New Study Links Common Chemicals in Food Packaging to Potential Infertility
Over the years, we have been bombarded with health advice discussing what foods and drinks we should consume and their effects on our bodies. Billions of dollars are invested in marketing to overweight consumers touting diet plans and even mental health programs to improve their health. Far more rarely do we get definitive information about the toxicity of additives and chemicals in everyday products and even food packaging.
First, we heard of BPA, and many food companies and packaging firms worked hard to remove it from their products. We’ve also heard about phthalates that can cause significant developmental issues in utero. Recently, a Danish study¹ was released discussing PFASs (per and polyfluorinated alkylate substances) and how they may contribute to sperm count and mobility issues that could lead to male infertility. Of course, this is important because the United States and the world have been experiencing a quiet infertility crisis. More and more men are unable to produce viable sperm, and while there may be several potential causes, forever chemicals, as they are known, could certainly contribute.
What Are Forever Chemicals, and What Is Pfas?
Forever chemicals are compounds that we ingest, typically part of the packaging for any number of products from food to personal care. Once ingested, these chemicals accumulate in the body. In other words, our bodies cannot flush them out. In the case of PFAS, the most concerning part of the study revolved around the accumulation of this chemical during the first trimester of pregnancy. This is when the fetus’s testicles develop, and any chemical or hormonal disruption can cause significant consequences later in life. PFAS can cross the placental barrier and begin to accumulate in the unborn child’s body. The study’s results showed that mothers with the most significant exposure to PFAS during that first trimester, as measured by levels in their blood, were at the highest risk of having a child with sperm count and mobility issues.
Should We Avoid These Chemicals as Adults?
The short answer is yes. Women of childbearing age should avoid these chemicals, especially if they wish to become pregnant, as their accumulation can affect the unborn child. However, this chemical also has significant potential implications for adults regardless of their desire for children. PFAS has been linked to obesity, cholesterol, diabetes, and more. There’s evidence that infections such as COVID-19 may be worsened by PFAS exposure².
Where Are PFASs Found?
Unfortunately, we probably only know the tip of the iceberg. PFAS is a water- and oil-resistant coating or additive to many food and personal care packaging. Pizza boxes, fast food wrappers and boxes, popcorn bags, and even some personal care packaging may contain PFAS. With the increase in the understanding of PFAS, many companies have taken concrete steps to remove them from the packaging of their products. For example, Chick-fil-A committed to eliminating PFAS from their packaging this year. It remains to be seen if they were successful in doing so. According to Consumer Reports, other companies like Chipotle and Whole Foods have made concerted efforts to keep PFAS out of their packaging with some success. It is important to remember that eliminating a key component in packaging is difficult. There are costs and supply chain concerns that do not allow it to happen overnight. However, that does not mean that you have to expose yourself to these toxic chemicals. Instead, look for packaging and products that specifically do not include PFAS. Of course, for your overall health, the best place to shop is in the fresh food aisles, avoiding as much packaging as possible.
Teaching our younger generations about the dangers of the chemicals that may be found in their food packaging is vital. However, you may already be experiencing infertility, and Dr. Natale is here to help. As men’s health specialists, we take a holistic view of your health and sexual wellness to determine the causes of your infertility and, ultimately, what can be done. If you have any questions about infertility and need to speak to a qualified physician, we encourage you to contact our office and schedule a consultation with doctor Natale.
- Petersen KU, Hærvig KK, Flachs EM, Bonde JP, Lindh C, Hougaard KS, Toft G, Ramlau-Hansen CH, Tøttenborg SS. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and male reproductive function in young adulthood; a cross-sectional study. Environ Res. 2022 Sep;212(Pt A):113157. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2022.113157. Epub 2022 Mar 19. PMID: 35318009.
- Grandjean P, Timmermann CAG, Kruse M, Nielsen F, Vinholt PJ, Boding L, Heilmann C, Mølbak K. Severity of COVID-19 at elevated exposure to perfluorinated alkylates. medRxiv [Preprint]. 2020 Oct 26:2020.10.22.20217562. doi: 10.1101/2020.10.22.20217562. Update in: PLoS One. 2020 Dec 31;15(12):e0244815. PMID: 33140071; PMCID: PMC7605584.