Aluminium has been in the spotlight in recent years due to growing concerns surrounding its impact on human health. There are indications that accumulation of this element in the body can increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. In addition to cognitive failure, this element is has also been linked to chronic fatigue, cancer, and other health concerns. Now researchers believe that excessive amounts of aluminium may impact male fertility.
Male infertility continues to rise
Over the past few decades there has been a growing concern surrounding the decline of male reproductive health. In the developed world male infertility is rising. Common male subfertility problems include low sperm counts, poor forward motion, and abnormal sperm morphology. In many cases, environmental influences and lifestyle factors account for these problems.
Aluminium may impact male fertility
Several studies have focused on reproductive toxicology as a result of elevated aluminium levels. Researchers have shown that fertility decreases when mice experience high concentrations of aluminium in the body. Both testicular weight and epidiymal weight reduced significantly, as did sperm counts1.
Consequently, male mice exposed to high levels of aluminium struggle to reproduce. Now scientists have found a strong correlation between excessive aluminium levels in human sperm and poor reproductive health.
Scientists from the universities of Lyon and Saint-Etienne in France joined up with scientists from the Keele University in the UK to investigate the relationship between aluminium and male infertility2.
The researchers wanted to determine if high levels of aluminium in the sperm and semen correlated with a decline in male reproductive health. Guided by Professor Christopher Exley, the research team suspected a link between high aluminium levels and a low sperm count.
Human sperm count falls with elevated aluminium levels
Exley and his team used aluminium-specific fluorescence microscopy to identify and measure the concentration of aluminium within sperm and semen samples obtained from 62 men. Researchers evaluated all semen parameters, including sperm count, sperm morphology, and sperm motility.
The results found no significant changes in sperm motility or morphology regardless of different aluminium exposure levels. This is despite all 62 donor samples presenting with high levels of aluminium at 339 parts per billion (ppb). A healthy level ranges from 50 to 150 ppb. Some donors recorded values above 500 ppb, which is considered extremely high.
Sperm count however, was very sensitive to aluminium. All men in this study presented with oligozoospermia corresponding with high levels of aluminium. The researchers concluded that this study confirms aluminium accumulation in human sperm, and subsequently reduces fertility. Other earlier findings have found similar results, although these studies have also incorporated cadmium and lead3.
Why does aluminium harm sperm?
The processes involved in the interaction between reproductive health and high concentrations of aluminium are not fully understood. It is known that excess aluminium in the body will adversely affect the endocrine system and can cause free radical-mediated cytotoxicity4, 5. As a consequence the body is unable to produce and nurture a viable number of sperm to maturity, resulting in oligozoospermia.
Can sperm recover from an overload of aluminium?
Reducing the levels of aluminium in the sperm and semen may help to enhance fertility. Various animal based studies have shown that by increasing the availability of certain antioxidants it’s possible to restore healthy reproduction and safeguard the sperm from aluminium toxicity6, 7.
The body benefits from a variety of minerals, vitamins, trace elements and amino acids that have protective functions. There are certain nutrients that have been identified as important for male reproductive health, and antioxidants feature strongly. Some of these key male antioxidants include glutathione, selenium and vitamins E and C. These compounds can lower oxidative stress and free radical damage.
One of the problems is that humans are regularly exposed to high levels of aluminium. It is the third most abundant element on the earth. It is found in water, foods consumed and a plethora of manufactured products. Men with low fertility due to oligozoospermia are encouraged to take a supplement containing antioxidants and other important fertility nutrients. This can help to lower oxidative stress and improve overall reproductive health.
- “Llobet, L. et.al. (1995). Reproductive Toxicology of Aluminum in Male Mice. Toxicological Sciences. Volume 25, Issue 1, (pp. 45-51)”. ↩
- “”Klein, et.al (2014). Aluminum content of human semen, Implications for semen quality. Reproductive Toxicology. Volume 50, (pp. 43-8).” ↩
- “Dawson, E. et.al (1998).Comparison of sperm viability with seminal plasma metal levels. Biological Trace Element Research. Volume 64, Issue 1-3, (pp.215–219).” ↩
- Yousef, M. (2004). Aluminium-induced changes in hemato-biochemical parameters, lipid peroxidation and enzyme activities of male rabbits: protective role of ascorbic acid. Toxicology Volume 199 (pp. 47–57).” ↩
- “Guo, C. et.al. (2005). Aluminum-induced suppression of testosterone through nitric oxide produc-tion in male mice. Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology. Volume 19, Issue 1 (pp. 33–40).” ↩
- “Yousef, M. and Salma, A. (2009). Propolis protection from reproductive toxicity caused by aluminium chloride in male rats. Food and Chemical Toxicology. Volume 47, Issue 6, (pp. 1168-75).” ↩
- Yousef, M., El-Morsey, A., and Hassan, M. (2005). Aluminium-induced deterioration in reproductive performance and seminal plasma biochemistry of male rabbits: Protective role of ascorbic acid. Toxicology. Volume 215, (pp. 97-107).” ↩