In 2017, Shanna Swan and her research team made an alarming discovery: western men have experienced a 50 per cent decline in sperm counts over the past 40 years. Shaw is an environmental and reproductive epidemiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital, in New York and the author of the book Count Down.
Swan’s book unpacked research that revealed how both lifestyle and chemical exposures in our environment are affecting our fertility, sexual development and general health.
She came to her conclusions after examining 185 studies involving close to 45,000 healthy men. It turned out that our sexual development is changing in broader ways, for both men and women and even other species, and that the modern world is on pace to become an infertile one.
Her new findings show that environmental chemicals may be blurring gender and affecting sexual preference; a man today has only half the number of sperm his grandfather had; women’s fertility is being affected by EDCs (endocrine-disrupting chemicals) and lifestyle, too – not just men’s.
Studies are finding correlations between EDC exposure and a rise in miscarriages and birth defects and a decline in egg quality and quantity. EDCs can even affect a baby in utero if exposed during pregnancy.
Declines in sperm count, testosterone and fertility and increases in testicular cancer and miscarriage rates are all occurring at about the same rate: one per cent per year. And damage from a man’s or pregnant woman’s exposure to problematic chemicals and lifestyle influences can harm the reproductive health of future generations.
The human species is endangered. With the 50 per cent drop in sperm counts over the past four decades, we may not have the ability to reproduce naturally much longer.
Putting together personal stories with the latest scientific studies, Swan explains exactly how EDCs and other toxic yet common substances affect human reproduction. And the effects aren’t limited to this generation of newborns; they can be passed down from one generation to the next.
The author provides practical guidelines for safeguarding our reproductive function from potential exposures, such as ditching plastic water bottles for glass, removing wall-to-wall carpeting and upgrading cookware.
Count Down is a call for business leaders, policymakers, scientists and consumers to do what they can to safeguard human fertility, the fate of mankind and the planet.
We may not have the ability to reproduce naturally much longer- Tony Mifsud
Swan believes the cause is to be found in the huge rise in toxic chemical exposures in recent decades, especially of chemicals known as ‘endocrine disruptors’ or hormone disruptors.
She points to “chemicals that make plastics soft, which are phthalates, or chemicals that make plastics hard, like Bisphenol A, or chemicals that are flame retardants, chemicals that are in Teflon and pesticides”. Pesticides are proven to get into groundwater and the human food chain.
Today, the two most widely used pesticides in the world are Roundup, containing the probable carcinogen glyphosate, and Azatrine, which has a lot of adverse effect on health such as tumours, breast, ovarian and uterine cancers as well as leukaemia and lymphoma.
It is an endocrine-disrupting chemical interrupting regular hormone function and causing birth defects, reproductive tumours and weight loss in amphibians as well as humans.
A recent study carried out in Australia by researchers at Flinders University found that Roundup killed the cells that produce progesterone in women, causing their levels to drop.
Roundup and other glyphosate products may be dangerous to humans and may even lead to a cancer.
Glyphosate and Roundup have been linked to birth defects, reproductive problems and liver disease and have been shown to have the potential to harm the DNA of human umbilical cord, placental and embryonic cells.
In 2017, there were 5.07 million babies born in the EU while Malta had the lowest fertility rate across the EU.
On May 24, 2016, then environment minister José Herrera said that “Malta is to vote against the renewal of licences for a controversial herbicide, glyphosate, with potential links to cancer. In the absence of scientific consensus regarding glyphosate, Malta’s original position was to abstain and recommended the possibility of implementing more stringent conditions in the licensing regimes at a national level. The government has decided to further apply the precautionary principle and, therefore, Malta should vote against the renewal of such licences”.
Those were the words of a wise government minister.
As from this year, Malta is banning the sale of various single-use plastic products. Environment Minister Aaron Farrugia said lately that our law is being enacted “as part of the government’s vision to strengthen our environment, tackle marine pollution and improve the quality of our biodiversity”.
He should start saying that the government is doing so also, specifically, to tackle infertility and to protect the first environment to man: the womb.
Tony Mifsud, Coordinator, Malta Unborn Child Platform
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