The Effects of Lead Levels on Fertility

With many couples experiencing infertility, identifying the cause behind conception struggles has become all the more imperative. In the journey to baby, creating the optimal environment for conception has a great say on outcomes. For long a subject of study, the relationship between lead exposure and fertility is one to take note of on your path to parenthood.

Lead and your body

Most lead enters the body either through inhalation or swallowing. Lead does not benefit the body; it is absorbed and distributed depending on the route of exposure. Whilst an adult would absorb 10-15% of lead in the digestive system, absorption in pregnant women can rise to 50%.

Lead paint

Albeit having been banned decades ago, lead paint is still a concern as older houses still contain this material. In particular, places where the paint is peeling can be risky due to the dust particles this creates. Whilst lead paint is not being used domestically, industrial paint used in bridge construction and machinery still contains lead. Even if use had to stop abruptly, the associated risks of exposure would still remain.

Whilst lead paint is not being used domestically, industrial paint used in bridge construction and machinery still contains lead. Even if use had to stop abruptly, the associated risks of exposure would still remain.

Other everyday things containing lead

Lead paint is not the only culprit. Lead is present in simple everyday items such as candles, ceramics, some canned food, and lipstick. It may come as a surprise but, in a study conducted by the FDA in 2009, it was found that lead was present in all of the twenty branded lipsticks they tested. Whilst the lead levels were within safe amounts, it should still be recalled that the body does not excrete lead easily.  It takes months or years for lead to leave the body and internal exposure continues even when actual exposure has stopped.

How does lead affect male fertility?

Various studies have been undertaken in recent years to study the link between lead and fertility. These, coupled with research identifying a worrying decline in sperm count amongst western men, make for some sad reading when it comes to male fertility.

It has been widely reported that men exposed to high levels of lead are more at risk of becoming infertile. Men who work as plumbers, painters, and printers are more at risk than others as their occupation increases their exposure to lead. People who smoke, drink, and lead a sedentary lifestyle are also more at risk.

In a study undertaken by Susan Benoff et al. in 2003, it was concluded that sperm is affected as lead levels rise, contributing to more cases of unexplained male fertility. Lead can damage sperm, affecting both its ability to move as well as its count.

Sperm is affected as lead levels rise, contributing to more cases of unexplained male fertility.

Researchers studied semen from 140 women undergoing their first IVF cycle and discovered that high lead levels corresponded to low fertilization rates. This same study also found that lead even prevented the sperm from binding to the egg and fertilizing it. Of interest is the fact that none of the participants were exposed to lead at their place of work although some did smoke or drank alcohol.

The effects of lead when the male has not been exposed to it at work was also researched in a subsequent study published in the Journal of Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology in 2012. It was further confirmed that lead levels may affect semen quality for men, even when not exposed to lead occupationally.

The impact of lead on female fertility and pregnancy

Lead toxicity has an effect on female fertility and pregnancy too. Pregnancy places the body under physiological stress which leads to the mobilization of lead present in bones and teeth. Apart from contributing to infertility, lead toxicity also increases chances of stillbirth, pregnancy loss, premature birth, and a low birth weight. It also affects the mom-to-be with a higher risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy.

Lead toxicity increases chances of stillbirth, pregnancy loss, premature birth, and a low birth weight.

Lead in a pregnant mother’s blood passes to the fetus, possibly affecting brain development. When umbilical cord blood was tested for lead levels, in instances where this ranged from 10 to 15ug/dl, the child was more prone to experiencing learning and behavioral problems later on.

Whilst the situation does seem a little bleak, there are ways and means through which you can limit exposure to lead. If you’ve received an unexplained infertility diagnosis, it might be wise to get tested for toxicity as well as make a number of lifestyle changes. Upping your calcium, iron, and vitamin C intake will help reduce the absorption of lead; exercising and reducing and choosing cosmetics wisely will limit your exposure.

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