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Arsenic exposure linked to lower sperm concentration in men.

Arsenic was associated with lower sperm quantities in men who visited an infertility clinic in China, according to a study published in the journal Environmental Health. This is the first time that arsenic exposure has been linked to reduced semen quality in men. These preliminary results raise the possibility that high exposures to arsenic may negatively affect male reproductive health, but more research is required to confirm these early findings.

In the study, the men with higher levels of an arsenic marker in their urine also had lower concentrations of sperm in their semen. The median levels of the marker reported were very high – about six times higher than what was found in U.S. men in an earlier study, the Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals (CDC 2009).

Arsenic is an element found naturally in soil and water. Of the many forms of the metal element, inorganic arsenic is the most toxic.

Diet is the main source of arsenic for most people. Arsenic can concentrate in rice plants and other crops. It has been found at high levels in rice and rice-based foods such as rice syrup that feed a large portion of the world's population. Even beer can contain arsenic.

Arsenic also contaminates drinking water worldwide, including in Bangladesh, China, Mexico and the United States. U.S. hotspots occur in the Southwest, the Northeast and some parts of the upper Midwest.

In the United States, arsenic was used in old-generation pesticides for cotton crops and continues to be used as a wood preservative in pressure-treated wood. It is in feed additives fed to chicken and swine.

Arsenic is a known carcinogen and may also play a role in gastric problems, blood vessel damage, neurological problems and diabetes. It is also an endocrine disruptor. Animal research suggests arsenic interferes with sperm and egg production. Arsenic is linked to male infertility problems in the few human studies done to date.

In this study, researchers measured five different forms of arsenic in urine samples collected between 2009 and 2020 from 96 men aged 23 to 43 years old at a Chinese fertility clinic. They assessed sperm quality by measuring sperm concentration and movement in the men's semen samples. They compared arsenic exposure to semen quality and adjusted for personal factors such as age, weight, smoking and drinking habits.

Men with higher levels of a metabolite of inorganic arsenic – DMA – were approximately seven times more likely to have low sperm concentrations compared to men with lower DMA levels. No clear patterns were found for the other four forms of arsenic or for any form of arsenic and sperm motility or semen volume.

Since rice is a staple food in this part of the world, the researchers suggest that the men were exposed to the inorganic arsenic by eating rice.

The results, while intriguing, were imprecise because they were based on a small number of men. Future research is needed to confirm these preliminary findings.