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Pre-Conception: Dads' Toxic Legacies

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No longer is it solely a woman’s burden to treat her body as a temple in order to have healthy babies. Emily Anthes has exposed the latest revelations in our understanding of reproduction in “The Bad Daddy Factor”: 

Over the last half-century, as scientists learned more and more about how women could safeguard their developing fetuses — skip the vodka, take your folate — few researchers even considered the possibility that men played a role in prenatal health. It would turn out to be a scientific oversight of significant proportions. A critical mass of research now demonstrates that environmental exposures — from paints to pesticides — can cause men to father children with all sorts of abnormalities. Drinking booze, smoking cigarettes, taking prescription medications and even just not eating a balanced diet can influence the health of men’s future kids.



Indeed, there are a growing number of studies, which show that men play a considerable role in the future health of their offspring. Consider an abbreviated version of the evidence:

  • Some men continue to manufacture damaged sperm — with abnormal numbers of chromosomes and breaks in DNA — for as long as two years after their last dose of chemotherapy.
  • Women have more miscarriages when their male partners work in manufacturing jobs where they are exposed to heavy metals, such as lead and mercury.
  • Men exposed to pesticides are more likely to have children who develop leukemia.
  • Men who work with solvents, cleaning solutions, dyes and textiles, paints and other chemicals are all more likely to father kids with birth defects or childhood cancers.
  • Toluene, glycol ethers, lead, and pesticides (all very common exposure sources) have been linked to lower sperm counts – compromising fertility
  • Smokers seem to produce sperm with the wrong number of chromosomes, a DNA error that could lead to miscarriages or Down syndrome.
  • Paternal smoking has also been linked to childhood cancer, and even alcohol and caffeine can cause sperm abnormalities that derail child development.

What does this mean? According to Anthes:

These findings are just the beginning. Consider, for instance, that there are some 84,000 chemicals used in American workplaces, says Barbara Grajewski, a senior epidemiologist at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Only 4,000 of these have even been evaluated for reproductive effects in men or women, and males are particularly understudied. “There’s a whole range of effects in men that really are not being given attention or are well understood,” Grajewski says. “The whole area of men’s reproductive health is way behind women’s health.”

The implications of this research deficit are huge. Some 60 percent of all birth defects today are of unknown origin; tracing even a small fraction of these back to men’s environmental exposures would constitute a major public health advance.

“Why would we not look at the paternal side of the equation? To me that’s really a social and political puzzle,” says Cynthia R. Daniels, a political scientist at Rutgers who studies gender and reproductive politics. “We seem to politically be in a place where we overprotect and over-warn women, but where men and fathers remain almost completely invisible.

While much more evidence is bound to emerge, what can you do now?

If you identify as a man, a father, or a prospective father – do exactly what Healthy Child recommends for everyone else – follow our 5 Easy Steps. Reduce your toxic exposures by avoiding pesticides, finding non-toxic alternatives to everyday products you use, cleaning up indoor air, eating healthy, and being wise with plastics.

Live healthier, smarter – better for you and better for your future babies.

Did the father of your child/children make any healthy lifestyle changes before you started your family?


The Bad Daddy Factor : Miller-McCune.

Collaborative on Health and the Environment :: Infertility Peer-Reviewed Analysis

Logo - Healthy Child  By Janelle Sorensen and Courtesy of Healthy Child Healthy World: a 501(c)(3) nonprofit inspiring parents to protect young children from harmful chemicals.




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