It makes sense that what we’re exposed to can affect our health, including our fertility. And the latest research shows exactly how much. Reporting in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers say that pollutants such as perchlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), industrial compounds and pesticides that are no longer manufactured but remain in older products can still decrease couples’ ability to have children by up to 29%.
Scientists have long known that farm and factory workers exposed to certain chemicals at high levels experience declines in fertility. But whether the same is true for those exposed to ubiquitous hormone-disrupting chemicals at low levels, frequently without our knowledge, isn’t clear yet.
So scientists at the National Institutes of Health created the Longitudinal Investigation of Fertility and the Environment (LIFE), the most comprehensive look yet at various environmental pollutants and their potential effect on pregnancy rates, to capture the effects of the compounds not just on female reproductive health but on both male and female fertility. The trial followed 500 couples who stopped using contraception for a period of either 12 months or until they got pregnant, whichever came first. Researchers measured their blood for the presence of 63 organic pollutants such as (PCBs) found in oil-based paint, electrical parts and adhesives until they were banned in 1979, and pesticides that fail to degrade in the environment but are absorbed by livestock and then by people consuming fatty fish, meats and dairy.
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