Sperm decline spurs research into face cream

BY KIRAN CHUG
Last updated 05:00 21/11/2009

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Kiwi blokes who use face cream could be denting more then their macho image – they could also be seriously damaging the quality of their sperm.

Scientists studying plummeting sperm levels among New Zealand men are considering whether plastics contained in everyday items such as creams, water bottles and food wrap are to blame.

Sperm quality among Kiwi men has halved in the past 20 years, and Victoria University researcher Ken McNatty is leading a study into what part plastics play in the decline.

Environmental factors, such as pollution, and lifestyle factors such as diet, are thought to affect fertility, but Dr McNatty said the contribution of plastics had not been proven.

Plastics in everyday items, such as detergents and anti-flammable coatings applied to furniture, were easily absorbed by the human body. Within those plastics were chemicals that attached themselves to cells in the body and built up, he said.

Researchers planned to take seminal fluid from donors and examine whether there was a link between a buildup of plastics and low sperm quality.

Although it took only one good sperm for a woman to get pregnant, Dr McNatty said the trend was alarming. If a link could be proved, "it will become a health prevention issue. We will be able to advise people that there is a potential for reduced fertility if they persist in drinking out of that water bottle, or wrapping food in plastic".

Fertility Associates operations director John Peek said it was difficult to measure whether sperm quality affected fertility rates, but about one in four couples had problems conceiving. If current trends continued, poor sperm quality could affect large numbers of men in the future.

Dr McNatty was already conducting research into the factors that affected female fertility, and this week received a $15,000 prize and the Royal Society's Pickering Medal for technology, which he said would help extend his research.

Before the doctor turned his attention to humans, he developed a vaccine to improve sheep fertility, and also made fertility products for deer, cattle and goats.

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