Infertility is something that is all too common in this day and age. However, the high rate of infertility amongst couples in Nigerian has been linked to the consumption of heavy metals through the food we eat and our environment.
Heavy metal is any metallic chemical element that has a high atomic weight, a high density up to five times than that of water, and for which exposure is toxic or poisonous at relatively low concentrations once above certain limits.
As trace elements, some heavy metals (copper, selenium, zinc) are essential to maintain healthy metabolism of the human body. However, at higher concentrations, they cause toxicity and its attendant side effects.
Heavy metal poisoning is the accumulation of various heavy metals in your body. Environmental and industrial factors expose you to high levels of heavy metals every day, including the foods you eat and air you breathe.
Heavy metals have a lot of useful applications in the agricultural, medical, industrial, and technological sectors. They also have a wide range of domestic use – in homes and offices. For this reason, Heavy metal distribution is now widespread in society, and this has a lot of impact on public health.
Sharing an encounter with one of his patients, Professor of Anatomy/Consultant Reproductive Endocrinologist,
”Mrs F. O. came with her husband to our fertility clinic about five years ago due to their inability to conceive. All the five attempts of in vitro fertilisation with the transfer of good grade embryo at 8-cell grade A or Grade A blastocysts resulted in no pregnancy or miscarriages at about eight weeks.
In many cases, we would see the gestational sac, but the heartbeat would not come up at the right time. Eventually, she would have to go through the evacuation of the retained products of conception. She had been driving barefoot, and the rubber lining on the pedals contain a heavy metal called antimony that is embryotoxic.
A number of our patients experienced similar situations. Eventually, we convinced them to do a bioenergetics testing, and it revealed the presence of heavy metals. In one case it was a high load of a heavy metal called antimony, in another a heavy metal called mercury, and some had titanium, lead and more. Once the heavy metals were removed through the process of chelation by the Mayr protocols, they became pregnant.”
The World Health Organisation, International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynecology and International Federation of Fertility Societies have now concluded that these heavy metals are a danger to the reproductive system and life. They are part of the group of chemicals called endocrine disruptors.
ome conventional means by which humans come in contact with heavy metals:
- Contaminated water consumption: When groundwater in an area gets contaminated with heavy metals from the industrial waste of nearby factories and other manufacturing outfits, drinking water sourced in that environment can contain high levels of heavy metals.
Additionally, some old houses have lead pipes as primary plumbing material used during the building. Water running out of such pipes can contain lead in unusual amounts. Furthermore, general air pollution these days cause a lot of acid rainfall. The contaminated rainwater is absorbed into the soil and releases heavy metals into streams, lakes, rivers, and general groundwater.
- Domestic use: Some heavy metals are commonly used as components of beauty products and cosmetics to effect de-pigmentation (bleaching) and other desirable results for consumers. Examples include mercury, lead, and titanium.
- Food: Certain food items in our diet have heavy metals which we consume. For instance, big fish and other seafood may contain arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and copper. Depending on the farm, rice may also have lead, antimony, and arsenic contamination. Antimony is also present in the rubber padding of the car pedals for acceleration and the brake. Driving a car barefoot leads to the absorption of antimony and can be dangerous to the sperm and cause miscarriage.
- Occupational hazards: Some people have a higher exposure to heavy metals than others based on the nature of their jobs. Workers in the oil and gas sector, paint industry, construction, and automobile production all have a higher risk of heavy metal exposure than the average population.
- Titanium: This metal is in orthopaedic implants for bone fracture and office or house safe. It is toxic to the embryo and leads to miscarriage.
- Cadmium in cigarettes, all batteries, including phones batteries. Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal linked with cancers of the lung, pancreas, breast, prostate, endometrium, and urinary bladder.
The reproductive system is one of the most prevalent organs to bear the brunt of long-term exposure to heavy metals. As environmental toxins, heavy metals affect the fertility and fecundity of both males and females.
Effects of heavy metal toxicity on female fertility
- Poor oocyte development: Accumulation of heavy metals affects the ovaries by impairing the production of progesterone and estradiol. Abnormal levels of these hormones in the body can affect oocyte development. Oocytes are immature eggs found in the ovaries.
- Inhibition of Ovulation: Gonadotropins (LH and FSH) are responsible for stimulating ovulation in women; heavy metals are known to significantly reduce the production of these hormones inhibiting the release of eggs by the ovaries at the appropriate time.
- Poor egg quality: Long- term exposure to cadmium has been known to damage eggs in women and decrease the quality of eggs produced in exposed populations.
- Accelerated aging; All heavy metals cause an imbalance in the body and accelerate the aging process, which is a factor in fertility and conception.
- Recurrent miscarriages: These could be accounted for by the chromosomal abnormalities associated with exposure to heavy metals. Heavy metals such as mercury are known to damage the genetic composition of the eggs.
Effects of heavy metal toxicity on male fertility
- Low sperm count: Heavy metals can lower the ability of the testes to produce normal, healthy sperms. For example, high levels of mercury interfere with sperm production and protection, causing low sperm count in men.
- They also affect the secretion of gonadotropin-releasing hormone. GnRH secretion is necessary for the reproductive system to function correctly. Mercury stored in the pituitary gland can affect the production of gonadotropins such as follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH). Gonadotropins are responsible for sperm generation in men.
- Hormone imbalance: Heavy metal accumulation can disrupt the normal functions of hormone-producing glands, which are essential for normal reproductive health, such as the adrenal and thyroid glands.
- Abnormal seminal fluid analysis: Prolonged exposure to heavy metals gradually distorts the shape, form, and function of the sperm cells. It decreases the man’s ability to achieve conception with his partner because the sperms produced are not able to fertilise an egg.
Asides from the effects on the couple desiring fertility, these heavy metals could also harm the growing baby, leading to foetal abnormality and congenital disabilities such as cleft lip/palate, and osteogenesis imperfecta. The growth of the child may also be impaired both physically and mentally.
It is advicable for intending parents to avoid sources of heavy metal contamination and also undergo a medically supervised detoxification programme, which aims to rid the body of these heavy metals through chelation and efficient excretion.
Mayr detoxification programme inculcates heavy metal chelation and excretion therapies, ensuring that couples intending to achieve conception can have a fewer things to worry about.