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Health & Pregnancy

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Are Common Chemicals Affecting Your Fertility?

So What Can Prospective Parents Do? continued...

So how do levels of these chemicals compare with other factors known to affect couples’ ability to conceive? “They make it about 20% harder for these couples each cycle,” she says. “The magnitude is comparable to cigarette smoking.”

Many couples who have trouble conceiving will pursue fertility treatments. “Some studies have shown that couples with higher concentrations of some of these chemicals have decreased success with assisted reproductive technologies, too.”

Now the team will be digging deeper into the same data set and looking at other lifestyle factors, such as alcohol, caffeine, and vitamins. “There may be something in your lifestyle that could mediate the effects of chemicals on conception,” Louis says.

Control the Controllables

This study is a big deal, says Shanna Swan, PhD. She is a professor in the department of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City.

“Environmental chemicals can and do affect your fertility. That is the bottom line,” she says. “This landmark study looks at the critical window when couples are trying to get pregnant.” Other studies have looked at women who were already pregnant.

Many of these chemicals are hard (if not impossible) to avoid. “Try to avoid fatty meats, but there is nothing we can do about the ones [already] in our body,” Swan says.

Sami David, MD, is a reproductive endocrinologist and pregnancy loss specialist in New York City. He routinely asks couples about their exposures to pesticides, solvents, and other chemicals at work or elsewhere.

The link is far from proven, and more studies are needed. His advice is to avoid chemicals where you can. This includes steering clear of secondary smoke, which contains toxic chemicals that can affect health and possibly chances of getting pregnant.

Chemistry Lesson

The findings are no reason to panic, says Gilbert Ross, MD. He is the medical director of the American Council on Science and Health, a nonprofit group in New York City.

“PFCs are used in the manufacture of nonstick surfaces, and the amount that shows up in the final product is barely detectable, even using modern analytical methods,” he says. PCBs have been banned in the USA since 1978. “There is no evidence that the tiny amounts of PCBs still in our environment contribute to any adverse health effect.”

“These traces of chemicals play no role in reproductive issues, including fertility,” he says. But, “these chemicals are called 'persistent pollutants' because they do persist in the environment, [so] changing your diet, cutting out fat or avoiding healthy fish, will not have any near-term impact on the already-minuscule levels in our bodies.”

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