VGstockstudio/shutterstockThe Handmaid’s Tale, which was this spring’s critically-acclaimed, must-watch series on Hulu, envisions a dystopian future in which environmental pollution has led to mass infertility. Although the premise is fictional, it’s not impossible, according to the authors of a new study published in Environmental Pollution. The study, conducted by a group of researchers based out of Seoul National University, found a significant association between long-term exposure to noise and male infertility.
“Infertility is becoming a significant public health issue,” says the study’s corresponding author, Jin-Young Min, MD, in a press release regarding the study. The researchers already knew from prior studies that noise exposure can negatively affect male fertility in animals. Exposure to noise has been found, for example, to have a significant negative impact on male fertility in rats, according to a 2013 study published in the Arab Journal of Urology, and exposure to noise in the workplace was found to play an important role in male infertility in a 2016 study published in the Journal of Occupational Health and Immunology. What Dr. Min’s research group wanted to explore, specifically, was whether nighttime exposure to noise has any effect on human male infertility.
Using existing data on 206,492 men aged 20 to 59, the researchers looked at levels of noise exposure and the men’s postal codes. In the eight years covered by the study (2006 through 2013), 3,293 of the men had an infertility diagnosis, and the data analysis indicated that those men were more likely to have been exposed to nightly noise measuring over 55 decibels (about as noisy as a suburban street or an air conditioner).
This researchers can’t say for sure why a nighttime ruckus may have this negative impact because they used data culled from an existing data set, as opposed to examining the subjects and/or conducting face-to-face interviews. But animal studies have suggested that environmental noise may cause decreases in testosterone levels and structural changes in testicular tissue. “Given the danger of extrapolating data from animal studies, further research on the effect of noise on human fertility is needed,” the study authors concede.
In the meantime, what can you do if you live in a noisy environment but want to preserve your fertility? If you’re trying to conceive, here are some ways to boost male fertility. Here are some factors affecting fertility that apply to both men and women. And here are some myths about infertility that you can safely ignore.