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Baby planning: Pill making men infertile?

Falling sperm counts have been directly linked to the Pill for the first time. Women who continue to take the contraceptive without realising they are pregnant may damage the reproductive system of male babies, scientists have discovered.

The findings could help to explain the mysterious rise in male infertility in the West. An estimated two million women in the UK, Europe and the U.S. take the Pill while pregnant every year.

'Women who get pregnant while taking the Pill are being told that this will have no effect,' said Dr. Frederick vom Saal, one of a team behind the findings. 'This idea that it can affect mothers but not the foetus is ridiculous. The foetus is far more sensitive to hormones than adults.'

In the first research of its kind, his team exposed male mouse foetuses to doses of the synthetic hormone commonly used in the Pill. The amounts and length of time were equivalent to a woman taking the contraceptive until the 16th week of a human pregnancy.

They then tested the sperm counts of the mice once they had reached maturity. Daily production was reduced in all the animals who had been exposed to the hormones, they report in the scientific journal Human Reproduction.

Dr. vom Saal, of the University of Missouri, fears the damage done to the human reproductive ssystem would be identical.
'There is no reason to think that oestrogen is going to do something unique to the mouse that it does not do in the human,' he said, adding that his team had been astonished to discover that no similar studies had been done before.

'There is an illusion that women who take the Pill don't get pregnant. In fact, among teenage girls, there is a phenomenally high number,' he said. 'The consensus is that in Europe and the US, there are about two million women a year who get pregnant and continue to take these pills.

In the UK, the average man's sperm count has fallen by half in the last 60 years, though the cause of the decline has remained largely mysterious.

One in six British couples now struggles to conceive and the number seeking medical help has risen 55 per cent in the last five years to 27,000 a year. Dr. vom Saal said he believed the Pill may be one explanation. It has previously been suggested that the Pill is partly responsible for rising levels of synthetic hormones in the environment, such as the water supply, which may be linked to growing infertility.

Women exposed to regular high doses of electromagnetic radiation from microwave ovens, hairdryers and washing machines could be six times more likely to miscarry in the first ten weeks of pregnancy, scientists warned.

American researchers from the respected Kaiser Foundation Research Institute in San Francisco monitored the exposure to the electromagnetic radiationof 969 pregnant women in the Californian city in a study to be published in the medical journal Epidemiology.

British experts from the National Radiological Protection Board and the Department of Health said other research had not found a link.

Source: Daily Mail, Monday, June 18, 2001

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