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Sep. 22 2009 - 11:33 am | 122 views | 1 recommendation | 4 comments

New study: Are breasts to blame for testicular trauma?

Breastfeeding an infant

Image via Wikipedia

Men who suffer from reproductive problems, including low-quality semen and incomplete testes formation, as well as those who’ve been diagnosed with testicular cancer, might soon be able to point the finger at a culprit: their mother.

Or, at least, their mother’s choice of geographic location, according to a new study being published in the Journal of Andrology this week. After noting increased rates of testicular cancer in industrialized countries, a research team at the University Department of Growth and Reproduction in Rigshospitalet, Denmark, decided to evaluate potential environmental factors that might be to blame for the rise. They compared the breast milk of women in Denmark to that of women in Finland, where male reproductive problems and cancer are relatively low. In particular, the team was looking at levels of Environmental Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDC’s), which are found in fatty foods, pesticides and industrial byproducts.

What they found, after accounting for other variables and analyzing 121 chemicals, were significantly higher levels of pesticides and PCBs in Denmark. That’s enough evidence for the researchers to conclude that the environmental exposure of breast milk “may explain some of the temporal and between-country differences in incidence of male reproductive disorders.”

A similar study of American breast milk has yet to be done, but for comparative value, consider that rates of testicular cancer in North America are around the same as those in Europe. And, of course, we do love our fatty foods and industrial byproducts.

So, what’s a pregnant woman living in an industrialized metropolis to do, especially when breast feeding has been linked to a multitude of children’s health benefits, including decreased risk of diabetes and obesity, and superior physical and cerebral development? According to study authors, the potential for sluggish sperm and cancerous testes isn’t enough impetus to opt for formula. Says study author Professor Niels Skakkebaek:

“In spite of the findings, I would strongly urge women, including Danish mothers, to continue with breast feeding, which has many beneficial effects for the child.”

Alright, nursing Danish mothers, you can keep on doing your thing. Just know that in twenty years, when your grown son can’t seem to rustle up a few grandkids, you may only have your breast milk to blame.

But in all seriousness, the study may yield significant preventative benefit in years to come, if researchers can start evaluating the correlation between industrialized areas and testicular cancer rates on a micro scale (comparison between towns in industrial hotbeds vs. non, for example). And, of course, looking to more than just boobs and testicles to examine whether the same connection holds between our toxic environs and other cancers. Which, preliminary studies (like this one covered by the Times in 2002) suggest, it does.


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