Chemicals in the environment could threaten male fertility, according to new research.
Scientists in Scotland and France found that fertility in a subset of men could be affected by chemicals such as those from cosmetics, detergents and pollutants.
Some chemicals in the environment can interfere with communication systems within the body and potentially have adverse effects on health and well-being.
It has been suggested that the rise in the need for in-vitro fertilization in humans, particularly as a result of low sperm counts, is due to exposure to chemicals in our environment.
The study has been carried out by researchers at the University of Glasgow in collaboration with academics at the University of Aberdeen, the James Hutton Institute in Edinburgh and INRA in France.
Researchers looked at the testicles of sheep that had been exposed to the typical range of chemicals that humans encounter in everyday life, from when their mothers were pregnant until after puberty.
The researchers found abnormalities in 42% of the animals that could result in low sperm counts.
Dr Michelle Bellingham, from the University of Glasgow, said: "We were very surprised to find abnormalities that could result in low sperm counts in the testicles in 42% of the animals.
"The changes were not the same in all affected individuals and they were not obvious from the size of the testicles or from the concentration of male hormones in the blood."
Professor Paul Fowler, from the University of Aberdeen, added: "The key now is to work out why these everyday chemicals affect some individuals more than others."
Professor Neil Evans, also from the University of Glasgow, said: "These findings emphasise that even when the concentration of single chemicals in the environment may be very low, it is hard to predict what the health effects are when an individual is exposed to a mixture of chemicals.
"This finding adds to previous work conducted by this group that has shown effects on male and female reproductive organs and some of the systems within the body that regulate reproduction, in young animals born to mothers exposed to this environmentally relevant mixture of chemicals."
The research was funded by University of Aberdeen-coordinated grants from the Wellcome Trust and the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme.
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