Smog could damage male fertility

Air pollution could impact on male fertility, increase the risk of miscarriage and even lead to birth defects according to a new study that measured the effects of smog on sperm.

The international team of scientists working in the industrialised Czech district of Teplice took samples of semen from young men over a period of two years.

Air quality is the district is much worse in the winter than during summer months, as coal burned by households adds to that used by industry and weather conditions trap the sulphur dioxide, NOx and particle-laden smog in the valleys.

The scientists, led by Jiri Rubes of the Department of Genetics and Reproduction, Veterinary Research Institute in the Czech Republic’s Brno, published their results in medical journal Human Reproduction and conclude that there were significant links between episodes of high pollution and poor quality sperm.

The study took into account other factors which may have affected the sperm such as smoking, drinking, type of underwear worn and practical hobbies likely to have an impact on semen such as those involving fumes from metalwork or solvents.

Even when all other factors were considered, there was a marked increase in fragmentation of DNA in the sperm that could be traced back to periods of high pollution.

Interestingly the pollution did not appear to have a large impact on other characteristics of the semen such as sperm count and motility.

While the study does suggest a link between poor air quality and sperm damage it leaves the door open for further research in pinpointing which pollutants are likely to be having the impact or whether the affect was down to the toxic cocktail being inhaled.

By Sam Bond

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