Environmental contaminants such as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are man-made bioaccumulative compounds with long half-lives that are found throughout the world as a result of heavy use in a variety of consumer products during the twentieth century. Wildlife and animal studies have long suggested adverse effects of exposure to these compounds on human reproductive health, which, according to the endocrine disrupter hypothesis, are ascribed to the compounds' potential to interfere with endocrine signaling, especially when exposure occurs during certain phases of fetal and childhood development. An extensive number of epidemiological studies have addressed the possible effects of exposure to POPs on male reproductive health, but the results are conflicting. Thus far, most studies have focused on investigating exposure and the different reproductive health outcomes during adulthood. Some studies have addressed the potential harmful effects of fetal exposure with respect to malformations at birth and/or reproductive development, whereas only a few studies have been able to evaluate whether intrauterine exposure to POPs has long-term consequences for male reproductive health with measurable effects on semen quality markers and reproductive hormone levels in adulthood. Humans are not exposed to a single compound at a time, but rather, to a variety of different substances with potential divergent hormonal effects. Hence, how to best analyze epidemiological data on combined exposures remains a significant challenge. This review on POPs will focus on current knowledge regarding the potential effects of exposure to POPs during fetal and childhood life and during adulthood on male reproductive health, including a critical revision of the endocrine disruption hypothesis, a comment on pubertal development as part of reproductive development and a comment on how to account for combined exposures in epidemiological research.
Asian Journal of Andrology, 2014, Vol 16, Issue 1, p. 71-80