Phthalate exposure and human semen quality: Results from an infertility clinic in China

Environ Res. 2015 Oct:142:1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2015.06.010. Epub 2015 Jun 15.


Exposure to phthalates has been demonstrated to have adverse effects on male reproduction in animal studies, but findings in human studies have been inconsistent. We recruited 1040 men from the Reproductive Center of Tongji Hospital in Wuhan, China from March to June 2013. Each man provided one semen sample and two urine samples. Semen quality parameters and the urinary concentrations of eight phthalate metabolites were determined. After multivariable adjustments, the urinary concentrations of monobutyl phthalate (MBP) were found to be positively associated with the below-reference sperm concentration and total sperm count, and the odds ratios (ORs) comparing extreme MBP quartiles were 2.01 (95% CI: 1.07, 3.79; p for trend=0.06) and 1.80 (95% CI: 1.05, 3.08; p for trend=0.02), respectively. The associations were confirmed by multivariable linear regression analysis, which showed that the MBP concentration was significantly associated with decreasing trends in the sperm concentration and total sperm count (both p for trend <0.05). Additionally, we found significant dose-dependent relationships of the urinary level of mono-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (MEHP) and the percentage of di-(2-ethylhexyl)-phthalate metabolites (DEHP) excreted as MEHP (%MEHP) with an increased percentage of abnormal heads (both p for trend <0.01). Our findings suggest that environmental exposure to di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP) and DEHP may contribute to a decline in semen quality.

Keywords: Epidemiology; Exposure; Fertility; Phthalates; Semen quality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • China
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Odds Ratio
  • Phthalic Acids / toxicity*
  • Phthalic Acids / urine*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Reproductive Health Services* / statistics & numerical data
  • Sperm Count
  • Sperm Motility / drug effects
  • Spermatozoa / cytology
  • Spermatozoa / drug effects*
  • Spermatozoa / metabolism
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Phthalic Acids