Conditions in the womb may influence a male baby’s future fertility. A study found that stress hormones—glucocorticoids—combined with a common chemical compound found in plastics, paints and glues, increases the risk of reproductive birth defects.
Researchers at the University of Edinburgh’s Center for Cardiovascular Science said that the chemical brew increases the risk of the two most common birth defects: cryptorchidism, where the testes fail to drop, and hypospadias, where the urinary track is aligned incorrectly.
“What the study shows is that it is not simply a case of one factor in isolation contributing to abnormalities in male development, but a combination of both lifestyle and environmental factors which together have a greater impact,” said Dr. Mandy Drake.
The researchers believe the study, which examined rats exposed to stress hormones and the chemical compound dibutyl phthalate, could explain why the numbers of male babies born with reproductive defects are increasing. In the study, stress hormones alone didn’t affect fetal development, although they did lead to lower birth weights.
“In most studies reproductive disorders are only seen after abnormally high levels of exposure to chemicals, which most humans are not exposed to,” said Dr. Drake. “Our study suggests that additional exposure to stress, which is a part of everyday life, may increase the risk of these disorders and could mean that lower levels of chemicals are required to cause adverse affects.”
Male infertility is responsible for forty percent of the two million infertile couples in the United States, and many experts expect infertility to rise in the future.