As more research is done, it is becoming apparent that the roll of the father in the ‘production’ of a baby is more than obviously ‘fleeting’ involvement!
For some time now, pregnant women and those contemplating pregnancy, have been encouraged to avoid smoking and alcohol and take supplements such as folate to ensure a healthy baby.
Generally, no one has given much thought to the father’s health prior to conception or if it is of any consequence. It has been believed that damaged sperm would not be strong enough to fertilize an egg. In times gone by, a childless woman could be thought of as ‘barren’ without even considering the fact that her partner might be the one ‘firing blanks’
It was back in the 1960s when Professor Gladys Friedler, in the process of trials on female rats to determine e how morphine affected their off spring, discovered the impact of the fathers’ role.
Prof. Friedler injected male rodents with morphine and after a few days, mated them with healthy, unaffected females. The pups born to these pairings were under weight and missed all their developmental land-marks.
Shocked by the findings, the Professor spent the next few decades experimenting with alcohol, drugs (both therapeutic and prescription) as well as environmental toxins and found the male rodents affected by these substances produced defective off-spring.
Prof. Friedler claims she was naive to work in this field as she had difficulty publishing her findings and colleagues encouraged her to abandon her studies. She states she was “…initially not aware of the resistance –you were not supposed to look at the fathers’ roles in birth defects…”
Scientists have learnt how women can safe guard their developing babies but it is only relatively recently that research finds many things from paints to pesticides can result in men fathering children with abnormalities. Even not eating a balanced diet can influence the health of a man’s future babies.
Can you see the advertising warning men: “Thinking of fatherhood? … Give up the booze and fags!”
There has been evidence mounting for years through various scientific studies that Phthalates, known endocrine disruptors, found in many products, particularly personal care and cosmetics, fragrances and pacifiers are affecting semen quality, the male reproductive organs and have been found to cause genital malformations in baby boys
In 1996, Prof. Niels Skakkebaek, Research Director, Copenhagen University Hospital, found semen quality has reduced 50% in the past 50 years. There has been an increase of sterility and testicular cancer has risen by 400% in 60 years.
Professor Shanna Swan, Epidemiologist, Rochester University, USA is quoted in the documentary “Men in Danger” as saying “there are 85,000 chemicals in commerce, most of which we know nothing about …. Their effects on carcinogenic potential, metabolism, immune system and reproductive potential…”
Even when the science seems to be clear regarding the dangers of chemicals and toxins, little heed is taken. For decades, women were banned from the lead trade although evidence suggest the metal could cause fetal problems and still births regardless of which parent is exposed. Today, men are protected from lead in the work place but not other dangerous substances from environmental exposures in paints and pesticides, to chemicals included in the ingredients of personal and skincare products.
Employers, by law are required to outline the risks of any chemicals their workers may be exposed to in the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDA) It has been found that the sheets are 18 more times likely to mention risks to female than male reproduction.
The chemical BPA, (Bisphenol-A) used too make plastics more malleable, found in plastic bottles (including baby bottles) and containers, can lining for food and beverages and dental sealants has recently been high-lighted in research as an endocrine disruptor.
A five year study conducted in China and published late 2010, on more than 500 factory workers, comparing those with high urine BPA levels to those recruits with low BPA urine levels. It was found the former subjects had 2 to 4 times the risk of having poor sperm quality in concentration, vitality and mobility.
This study followed and supported findings done earlier by John Meeker, assistant Prof. of Environmental Health Sciences, University of Michigan school of Public Health, the leading author. The researchers were quick to point out more study was needed, but found urinary concentrations of BPA may be related to decreased sperm quality and concentration. Sperm concentration was around 23% lower in the men in the study who had the highest BPA in their urine samples. results also suggested a 10% sperm DNA damage.
BPA is said to mimic the body’s own hormones, according to critics of the chemical, which may lead to negative health effects.
Pesticides exposure is another area of concern. In 1996, the US congress passed the Food Quality Protection Act which required the EPA to initiate the ‘Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program (EDSP). The object was to screen pesticide chemicals and environmental contaminants for their potential to effect the hormone systems of animals and humans. Even so, there have been thousands of chemicals introduced onto the market that have only been tested in isolation and not in combination with each other.
The most powerful evidence that exposure to chemicals can disrupt the endocrine system comes from nature with fish changing sex from male to female, frogs developing defects (multiple testes or ovaries) and hermaphrodite bears.
The US Dept. Veterans Affairs has recognized Agent Orange exposure as contributing to the birth defects of children whose fathers are Vietnam & Korea Veterans. And as late as October 2010 Parkinson’s Disease was recognized as being related to herbicide exposure.
If we look at statistics, about 10% of reproductive-age couples in the US have fertility problems. 30% each attributed to both the sexes, the remaining 40% is a combination of factors involving both partners.
The UK has similar numbers, but men rate higher at 32% of cases with fertility issues and 25% to problems in the woman. 17% is a combination of problems in both partners and the rest to unexplained causes. In that country 1 in 7 couples have difficulty conceiving at some time.
It appears that more work needs to done on the scientific front as over the past decade patterns have emerged that show declining sperm counts, genital malformations in male babies, memory problems and lower IQ in children, increased number of certain hormone-sensitive types of cancer and early on-set puberty.
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