You can find this element nearly everywhere. Is it really sinking your swimmers?
The most common metal in the earth’s crust might cause some problems a little closer to home. Aluminum may hamper your sperm quality, finds new research from the U.K.
In the study, men who had low sperm counts had higher levels of aluminum in their semen than those with a normal sperm load. This suggests that the metal may have been responsible for sinking their swimmers.
The reason is still unclear, but the researchers have a theory: Aluminum could disrupt something called spermatogenesis, which is the formation of sperm from stem cells, says study author Christopher Exley, Ph.D.
According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, exposure to aluminum is usually not harmful. But it can cause lung problems in workers who breathe in large amounts of its dust. And it also has been linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, though research has drawn conflicting conclusions.
Because this was a small study, more research is needed to repeat the findings on a larger scale, and to figure out whether aluminum in sperm actually hinders fertility—meaning, if it’s less likely to be able to penetrate the egg.
It’s an important—and timely—question: Human exposure to aluminum has spiked over the last hundred or so years, the researchers say. That’s because you can find it in everything from cookware to antiperspirants, as well as in some of the food you eat and the pills you pop.
But you don’t need to throw out your pots or scrub your pits just yet.
“I’d have a whole lot of things higher on my list of concerns than aluminum,” says Raymond Copes, M.D., M.S., an associate professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Toronto.
Plus, he points out, the study only found a link between aluminum and sperm count—not with other measures of sperm health (like shape or movement), or even overall, when all the quality factors were lumped together.
So until there’s more conclusive research, there’s no need to panic. But if you want to cut your exposure for peace of mind, pick a way that’ll help your body in other ways, too.
Aluminum can be added during the processing of foods. So choosing fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed meat can reduce your levels and keep you healthy, Dr. Copes says.
Author: CHRISTA SGOBBA