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Why There Are Carcinogens in Your Sperm

Last week in this space, we recounted a few of the things that lower the risk of prostate cancer — from balding to espresso to cumming once a day. The cumming part especially interested us, for obvious reasons but also because of the reason why. Per a 2003 study conducted by Graham Giles, director of the Cancer Epidemiology Centre, men who ejaculated daily in their 20s were a third less likely to get prostate cancer later in life, since semen supposedly contains cancer-causing carcinogens (or the same kind of stuff you find on your grill char) and frequent clearing of the pipes may flush them out.

Or in more scientific-sounding terms: “It’s a prostatic stagnation hypothesis,” said Giles to the BBC. “The more you flush the ducts out, the less there is to hang around and damage the cells that line them.”

Giles added to New Scientist, “Also, the prostate, in the course of making seminal fluid, concentrates some powerful biological molecules to a very high degree to form that seminal fluid, and it’s a very reactive brew of ingredients. We feel that may be carcinogenic too.” Additionally, studies in dogs show that carcinogens such as 3-methylcholanthrene, a component of cigarette smoke, are concentrated in prostate fluid as well.

Furthermore, in 2006, researchers from the Medical Research Council’s Human Reproductive Sciences Unit at the University of Edinburgh discovered that the high concentration of prostaglandin — a hormone of sorts — in semen makes diseases of the female reproductive organs worse (including cervical and uterine cancer). While prostaglandin is naturally produced by the cells that line the female reproductive organs, the concentration of prostaglandin in seminal fluid is 1,000 times higher than that normally found in those cells. “Sexually active women who are at risk of cervical or uterine cancer should encourage their partners to wear a condom to prevent increased exposure to the prostaglandins that might make their condition worse,” lead researcher Henry Jabbour wrote.

As for that “reactive brew of ingredients” Giles mentioned, it’s a mix of the following:

  • Potassium: Helps increase sperm motility.
  • Zinc: An important component for a healthy sperm count; in fact, zinc deficiency is closely associated with male infertility. Foods high in zinc include beef, shrimp and especially spinach, so going a little Popeye now and again can help boost more than your muscles.
  • Fructose: The naturally occurring “fruit sugar” found in plants, honey, corn and the human body. According to Muhammad Mirza, medical director of Allied Medical and Diagnostic and a specialist in male reproductive health, “You can imagine it being like an energy provider [for the sperm on their trek].”
  • Citric Acid: A weak acid that naturally occurs in citrus fruits and semen, where it’s just kinda there.

All of which brings us back to those daily orgasms. “Conceivably, frequent ejaculations may also reduce the development of intraluminal prostatic crystalloids,” says Michael Leitzman, a professor at the University of Regensburg, whose 2004 study examined the link between ejaculation and prostate cancer. “IPC are microcalcifications in the prostatic ducts that have been associated with prostate cancer in some previous studies.”

Still, as Stuart Brody, a former molecular biologist at Stanford University points out, “With modern detection sensitivities, carcinogenic substances can be found in many substrates.”

In other words: It’s a carcinogenic world, and your sperm is just swimming in it.