Turn Back the Clock on Sperm Aging

Article Author: Cassie Probert, Biology Major, Class of 2023, POB Science Translator

When most people think of aging, their mind goes to the development of wrinkles, hearing loss and back aches. In the sense of reproduction, aging could be the transition from puberty to periods to menopause. However, most people do not understand the impact that aging can have on reproductive cells. Scientists have made efforts to better understand the effects of aging on women’s reproductive cell health, but men’s sperm aging is not as widely understood.

A study from November attempted to bridge the gap in knowledge concerning sperm age and its effects on how long it takes for a couple to conceive, or the time-to-pregnancy (TTP), by developing a model for estimating what is called sperm epigenetic age. Epigenetic age relates a person’s chronological age to their aging in terms of changes to their DNA from environmental exposures. By creating this model, researchers have been able to study the effects of chemical exposures as they relate to sperm aging and TTP. 

One of the most common damaging environmental exposures is called endocrine disrupting compounds, or EDCs. These compounds interfere with our naturally occurring hormone patterns, promoting improper signals in our body as a response. These signals can negatively impact our health, significantly decreasing reproductive health in men. One of the most common EDC groups are phthalates, often used as a gelling agent in personal care products that many men use such as soaps, deodorants, hair gels, and colognes. Phthalates metabolites and mixtures were the main focus of this study, specifically related to their concentration in urine.  

The study found that 82% of the broken down phthalates were associated with advanced sperm epigenetic age (Oluwayiose et al. 2022). In addition, advanced sperm epigenetic age was found to have a strong association with low fertilization rate. These findings suggest that exposure to endocrine disruptor compounds might increase the time it takes for a couple to conceive because of faster sperm aging. Though this is a daunting correlation, preventing these exposures is the best way to avoid these detrimental effects.

The researchers claimed that this study was the first “to show that adult male exposures to phthalates, and their mixtures, are associated with advanced sperm epigenetic age among male partners who are planning to conceive” (Oluwayiose et al., 2022). Some exciting next steps suggested by the researchers involved larger studies to look at the potential reproductive and offspring impacts of EDC exposures. 

Here at Protect Our Breasts, we aim to communicate the potential risks arising from the environment, and possible ways to protect yourself from these risks. There are a few different ways to avoid exposure to EDCs and reduce the chance of advanced aging of sperm. The first step is to make sure you are aware of the contents of the shampoos, soaps, and other personal care products you use on a daily basis. Check the labels for DEP, DBP, and other common phthalates that can be found on a variety of databases regarding EDCs. In addition to precautionary measures when purchasing products, it is important to stay educated on the new research in the field of men’s reproductive health and environmental exposures. 

The scientific community has invested a lot of energy into researching women’s reproductive health in the past, but has recently taken the necessary steps to protect the men in our society from exposure to these harmful chemicals. It is important to acknowledge how each and every one of us can be affected by these chemicals in different ways and even more important to understand that each purchase we make could change all of our lives for the better!

Sources:

Oluwayiose, Oladele A. et al. 2022. “Urinary Phthalate Metabolites and Their Mixtures Are Associated with Advanced Sperm Epigenetic Aging in a General Population.” Environmental Research 214: 114115.

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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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