Associations between serum phthalates and biomarkers of reproductive function in 589 adult men

Environ Int. 2014 May:66:146-56. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2014.02.002. Epub 2014 Feb 26.


Phthalates which are widely used, are ubiquitous in the environment and in some human tissues. It is generally accepted that phthalates exert their toxic action by inhibiting Leydig cell synthesis of testosterone, but in vitro studies have also shown anti-androgenic effects at the receptor level. Some cross-sectional studies have shown inverse associations between urinary levels of phthalates and reproductive hormones, but results are conflicting and the evidence base is limited. The aim of this study was to investigate if levels of di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) and diisononyl phthalate (DiNP) metabolites in serum are associated with serum concentrations of male reproductive hormones and semen quality. A secondary aim was to investigate metabolic pathways of DEHP and DiNP on semen quality and reproductive hormones. A cross-sectional sample of 589 spouses of pregnant women from Greenland, Poland and Ukraine were enrolled between 2002 and 2004. The men gave semen and blood samples and were interviewed. Six phthalate metabolites of DEHP and DiNP were measured by liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry in serum. The metabolites were summed according to their molar weight. We observed significant inverse associations between serum levels of the metabolites, the proxies and serum testosterone. Negative associations were also discovered between some metabolites and sex hormone-binding globulin, semen volume and total sperm count. Findings are compatible with a weak anti-androgenic action of DEHP metabolites, but less so for DiNP metabolites. Metabolic pathways differed significantly between the three study sites, but without major effect on semen quality or reproductive hormones.

Keywords: Di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate; Diisononyl phthalate; Fertility; Metabolic pathway; Reproduction; Testosterone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / blood*
  • Diethylhexyl Phthalate / blood*
  • Diethylhexyl Phthalate / toxicity
  • Environmental Pollutants* / blood
  • Environmental Pollutants* / toxicity
  • Gonadal Hormones / blood*
  • Greenland
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phthalic Acids / blood*
  • Phthalic Acids / toxicity
  • Poland
  • Semen / drug effects
  • Semen Analysis
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Ukraine
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Gonadal Hormones
  • Phthalic Acids
  • diisononyl phthalate
  • Diethylhexyl Phthalate