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February 27, 2024

Men can pass on effects of pollutant exposure to future generations

New research at the University of Stockholm has identified potential links between paternal exposure to environmental pollutants and subsequent adverse health effects in future generations. In this longitudinal study, researchers were able to link exposures to endocrine disrupting chemicals as far back as grandfathers that might have an effect on later generations of children.  


This research builds our understanding of the disrupting actions of environmental pollutants on hormone production by the endocrine system, including changes in sperm that could appear in male offspring in later generations. This is the first major study to shine light on the effects of parental exposure to pollutants where the focus has been on maternal exposures. For example, 99% of pregnant women tested have glyphosate in their urine. 


How can exposure transfer from father to child? 

Sperm transfers genetic DNA information to the developing foetus, but it also carries epigenetic information. These are ‘footprints’ which have already been influenced by environmental exposures and lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, and alcohol. These epigenetic factors can play out during a later generation’s lifetime, which is why it’s known as epigenetic inheritance. 


Scientific focus has mostly been on environmental exposures shared across the placenta, or via breast milk, so this longitudinal study is groundbreaking by investigating paternal exposures that can potentially be traced back for generations. The team investigated the effects of exposure on the metabolic and immune systems and increases in the likelihood of developing autoimmune diseases and cancer. 


Using new research methods and computational models, human stem cell tissue was grown to form ‘test cell’ organs that resemble human organs to understand the effects of exposure to environmental pollutants. 


Reducing our exposure to pollutants for future generations 

There are lots of reasons to reduce exposure to environmental pollutants for our own health, but this study highlights the importance of making changes for our children, and maybe even our grandchildren in future years.


Thousands of chemical substances can be avoided by making different choices; eating organic food and avoiding ultra processed foods is an easy place to begin. Choosing everyday products such as cleaning products and toiletries free of endocrine disrupting chemicals such as phthalates and parabens can also reduce your exposure if you have concerns. 



Read more 


Falling sperm rates 

Endocrine disrupting chemicals as a risk factor in pregnancy 

Image credit: Dasha Muller


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