There’s no doubt that a modern Western lifestyle can be hazardous to your health. A poor diet and sedentary life leads to obesity and a whole host of other problems. However there is new evidence that the Western way of life, which includes the fruits of advancing technology, may lead to a growing problem in men: namely low fertility.
In recent years declining sperm counts have been reported across the globe. While you can’t place a finger on one definitive cause, there are many lifestyle-related factors such as obesity and smoking, as well as environmental factors such as exhaust fumes and combustion products. All of these affect spermatogenesis, the process that produces sperm in the testes.
Now there’s a new study that identifies silver nanoparticles as a cause of low sperm count in mice. Why is this significant? Because it leads to speculation that these tiny silver particles could cause the same problem in humans, too.What are silver nanoparticles, anyway?
Silver nanoparticles are ultra-small particles with a diameter of less than 100 nm that are often used in antimicrobial coatings for bandages and clothing. They are also abundant in personal care products such as cosmetics, toys, detergents, car wax, clothing, and air sanitizers. When men breathe or absorb these particles, and especially if they work with them, they can eventually reach the bloodstream and tissues–including the testes.
Scientists have known for some time that the silver nanoparticles are toxic to lung, skin, and nerve cells. They can even cross the placenta and affect unborn children. When it comes to fertility, however, the problem is that these agents could actually slow the growth and proliferation of sperm cells.
A new study using mouse sperm stem cells tested the effects of varying concentrations, sizes, and coatings of silver nanoparticles on sperm cell growth. What they found was that exposure to the smallest size particles – all below 100 nm - led to sperm cell death.Living in a nano world.
Nanotechnology is a branch of science that offers promising applications. It rather amazing because it deals with things smaller than 100 nanometers. How small is a nanometer? It’s one-billionth of a meter.
To give you some idea how small we’re talking about here, a sheet of paper is approximately 100,000 nanometers thick. At the nanoscale, some pretty unusual chemical, physical, and biological properties emerge. And since so many of the products we use everyday involve nanotechnology, it’s only prudent that research continues.
In the case of silver nanoparticles and sperm cells, more study is needed before scientists can conclude the same results will occur in humans as did in mice.