In addition to medical complications that can affect male infertility, certain environmental factors can limit or weaken a man’s sperm, including radiation, exposing testicles to heat, industrial chemicals, and heavy metal exposure. A recent study conducted by researchers from Keele University in England and Saint-Etienne in France has revealed that men exposed to aluminum have markedly lower sperm count and a lower chance of being fertile.

“There has been a significant decline in male fertility, including sperm count, throughout the developed world over the past several decades and previous research has linked this to environmental factors such as endocrine disruptors,” Professor Christopher Exley, Keele University’s leading authority on aluminum exposure, said in a statement.

Exley and his colleague Professor Michele Cottier gathered 62 sperm samples from donors at a French clinic and measured aluminum content using fluorescence microscopy with an aluminum-specific stain. Aluminum content for the average donor’s sperm sample was very high at 339 parts per billion (PPB), while some men’s aluminum content in sperm reached as high as 500 PPB. Men with a higher exposure to aluminum had a lower sperm count and were less fertile as a result.

“Human exposure to aluminium has increased significantly over the same time period and our observation of significant contamination of male semen by aluminium must implicate aluminum as a potential contributor to these changes in reproductive fertility,” Exley added.

According to the Urology Care Foundation, between 10 and 15 percent of couples struggle with conceiving a baby due to infertility. Male infertility is to blame with around one-third of couples trying to conceive. Evidence has shown that heavy metals, such as lead, cadmium, mercury, and aluminum, can lead to male infertility by reducing testicle size, negatively affecting semen quality and quantity, causing dysfunction to the prostate and seminal vesicles, and disrupting endocrine function.

Concentrations of heavy metal can be found in a variety of unexpected sources that men are exposed to every day. Sources include food, water, tobacco, alcoholic beverages, and traces can even be found in the air. To help avoid over exposure to heavy metals, men should consider switching cleaning products and personal care items to chemical-free options and adding organic foods to their diet. They should also swap plastic water bottles for BPA-free plastic or glass.

Source: Klein J, Mold M, Mery L, Cottier M, Exley C. Aluminium content of human semen: implications for semen quality. Reproductive Toxicology. 2014.