Guest article by Sam Hadadi.
As soon as the sun peeks its beautiful head from behind those winter clouds, we’re told to start smothering ourselves in sunscreen.
Every summer, we’re given endless warnings about the sun’s harmful rays and the damage it can do to our skin and our health. However, if you’re trying for a baby, you may want to think twice before reaching for that factor 30 – new research shows that sunscreen could well impair sperm cell function.
Worryingly, scientists have found that 45 per cent of everyday sunscreen ingredients (particularly UV filters) can mess with sperm. In fact, some could even mimic the effect of the female hormone progesterone, which effectively wreaks havoc on sperm mobility, meaning they lose their way when searching for an egg.
To decide exactly how UV-filtering chemicals can affect healthy sperm, scientists at the University of Copenhagen tested 29 of the 31 UV filters often found in sunscreens on healthy human sperm cells. These same cells were tested in conditions that resembled female fallopian tubes.
Shockingly, the results revealed that 45 percent of the 29 UV filters tested in the study interfered with the normal functioning of the sperm cell. What’s more, 13 UV filters also affected the movement of calcium ions (the bit that steers the sperm to an egg) within sperm cells.
What’s concerning is that researchers noted that "this effect began at very low doses of the chemicals, below the levels of some UV filters found in people after whole-body application of sunscreens.” Put simply, they believe that just small amounts of sunscreen could have this effect.
It sounds terrifying, doesn’t it? So, what causes it? Well, for starters, sunscreen can seep through the skin and into the rest of the body. In particular, UV-filtering chemicals were found in almost all urine samples and some blood samples during the study.
Of course, anything that affects sperm in that way could seriously impact on fertility levels. As one of the researchers, Niels Skakkebaek, said: "These results are of concern and might explain in part why unexplained infertility is so prevalent."
However, before you panic, it’s worth remembering that the UV filters have only been tested in human sperm cells in lab conditions and not in actual, living men.
Plus, on the flip side, the threat of skin cancer is real, so don’t ditch the sun cream, however worried you are!
If this study sends ripples of panic, then try not to fret – there are plenty of ways you can help to boost your fertility, naturally. Interested? Here are some ways you can supercharge your sperm:
Eat Red Food
According to a study in Ohio, foods chock full of lycopene (found in tomatoes and other red foods) can improve the quality and mobility of sperm and boost sperm count by up to 70 per cent1.
Ease Off the Laptop
For years we’ve heard that mobile phones could affect your sperm count – and laptops can, too. In a 2011 study, scientists found that there may be a link between reduced sperm quality and laptops with Wi-Fi connections. Worried? Put down the laptop and learn to relax2…
The ancient Aztecs swore by the mystical, magical powers of the Maca plant for years, where it was often used to boost fertility. Recent studies have shown that this isn’t just a legend and it may genuinely help – during a 12-week trial, researchers at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia found that men who were fed just 1,500 to 3,000 milligrams of maca per day reported increased sperm count and better sperm motility3.
There’s a whole heap of research out there that links high BMIs to decreased sperm count and movement. If you want to try for a baby, try to clean up your diet and get moving every single day – even moderate exercise can increase those clever antioxidants, which can work to protect sperm.
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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.