Arsenic exposure via food is another little-known dietary threat that can negatively affect male fertility, research says. Arsenic toxicity can especially become a serious issue for men whose diets are based largely on rice since rice tends to collect arsenic from the water it is exposed to during cultivation. In men, inorganic arsenic, which is highly toxic, causes reproductive problems like lowering of epididymal sperm counts, decreasing of the testis and accessory sex organs weights. Furthermore, high levels of inorganic arsenic can also lead to disruption of steroidogenesis, alterations and hindrances in spermatogenesis, and lower secretion of testosterone and gonadotrophins.
What is arsenic?
Arsenic is a toxic metalloid that is naturally present in the environment. It significantly contributes to global health issues because of its carcinogenicity. In most countries, arsenic exists at high levels in the groundwater and one of the primary sources of arsenic exposure and contamination is the drinking water. The major sources of arsenic pollution of air, water, and soil caused by humans are burning of fossil fuels, smelting of non-ferrous metals and mining. Arsenic and arsenic compounds are present in agricultural chemicals like pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides, pharmaceuticals, wood preservatives, and certain food products.
The use of arsenic-contaminated water for irrigation of food crops, drinking, and food preparation constitutes the biggest danger to public health from arsenic. Chronic exposure to arsenic through drinking water is linked with increased chances of skin, lung, bladder, and liver cancers along with a range of other illnesses such as and heart diseases, gastrointestinal disease, diabetes, and neurological and cognitive issues.
What studies say
A number of animal studies have found that arsenic exposure can hinder steroid hormone production and lead to infertility. There is a significant accumulation of arsenic in the male testes and accessory sex organs, like the epididymis, seminal vesicle, and prostate gland when exposed to arsenic-contaminated water, as per experimental studies. Male mice were introduced to 20 or 40 mg/L of sodium arsenite through drinking water for 5 weeks. Researchers observed a consequent reduction in epidydimal sperm counts as well as testicular weight. Again, daily exposure of male rats to 5 mg/L of sodium arsenite through drinking water also led to a decrease in epidydimal sperm counts and testicular and accessory sex organ weights. There was a significant degeneration of a variety of germ cells at stage VII of the spermatogenesis as well.
A fairly recent study in 2016 indicated that men diagnosed with infertility had a greater incidence of elevated levels of arsenic compounds in their urine than men without infertility. Arsenic levels in urine samples were analyzed in a group comprised of reproductive, aged men who were enlisted from an infertility clinic. When assessed for sperm quality, this study concluded that the chances of poor sperm counts rise with urinary concentrations of various compounds of arsenic.
What can you do to reduce exposure to arsenic?
- You should try to replace high-arsenic water sources like groundwater, with low-arsenic and microbiologically safe reserves such as treated surface water or rainwater. Use low-arsenic water for the purposes of irrigation, drinking, and cooking.
- Since rice is one of the major dietary sources of arsenic, you can substitute rice with quinoa, couscous, bulgur wheat, barley or polenta, especially if you are struggling with infertility. Alternatively, you can prepare rice using methods that reduce arsenic toxicity such as boiling rice in a lot of water and rinsing the cooked rice before serving.
- You should also avoid feeding rice cereals such as oatmeal or mixed grains to small children. Also, restrict their intake of fruit juices to a maximum of half a cup to one cup a day.