Scientists were already aware that there could be links between air pollution and an increased risk of certain disorders ranging from obesity to diabetes and fertility, owing to stressful messages sent by the brain.
Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine discovered that breathing polluted air may result in lower sperm counts. According to a press release from the University of Maryland, the researchers discovered that air pollution causes brain inflammation in mice, which results in lower sperm counts due to connections between the brain and the reproductive system in a new study published in Environmental Health Perspectives.
The researchers bred mice that lacked a protein that can cause brain inflammation. They then exposed the mutant mice, as well as normal mice, to polluted air before testing the critters’ sperm counts. The researchers discovered that the mutant mice did not have reduced sperm, whereas the normal mice did. The scientists believe that the air pollution was causing problems in the hypothalamus, which controls basic functions like hunger, thirst, and sex in normal mice.
These findings have broader implications than just fertility, as there are many conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease, that can result from brain inflammation caused by air pollution.Charles Hong
“Our findings showed that the damage caused by air pollution — at least to sperm count — could be remedied by removing a single inflammation marker in the brains of mice, suggesting that we may be able to develop therapies that could prevent or reverse the damaging effects of air pollution on fertility,” Zhekang Ying, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of medicine at the university, said in a press release.
If the findings are replicated in humans, the researchers hope that their findings will lead to the development of treatments for infertility and a variety of other conditions caused by air pollution.
If experts can build on the findings, it may end up benefiting populations that are disproportionately affected by air pollution. Indeed, numerous studies have found that communities of color, as well as communities with lower socioeconomic status, are the ones who suffer the most from the effects of pollution, resulting in more illnesses and deaths.
“Environmental pollution is a problem of equity in that some people who are poor or of color tend to face more severe health-related conditions due to greater exposure,” Albert Reece, dean at the school who was not involved in the research, said in a release. “It is critical to investigate the mechanisms by which pollution affects the body so that we can develop methods to prevent or treat these conditions in order to eliminate these health disparities.”
“These findings have broader implications than just fertility,” said Dr. Charles Hong, Professor of Medicine and Director of Cardiology Research at UMSOM. “Many conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease, can result from brain inflammation caused by air pollution.”
Given that the main topics at the UN’s COP 26 summit will be climate change and radical measures to reduce air pollution, such a study could serve as yet another wake-up call from scientists.
“Environmental pollution is an equity issue in that some poor or minority people face more severe health-related conditions as a result of greater exposure,” Albert Reece, executive vice president for Medical Affairs at UM Baltimore, said in response to the study. “It is critical to investigate the mechanisms by which pollution affects the body so that we can develop methods to prevent or treat these conditions in order to eliminate these health disparities.”
Given that approximately 92% of the world’s population lives in areas where air pollution exceeds the World Health Organization’s minimum safety standards, this scientific discovery has the potential to revolutionize the sexual health of billions of men in the coming years.