Health & Fitness

Pollution linked to infertility in men

stress

Pollution linked to infertility in men. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

How it develops

  • Particulate matter is a term used to describe a mixture of liquid droplets and solid particles found in the air such as dust, soot or smoke.
  • Some of these particles are emitted from construction sites, unpaved roads, smoke chimneys or fires.
  • However, most of them form in the air as a result of reactions of chemicals such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which are pollutants emitted from power plants, industries and automobiles.
  • The Taiwan study found that exposure to particulate matter increased men’s chances of developing sperms with abnormal shapes and sizes
  • These are characteristics of poor sperm quality

Many couples struggle with infertility challenges that impede their ability to have children and enjoy parenthood.

In instances where the cause of infertility is known, health experts usually attempt to rectify the problem using various medical interventions that may prove successful or fail to deliver desired outcomes.

“When you get married and realise that you can’t have children, you become stressed. You look back in your life and wonder about what could have happened in your past to make you infertile.

“You ask yourself why other people seem to be okay yet you have a problem. And these thoughts can be very disturbing,” said James Mbugua who has struggled with low sperm quality for five years.

Mbugua and his wife are now considering adoption as a last option. Over 90 per cent of cases of male infertility are due to either low sperm count, poor sperm quality or both disorders.

As men like Mbugua ponder over their condition, scientists have been trying to assess the contribution of various environmental factors to such reproductive health challenges. A new study, published in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Journal has linked air pollution to poor quality sperm.

The researchers warn that since air pollution is widespread, especially in most urban areas, it can cause infertility in a significant number of couples.

The researchers looked at the short and long-term impact of air pollutants known as particulate matter — measuring less than 2.5 micrometres ( 30 times smaller than a single hair strand) — on the health of over 6,000 men aged between 15 and 49 years in Taiwan for a period of two years.

Particulate matter (PM) is also known as particle pollution. It is a term used to describe a mixture of liquid droplets and solid particles found in the air such as dust, soot or smoke.

Some of these particles are emitted from a source like construction sites, unpaved roads, smoke chimneys or fires. However, most of them form in the air as a result of complex reactions of chemicals such as sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, which are pollutants emitted from power plants, industries and automobiles.

The study found that exposure to particulate matter increased men’s chances of developing sperms with abnormal shapes and sizes. These are characteristics of poor sperm quality.

The researchers said that the effect on sperm could be as a result of heavy metals in particulate matter that have been linked to sperm DNA damage in experimental studies.

Alice Kaudia, Environment Secretary at the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, said that vehicle emissions, high dependency on wood fuel (charcoal and firewood) for cooking, open burning of field vegetation and waste (especially plastics) are the main contributors to air pollution in the Kenya. Dr Kaudia said that to promote the uptake of clean cooking technologies, the government seeks to subsidise the cost of smaller sized liquid petroleum gas units, commonly referred to as meko, so as to increase their use.

“The recent ban on plastic bags will lead to a reduction in plastic waste.

“We want to encourage people to leave plastic containers so that waste collectors can take them to companies that can recycle them with safe technology and use them to make fencing posts, pavement blocks or roofing tiles,” she said during an interview with the Business Daily at the global UN Environment Assembly meeting (UNEA-3) held in Nairobi last week.

Burden

Dr Kaudia urged motorists to embrace clean oil (unleaded petrol and low sulphur diesel) which prevents air pollution. Aside from reproductive health challenges, the World Health Organisation (WHO) links air pollution to the enhanced burden of disease from stroke, heart ailments, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases (including asthma).

Statistics from the WHO show that about 88 per cent of premature deaths caused by air pollution occur in low and middle income countries like Kenya.

According to WHO, countries need an integrated approach to curb air pollution challenges. “The atmosphere is open. So polluted air in one part of the world will flow easily to another area and become a health hazard to everyone,” said Maria Neria, WHO Director of Public Health and the Environment.

Dr Neria added that individuals’ responsibility towards air pollution control is quite important. “It all starts from you making a decision to champion clean air. You can do this by deciding not to use any plastic bags or unnecessary containers in your home.”