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US researchers find first conclusive evidence that lead is linked to male infertility

els in patients who did not smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol were unexplained. One possibility was lack of exercise (blood lead levels increase with decreased physical activity). Another possibility was a low calcium or high lactose or fat diet, which can enhance lead accumulation. Genetic variation in response to lead exposure may also be a factor as the study revealed some instances of normal fertilisation rates despite high lead levels and reduced fertilisation rates despite low lead levels.

Dr Benoff said it was important that the results should not be construed as evidence of an epidemic of overt lead toxicity as none of the patients showed signs of lead toxicity and it is not yet known if there is a strong correlation between seminal plasma lead levels and lead concentration in the blood (the normal method of measuring lead exposure).

But she warned: "In the light of these results, environmental exposure limits for lead might be re-evaluated."

She said it was also important that men are often 'under served' at fertility clinics. "Our findings emphasise the need for co-operation between reproductive endocrinologists and urologists and a workup of the male partner of infertile couples that is more extensive than a simple semen analysis or measurement of circulating reproductive hormones. We suggest the addition of measurements of the heavy and transition metal ion content of seminal plasma (not blood) and some form of sperm function testing. It must be recognised that treating the male is generally less invasive and less costly than treating the female."


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Contact: Margaret Willson
m.willson@mwcommunications.org.uk
44-153-677-2181
European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology
5-Feb-2003


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