Exposure to chemicals in everyday products is linked to reduced fertility

The study is one of the first to show its impact in humans.

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Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been linked to lower fertility and fecundity in experimental animals, but human research is few and far between. A new study by Mount Sinai researchers investigated the relationships between preconception plasma PFAS levels and female fertility outcomes.

Exposure to pollutants frequently found in drinking water and daily household items may cause a 40% reduction in female fertility. Moreover, the team found that among a reproductive-age cohort of women in Singapore who were trying to conceive, higher blood concentrations of perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, were significantly related to a lower likelihood of pregnancy and live birth.

The population-based prospective cohort known as the Singapore Preconception Study of Long-Term Material and Child Outcomes (S-PRESTO) included 1,032 women of childbearing age (18 to 45 years) seeking to get pregnant. Between 2015 and 2017, scientists tested PFAS in plasma taken from women. They discovered that, individually and together, higher exposure to PFAS compounds was linked to a lower likelihood of clinical pregnancy and live birth.

1,032 pregnant women between the ages of 18 and 45 made up the population-based prospective cohort known as the Singapore Preconception Study of Long-Term Material and Child Outcomes (S-PRESTO). The researchers examined PFAS in women’s plasma between 2015 and 2017. They found that greater exposure to PFAS chemicals, both singly and collectively, was associated with a decreased risk of clinical pregnancy and live birth.

Lead author Nathan Cohen, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research fellow with the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said, “Our study strongly implies that women who are planning pregnancy should be aware of the harmful effects of PFAS and take precautions to avoid exposure to this class of chemicals, especially when they are trying to conceive. Our findings are important because they add to the growing body of knowledge implicating PFAS in the development of adverse health conditions, with children being especially vulnerable.”

Senior author Damaskini Valvi, MD, Ph.D., MPH, Assistant Professor of Environmental Medicine and Public Health at Icahn Mount Sinai and a nationally recognized expert on the dangers of PFA said, “PFAS can disrupt our reproductive hormones and have been linked with delayed puberty onset and increased risks for endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome in few previous studies. What our study adds is that PFAS may also decrease fertility in women who are generally healthy and are naturally trying to conceive.”

“We also know that PFAS exposure begins in utero and transfers from the mother to the fetus, as many PFAS has been detected in cord blood, the placenta, and breast milk. Preventing exposure to PFAS is therefore essential to protect women’s health as well as the health of their children.”

Dr. Cohen said, “The results of our study should serve as a warning to women everywhere about the potentially harmful effects of PFAS when they are planning to conceive. We can minimize PFAS exposure by avoiding foods associated with higher levels of these chemicals and by purchasing PFAS-free products.”

Dr. Valvi said“It is also important to advocate for policies that ban the use of toxic chemicals, such as PFAS, from everyday products.”

Journal Reference:

  1. Nathan J. Cohen et al. Exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances and women’s fertility outcomes in a Singaporean population-based preconception cohort. Science of The Total Environment. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2023.162267
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