Semen quality and reproductive endocrine function in relation to biomarkers of lead, cadmium, zinc, and copper in men

Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Jan;108(1):45-53. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0010845.


Blood lead (BPb), activity of delta-aminolevulinic acid dehydratase (ALAD), erythrocyte protoporphyrin (EP), blood cadmium (BCd), serum zinc (SZn), seminal fluid zinc (SfZn), serum copper (SCu), and parameters of semen quality and of reproductive endocrine function were measured in 149 healthy male industrial workers 20-43 years of age. The group contained 98 subjects with slight to moderate occupational exposure to Pb and 51 reference subjects. All of the subjects lived in Zagreb, Croatia. Significant (p < 0.05) correlations of BPb, ALAD, and/or EP with reproductive parameters indicated a Pb-related decrease in sperm density, in counts of total, motile, and viable sperm, in the percentage and count of progressively motile sperm, in parameters of prostate secretory function (SfZn, acid phosphatase, and citric acid in seminal fluid), and an increase in abnormal sperm head morphology, serum testosterone, and estradiol. These associations were confirmed by results of multiple regression, which also showed significant (p < 0. 05) influence of BCd, SZn, SCu, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, or age on certain reproductive parameters. These effects were mainly of lower rank and intensity as compared to Pb-related reproductive effects, whereas BCd contributed to a decrease in sperm motility and an increase in abnormal sperm morphology and serum testosterone. No significant Pb- or Cd-related influence was found on levels of the lactate dehydrogenase isoenzyme LDH-C(4) and fructose in seminal fluid or on follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, and prolactin in serum. The seminal fluid concentrations of Pb (SfPb) and Cd (SfCd) were measured in 118 of the 149 subjects, and a highly significant (p < 0.0001) correlation was found between BPb and SfPb levels (r = 0.571) and between BCd and SfCd levels (r = 0.490). The overall study results indicate that even moderate exposures to Pb (BPb < 400 microg/L) and Cd (BCd < 10 microg/L) can significantly reduce human semen quality without conclusive evidence of impairment of male reproductive endocrine function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Endocrine System / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Industry
  • Infertility, Male / chemically induced*
  • Male
  • Metals, Heavy / adverse effects*
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Sperm Count / drug effects*
  • Sperm Motility / drug effects*
  • Testosterone / blood


  • Metals, Heavy
  • Testosterone