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Studies show glyphosate-based herbicides disrupt male fertility

Decreasing sperm counts in France
Decreasing sperm counts in France
Nancy Swanson, data from Rolland et. al

A new study shows abnormal sperm formation up to four months after a single exposure to the glyphosate-based herbicide Roundup. Cassault-Meyer et al., published their results in the July, 2014 issue of the journal of Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology. After a single exposure to 0.5% solution over 8 days, the endocrine and testicular functions of male rats were monitored after 68, 87, and 122 days. The results confirm the endocrine disrupting effect of Roundup in vivo. Even after 122 days (4 months), the researchers found evidence of endocrine disruption and abnormal sperm, though the sperm counts and motility were normal. A concentration of 0.5% Roundup is similar to that found in surface water near agricultural spraying. The authors suggested that long term exposures could “alter the mammalian reproductive system over the long term.”

Endocrine disruption in vitro at low doses of both Roundup and glyphosate alone had previously been reported by Clair et al. in the journal Toxicology in Vitro (2012). Tests were carried out on mature rat testicular cells. Higher doses caused cell death by breakdown of the cell wall.

Another study by de Liz Oliveira Cavalli et al., published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine (2013), describes how glyphosate disrupts male reproductive function by triggering cell death in rat testes. They state, “Glyphosate has been described as an endocrine disruptor affecting the male reproductive system; however, the molecular basis of its toxicity remains to be clarified. ... Our results showed that acute exposure to pure glyphosate, at the same concentration as in Roundup (36 ppm), was able to significantly enhance Ca2+ uptake.” They proposed that the mechanism for cell mutation and death is oxidative stress due to a toxic overload of calcium. “We propose that Roundup toxicity, implicated in Ca2+ overload, cell signaling misregulation, stress response of the endoplasmic reticulum, and/or depleted antioxidant defenses, could contribute to Sertoli cell disruption in spermatogenesis that could have an impact on male fertility.”

Is glyphosate in our food causing low sperm counts?

Sperm and eggs are more fragile to environmental stress than other cells because they have some natural suicidal mechanisms to destroy themselves if a copy problem has occurred. Normal sperm concentration in healthy males used to be around 100 million per milliliter (m/mL). The new normal is in the range of 45–65 m/mL. Not only is the sperm concentration decreasing, but the percentage of normal sperm versus abnormal is also decreasing.

France: The graph accompanying this article shows a 32% decrease in sperm concentration and a 37% drop in the percentage of normal sperm over a period of 17 years (1989-2005) in samples from approximately 26,000 men in France. The data were taken from Rolland et al., published in the journal Human Reproduction (2013). The subjects in the study were male partners in couples undergoing in-vitro fertilization where the female was definitely know to be infertile. Endocrine disruptors are mentioned as a possible cause of the decrease in sperm count.

China: In a 2004 article in the Nanfang Daily news, Academician Zhong Nan-shan of the China Academy of Engineering stated that, “the problem of food is becoming prominent during recent years, there has already been great changes in the concentration of sperm. Previously, 100 million to 50 million [per mL] was considered normal, now even 30 million [per mL] is considered normal. The present concentration of sperm is only about 50% of that 40 years ago.”

Israel: In 2012, the Los Angeles Times reported that sperm banks in Israel are having a hard time finding quality sperm and they can't figure out why. The country's largest private sperm bank, Cryobank Israel, turned away about a third of the applicants for low quality back in 1991. “Using the same standard today, it would reject more than 80%. Though the bank [has] relaxed its criteria, it still vetoes about two-thirds,” said director Ruth Har-Nir.

United States: According to Dr. Susan Berry, “No recent published data exists regarding American men, though some historical data suggest a decline in sperm count among men in the United States.” However, Grace Centola, a sperm bank consultant and past president of the Society for Male Reproduction and Urology, said in 2012 that she had studied sperm donor data over the past eight years in the Boston area and found "a statistically significant decline in semen volume, sperm count and motility over those years."

In 2003, Swan et al., published results for geographic differences in sperm concentrations in four US cities: Columbia, Missouri; New York, New York; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Los Angeles, California. They found significantly less sperm concentrations for men in Missouri (53 m/ML avg) than for men in Minnesota (69 m/mL), California (75 m/mL) and New York (76 m/mL). The sperm in the Missouri (MO) samples were also significantly less motile. All subjects were partners of pregnant women who were recruited from prenatal clinics and therefore known to be fertile.

In a follow-on study published later that year, Swan et al. linked the lower sperm count in MO to pesticides. In this study, using the same procedures, the researchers collected urine and semen samples from men in MO and MN. They then took a subset of men in whom all semen parameters were low (test group) and in whom all semen parameters were within normal limits (control group) and measured metabolites of eight pesticides in urine samples provided at the time of semen collection. They found that men with higher levels of alachlor, atrazine and diazinon in their urine were significantly more likely to have lower sperm counts than men with lower levels of pesticides in their urine. Surprisingly, glyphosate was not on their list of chemicals that were measured even though they chose pesticides that are commonly used on corn and soybean crops in MO. Likely they were told that glyphosate is safe and harmless. The researchers eliminated occupational, home pesticide use or proximity to a farm as methods of exposure. They postulated that the exposure must be from water.

Glyphosate and infertility

There are increasing reports of glyphosate and glyphosate formulations causing infertility. A Russian study found that feeding hamsters GMO soy resulted in complete sterility after two or three generations. In 1995 Yousef et al. reported toxic effects of glyphosate on semen characteristics in rabbits, “Pesticide treatment resulted in a decline in body weight, libido, ejaculate volume, sperm concentration, semen initial fructose and semen osmolality. This was accompanied with increases in the abnormal and dead sperm.” In 2012 Antoniou et al. published a review of the evidence of the reproductive toxicity of glyphosate herbicides and concluded that a new and transparent risk assessment needs to be conducted.

Long term effects

Glyphosate was first marketed in 1976 and its use has exploded since the advent of glyphosate-resistant, genetically engineered (GE) crops in 1995. The herbicide-resistant GE crops absorb glyphosate through direct application and from the soil and it cannot be washed off. It is in the food. It is also routinely used in grain, legume, sweet potato and sugar cane crops as a pre-harvest ripener. Just last year, the Environmental Protection Agency raised the allowable residues of glyphosate in food. We have been unwittingly consuming glyphosate for nearly 20 years. Are the long term effects now becoming apparent?

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