from food wrap to personal care products. However, many of the convenient properties of plastic materials are due to chemicals added during plastic production, many of which are known to be endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDCs affect the endocrine system by disrupting the body’s normal hormonal and growth responses, throwing the body’s natural harmony off-key.

One key class of plastic additives are phthalates, which are synthetic EDCs used as plasticizers to make plastics more flexible and less brittle. Phthalates may leach out of plastics and enter the human body, negatively affecting our health. Phthalates are notably problematic because they are able to cross the placenta (an organ that transfers nutrients from the mother to the fetus during pregnancy) and affect fetal development, often with lasting effects. Additionally, they can affect fertility in adults.

A recent review paper from September 2021 analyzes the current information known about the effects of phthalates on fertility. Mesquita et. al focused their review on the endocrine-disrupting effects of phthalate exposure. In particular, the paper highlights that low levels of environmental phthalate exposure may be linked to adverse health effects on the male reproductive system. Their analysis of current experimental data suggests that high phthalate exposure levels are linked to decreases in androgenic activity. 

Androgen is a male sex hormone key to male reproductive development. Anti-androgens act by blocking the androgen receptor or inhibiting androgen production. Anti-androgenic activity may lead to shorter measured anogenital distance (AGD) during male fetal development, cryptorchidism (failure of testes to descend), hypospadias (abnormal external urethral position), and changes in adult reproductive function. Phthalate exposure is also linked to decreased male fertility during adulthood. The authors make clear that while the exact health risks of phthalate exposure are still unknown, phthalates are linked to endocrine disruption at low exposure levels found in our everyday environment.

Although much of the current research and awareness surrounding EDC exposures is targeted to female audiences, men and boys are also impacted by EDC exposures in their everyday lives. By working to decrease your exposures to potential EDCs and other harmful substances, you work to make your body, and the world, that much healthier and safer.

Wherever you can, try to reduce your use of phthalates, plastics and other-EDC-containing products one at a time. Swap out your plastic water bottles for reusable stainless steel or glass ones. Read the ingredient labels on your personal care products to see if any contain phthalates, and try to swap out a product you use often for a phthalate-free version. Most importantly, keep yourself informed in a way that works best for you! Staying informed and aware will help you make safer choices to protect your own health; and give you the tools to help others make safer choices as well.



Mesquita, I.Lorigo, M., &  Cairrao, E. (2021).  Update about the disrupting-effects of phthalates on the human reproductive system. Mol Reprod Dev88650672.


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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