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Scientists alarmed after discovering microplastics in human testes: 'The impact on the younger generation might be more concerning'

"At the beginning, I doubted whether microplastics could penetrate the reproductive system."

"At the beginning, I doubted whether microplastics could penetrate the reproductive system."

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Scientists were alarmed after discovering microplastics in human testes, as they believe the tiny particles could be linked to declining sperm counts in men.  

What's happening?

Researchers examined 23 human and 47 canine testes, and they found that every organ contained microplastics. Human samples, ranging from ages 16 to 88, had nearly three times more microplastics than canine samples. 

However, scientists discovered that human testes from individuals over 55 years old had a smaller concentration of particle accumulation. 

The study, published in the journal Toxicological Sciences, notes that polyethylene, or PE, was the most common particle, followed by polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. PE and PVC are in a wide variety of everyday products, including plastic food packaging, containers, and shower curtains. 

A separate 2023 study found microplastics in six human testes and 30 semen samples.

Why is this important?

While this isn't the first study to examine the connection between microplastics and reproductive health, University of New Mexico professor Xiaozhong Yu, one of the latest study's authors, told the Guardian that the results were surprising and concerning.

"At the beginning, I doubted whether microplastics could penetrate the reproductive system," Yu said. "When I first received the results for dogs I was surprised. I was even more surprised when I received the results for humans." 

Yu also highlighted the fact that there is more plastic in our environment than ever before. According to the UN Environment Programme, humans produce more than 440 tons of plastic waste every year, and much of it ends up in landfills or as litter, releasing toxins into our environment. 

"The impact on the younger generation might be more concerning," Yu said, explaining to the Guardian that chemicals in PVC can cause endocrine disruption and may disrupt the development of sperm cells. 

Microplastics are just about everywhere, even in rainwater and the air. Other studies have discovered microplastics in human placentas, the lungs of living people, and in urine samples

The exact impacts of microplastics on human health are still under investigation, but researchers believe they may be causing significant harm, also linking them to cancer, gastrointestinal issues, and dementia, among other things

What's being done about this?

Scientists called for more extensive and diverse studies to further examine the impact of microplastics on the human reproductive system. In the meantime, researchers have been developing various solutions to eliminate microplastics from our environment. 

For example, startup Cleaner Seas Group designed a microfiber filter to capture microplastics released while doing laundry, while scientists in South Korea created a water filtration system that was able to remove most pollutants in seconds. Other promising research has revealed that probiotics may mitigate the harmful impact of toxins.

Limiting your use of plastic can also reduce your exposure to harmful chemicals in the material. There are plenty of plastic-free alternatives for everyday products, including durable, long-lasting metal razors, reusable lunch bags, and shampoo bars.

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