Does What An Expectant Dad Washes His Hair With Affect the Future Health of His Child?

A new study is looking into whether the environment can affect sperm quality and embryo development in our toxic-chemical-crazy world.

Specifically under investigation are pthalates, chemicals often found in everything from shampoos to cosmetics to hospital flooring.  Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastic and vinyl.

But the very same materials that make shampoos foamy also do very bad things.  According to, phthalate exposure -- known to disrupt endocrines -- is associated in human studies with changes in semen quality, androgen levels, birth outcomes and offspring neuro-development, but a mechanism has not been clearly identified, a new study by Richard Pilsner of UMass Amherst reports.   

Pilsner says, “What we’re asking, basically, is whether dad’s environmental health contributes to reproductive success, and if so, how is that transmitted to offspring?”

“Until now, no one has investigated the sperm epigenome in the context of environmental exposures," the Web site quotes him. "Now we know there is this additional layer of information that can be inherited on top of genetic information that could influence the health and development of future generations. Unlike the genetic code, the epigenome is highly dynamic and can be shaped by environmental exposures."

What this means is whether the shampoo you or your husband use can affect his sperm, the development of the embryo once you're pregnant -- and the possible future health of your offspring. 

I've started using a very expensive but phthalate-free shampoo.

As sperm mature over several weeks, epigenetic reprogramming results in a compact nucleus that is essential for fertilization. Pilsner hypothesizes that exposure to certain plastics such as phthalates and other chemicals during this reprogramming event is associated with changes in the sperm’s DNA.

“We plan to measure eight different phthalates to examine the father’s environmental health impact on a couple’s reproductive success, while future aims will also include their child’s health,” he adds. “There have been some human studies of how mothers’ exposure to various environmental agents affects the couple’s success in conceiving a child and on the child’s health. But until now, few birth cohorts have investigated the paternal environmental contribution to reproductive success and child’s health and development. We want to change that.”


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