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Do Plastics Lower Testosterone?

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We are surrounded by plastic. In a typical household you’ll expect to find it in electronic products, toys, containers, grocery bags, dishware, garden furniture and so on.

But can exposure to this product affect your health and make your testosterone levels plummet? In this article we’ll take a look.

You will learn:

  • What is bisphenol A?
  • Do plastics decrease testosterone?
  • How can you avoid plastics?

Plastics and BPA

According to recent findings, around 70% of commercially available plastics contain chemicals that can leach out into the food that they are protecting. Sports drinks bottles, food containers, baby bottles and microwave meals all contain these chemicals. It is even found in the lacquer that coats food cans.

One of the most well-known and notorious chemicals used in plastic products is called bisphenol A (BPA). It is one of the highest volume chemicals produced worldwide, with over 6 million pounds produced each year, and is used in the production of polycarbonate products. It is a man-made chemical that started in production around the 1890s but wasn’t used in mainstream circulation until the 1950s.

A recent survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [1] suggested that as many as 93% of urine samples collected contained BPA – and this is using volunteers aged as young as 6 years old.

BPA is thought to be an endocrine disruptor, as it promotes chemical changes in the body similar to estrogen. It binds to reproductive receptors in the body and mimics the female hormone’s role – exposure to man-made BPA products may cause weight gain, loss of libido, reduced muscle mass and loss of strength.

There is also an ever-increasing amount of evidence to suggest that this chemical could contribute towards obesity, diabetes and infertility. But can it affect T levels as well? Let’s take a look…


BPA-and-Testosterone

Key Point: Polycarbonate products contain a chemical called BPA which may mimic the effects of estrogen.


The science – does BPA lower testosterone?

Since the potential link between plastics and poor health came to light there has been an influx of research on links to male reproductive health. Here is the evidence:

In a study published in Reproductive Toxicology [2], BPA exposure in pregnant mothers has been found to transfer to children, in turn exposing them to reproductive side effects. In a sample of children aged 8-14, prenatal exposure decreased both total and free T levels, increased estrogen levels, and delayed the onset of puberty.

There are a number of studies that link BPA-containing materials to adverse reproductive health in adults too. For example, a study by Li et al in the International Journal of Andrology [3] reported that in males who work in high plastic-exposure environments, urine testing showed decreased sexual function. This included difficulty in ejaculating, reduced satisfaction with sex life and erectile difficulty.

A study in Toxocology Letters [4] in 2010 used exposure to BPA for 4-days a week over a 6-week period to assess any differences in sex hormones. The results reported that as exposure increased, a number of reproductive functions suffered. Firstly, Leydig cell count decreased – these cells produce testosterone, and the testes got smaller in size too. Testosterone levels fell significantly, as did luteinizing hormone levels – an important part of the reproductive hormone system.

However, whilst a number of small, independent studies propose a link between testosterone and BPA, larger Government reports still maintain the safety, concluding that BPA does not pose a serious threat to humans.

For example, a joint report by the World Health Organisation and Food and Agriculture Organization [5] analysed all existing data on BPA and concluded that “there are only a few epidemiological studies in which associations between BPA exposure and human health effects have been reported, and there is considerable uncertainty in this research”. 


Is-Plastic-Unhealthy-

Key Point: Research shows that BPA can reduce testosterone, as well as other markers of reproductive health. However, Government reports maintain its safety.


How can you avoid BPA?

It is easier said than done to avoid all contact with plastics, but here are a few quick and easy measures that you can take to reduce contact with these materials. There’s no need to panic with intermittent exposure here and there, so gradually becoming more aware and eliminating exposure gradually if absolutely fine.

For example you could replace all of your kitchen cookware with wood or metal. You could also replace your drinking bottles with metal flasks, and Tupperware with BPA free alternatives such as stainless steel lunchboxes.

Studies have found that urine levels of BPA can reduce by as much as 66% after three days of avoiding food packaging [6], so restricting exposure, even in the short-term, is beneficial.

As an absolute minimum, ensure you don’t warm up containers in the microwave, or leave them in a car on a hot day. Don’t use abrasive cleaners on them as scratching can increase BPA leaching – don’t use a dishwasher for the same reason.


Summary – do plastics reduce testosterone?

Plastic is everywhere – in a typical household you’d expect to find it in electronic products, toys, containers, grocery bags, dishware and garden furniture.

Many modern polycarbonate products contain bisphenol A, a man-made chemical that has been in mainstream production since the 1950s. It is considered an endocrine disruptoras it promotes chemical changes in the body similar to estrogen.

As such, exposure to plastic products may cause weight gain, loss of libido, reduced muscle mass and loss of strength. There is also an ever-increasing amount of evidence to suggest that BPA could contribute towards obesity, diabetes and infertility, as well as decreasing T levels.

It makes sense to at least take a preventative approach to exposure by exchanging house-hold items where possible. Whilst there probably isn’t any need to panic at the thought of drinking occasional bottled water, healthy food rarely comes packaged so a more rounded approach to healthy eating will eliminate contact anyway.

In particular, those that suffer from fertility issues, pregnant women, children and those wanting to lose weight may all benefit from modifying their exposure.


References

  1. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The 2003-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
  2. Ferguson, KK et al. Prenatal and peripubertal phthalates and bisphenol A in relation to sex hormones and puberty in boys. Reprod Toxicol. 2014; 47: 70-6
  3. Li, DK et al. Relationship between urine bisphenol-A level and declining male sexual function. J Androl. 2010; 31(5): 500-6
  4. Nakamura, D et al. Bisphenol A may cause testosterone reduction by adversely affecting both testis and pituitary systems similar to estradiol. Toxicology Letters. 2010; 194: 16-25
  5. Food and Agriculture Organization / World Health Organization. Joint FAO/WHO Expert Meeting to Review Toxicological and Health Aspects   of Bisphenol A. 2010
  6. Rudel, RA et al. Food packaging and bisphenol A and bis(2-ethyhexyl) phthalate exposure: findings from a dietary intervention. Environ Health Perspect. 2011; 119(7): 914-20