A recent study suggests that several in utero factors may cause infertility in men because it affects the reproductive system characterized by semen parameters like reduced sperm count and decreased sperm motility.
The findings from the study were reported at the annual meeting of ESHRE by Roger Hart, Professor of Reproductive Medicine at the University of Western Australia and medical director of Fertility Specialists of Western Australia in Perth.
The study was based on the follow-up of one of the largest cohorts, including 2900 mothers. Women were followed for 20 years. The mothers were monitored during their pregnancies. The health, growth and development of their babies were assessed regularly from birth. About 423 male children age 20-22 months underwent testicular assessments, where their semen quality and hormone production were analyzed. Researchers found that nearly 14.8% of the men had a seminal volume less than the normal 1.5 ml, while the total sperm count of 18.9% of them was found to be below the regular threshold of 39 million. Analysts also found that the sperm motility in 14.4% of the men was not as much as the usual 32%.
These findings were correlated with initial growth and development. Scientists opine that a poor fetal intrauterine growth along with maternal smoking can be attributed to the decreased fertility in the male children reaching adulthood. According to researchers, other factors like poor growth and development during childhood, increased fat deposition during adolescence, smoking and drug use could also lead to poor sperm quality. Another potential factor affecting fertility in men is the intrauterine exposure to chemicals that disrupt the normal hormone functioning.
Professor Hart stated that his team had yet to explore the influence of endocrine disruptors on sperm count and quality. The author indicated that researchers are planning to examine the effect of these chemicals by analyzing the maternal blood that was collected and stored prior to birth in the beginning of the study in 1990.
It has been observed by many studies that infertility in men caused by utero factors are on the rise, and this research will help in identifying the underlying problems and address issues right away. According to the American Pregnancy Association, male infertility accounts for nearly one-third of all infertility cases in America. Around 2 million men in the U.S. are diagnosed with infertility every year.
Experts have been trying to evaluate the impact of endocrinal disruptors on the growth and development of the fetus. One of the common sources of these endocrine disruptors could be birth control pills, which many women consume even after getting pregnant. Though birth control pills are very efficient in preventing pregnancy, there are chances of pregnancy while taking the pills. Hence, nearly 2 million women in the US and Europe end up taking these pills even when they’re pregnant.
Though they were not known to harm the baby or cause birth defects, it has been established in a previous study that the use of contraceptive pills could potentially increase the risk of low birth weight and preterm delivery. According to the most-recent study, this contributes to poor fertility in male children. Hence, there seems to be an association with intake of birth control pills during pregnancy and the development of the child’s reproduction system.
Previous animal studies prove this association. In one research, the scientists had observed smaller testicles in the reproductive organs of male rats when they were exposed to low levels of estrogen during the initial stages of organ growth. Another study exposed a fish to synthetic estrogen and found similar results as well. Since infertility in men is caused by in utero factors, women should discontinue taking contraceptives when they suspect pregnancy to protect their health and their child.
Written by: Janet Grace Ortigas