Explainer: 7 surprising sperm killers

  • Sperm killers are everywhere. They saturate you in the shower, seep into your skin in the checkout line, and even ooze into the convenience food you grab on the fly. No matter the point of entry, many everyday chemicals are zapping sperm counts and even silently scrambling DNA sperm data for men all over the world. Some cause sperm mobility problems, leaving your swimmers not swimming so well.

    You might already know that narrow bikes seats have been linked to erectile dysfunction, and maybe you've heard about the study connecting antidepressants to sperm DNA damage. But other everyday habits are acting as sperm slayers too. Once you understand the scope of harmful products on the market, it's easy to see why fertility clinics are packed with customers, both male and female. The good news is these everyday toxins are easier to sidestep than you may think.

    Common chemical in household items linked to male infertility

  • Cash register receipts

    Sean Russell  /  Getty Images/fStop
    There's no direct evidence linking register receipts to damaged sperm, but why take chances?

    Think how many times a day someone slips a cash register receipt into your hand: Your morning coffee, your gas fill-up, your stock-up trip to the grocery store, your dinner and a movie. The transactions are endless. The problem is, about 40 percent of receipts today are coated with the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A (BPA), which has been linked to fertility problems and heart disease. A new study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility just discovered that men with higher BPA levels in their urine experienced low sperm counts and lower sperm quality than men with lower levels.

    Protect yourself: While there's no direct evidence linking receipt handling to infertility, why take chances? Until electronic receipts become commonplace, say you don't want a receipt at the point of purchase. If you do need one, store it in an envelope or folder, not in a pocket or in the wallet you're constantly breaking open. Keep receipts out of the recycling bin, too; their BPA can contaminate water and recycled-paper products.

  • Canned food

    Image: A woman looks at canned food items at the Food Bank For New York City Community Kitchen & Food Pantry of West Harlem in New Yo
    Shannon Stapleton  /  Reuters
    Almost all metal cans are coated with a BPA resin.

    Many researchers believe the biggest source of BPA contamination comes through food packaging. Sure, canned food is convenient, but almost all of those metal cans are coated with a BPA resin, which migrates into the food. Acidic canned products, such as tomato paste or sauces, are particularly saturated with BPA.

    Protect yourself: Choose fresh or frozen food instead of canned whenever possible, and buy foods like pasta sauce sold in glass jars rather than cans.

    Is your kitchen causing unsuspected fertility problems?

  • Sex toys

    We're not telling you to send your entire adult toy box to the landfill, but to protect yourself and your partner, avoid dildos, vibrators, and male pleasure devices made of vinyl. This type of plastic unleashes phthalates, plastic-softening chemicals linked to cancer, allergies, birth defects, and infertility.

    Protect yourself: Safely spice up your sex life by investing in green foreplay products made of high-quality medical silicone, such as the We-Vibe. For nonplastic pleasure, try a glass dildo.

  • Your toxic shower

    Chose a simple soap-and-shampoo-in-one to avoid phthalates.

    Phthalates don't just linger in your sex toys, but also in scented soaps, shampoos, and cleaners, and in vinyl shower curtains. (Ever notice those things can give you a headache when you first hang them up?) And the heat from your shower makes it easier for the chemicals to be released.

    Protect yourself: Choose a simple soap-and-shampoo-in-one, such as plant-based, unscented Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild. Even though it's a kid's soap, it does the job. And it's free of harmful phthalate-containing products. Avoid personal-care products that have a fragrance or scent. Invest in a long-lasting hemp shower curtain instead of buying vinyl curtains every month or two.

    Are your prescription medicines dampening your sex drive?

  • Chemical-laced produce

    Various fruit and vegetables on the shelves at a l
    Michael Bradley  /  Getty Images
    It's always helpful to wash your produce.

    Pesticides are designed to kill pests. And unfortunately, chemical pesticides don't see much difference between your precious seed and a hornworm.

    Protect yourself: It's helpful to always wash your produce, but pesticides aren't just on food, they're in the food, too. So eat organic whenever possible, and start planning your 2011 organic garden.

  • Heated car seats

    Katsutoshi Hatsuzawa/neovision  /  Getty Images/amana images RM
    Between-the-leg toastiness may come at a price.

    For a man enduring sub-par temperatures, there may be no greater luxury than a heated car seat. But that between-the-legs toastiness may come at a price: damaged sperm quality. Heated car seats, heating pads, and even prolonged time in a hot tub heats up testicular temperatures just enough to decrease sperm production.

    Protect yourself: Direct heat is the problem here, so if you're cold in the car, just boost the heater and let the air circulate around the vehicle.

  • Contaminated fish

    Time Warner Center Opens In New York CIty
    Stephen Chernin  /  Getty Images
    PCBs accumulate in fish.

    PCBs, a group of toxic compounds used extensively in the electricity industry, are banned, but the ones that are already out there will remain in the environment indefinitely, where they especially accumulate in fish. If you're a fisherman, that doesn't mean you have to give up eating your catch altogether, but you should look for cleaner waters and follow consumption guidelines to make sure you don't ingest too many sperm-destroying PCBs.

    Try these 5 super healthy salmon recipes

    Protect yourself: If you're craving fish, opt for wild Alaskan salmon or consult your locale's fish-consumption advisories.


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