Study: Disposable Diapers Could Cause Male Infertility
- By Anthony Browne
- London Observer Service
- September 26, 2000
Disposable diapers could be the cause of the sharp rise in male infertility over the past 25 years, according to an authoritative scientific study to be published this week. It is thought that disposable diapers heat up baby boys' testicles to such a degree that it stops them developing normally. Diapers lined with plastic raise the temperature of the scrotum far above body temperature and can lead to a total breakdown of normal cooling mechanisms, according to the study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood. Doctors in Kiel, Germany, started the study after being alarmed at the temperature of the testicles of infant boys who were brought into hospitals with infections. The cells supporting sperm production are laid down in the first two years of life. However, their development and sperm production in later life is very dependent on temperature. Testicles need to be cooler than the rest of the body, which is why they are external.
Boys whose testicles descend too late in adolescence are often infertile because they have been kept warm for too long. In adults, exposure to high temperatures, during a fever or while in a sauna, can dramatically reduce sperm count. Tight jeans can also lead to higher testicular temperatures, possibly causing a reduction in sperm count. Dr. Wolfgang Sippell, professor of pediatrics at the University of Kiel, monitored the scrotal temperature of 48 healthy boys, from birth up to 4 years old, using a tiny thermal probe. His team tested the temperatures when boys wore disposable diapers and when they wore re-usable cotton diapers, both during waking and sleeping hours. The temperature was consistently higher when the disposable diapers were worn, with the highest temperatures recorded in the youngest babies. Scrotal temperatures were the same as rectal temperatures when cotton diapers were worn, but far higher when disposable diapers were worn.
They concluded that the insulation properties of the disposable diapers impaired the normal cooling mechanisms of the testicles. They found that in 13 boys, the cooling mechanism failed altogether. Sippell concluded: "A prolonged increase in scrotal temperature in early childhood may have an important role in subsequent testicular health and function, with implications for male fertility." Repeated studies have shown that average sperm counts have fallen by almost half from 1938 levels and are continuing to decline as fast as 2 percent a year. The Absorbent Hygiene Products Manufacturers Association, which represents makers of disposable diapers, said the study had dubious methodology. Association spokesman Peter Stephenson said: "There is no evidence to support the assertions made by this study, which would appear to be implausible. The safety of our products is of paramount importance. Disposable diapers are, and remain, safe."