Common flame retardants may affect women’s fertility, a new study suggests. Women with higher levels of the chemicals in their bodies appeared to have lower chances of getting pregnant and giving birth.
Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health studied 211 women who were undergoing in vitro fertilization treatments. For each cycle the women went through, they provided one or two urine samples, Huffington Post reports. The team analyzed the samples for byproducts of flame retardant chemicals, specifically organophosphate flame retardants, or PFRs, to check how much the women were exposed to daily.
Led by Courtney Carignan, environmental epidemiologist, the researchers compared the chemical levels to the women’s outcomes during their IVF attempts. They found that women with the highest levels of three of the five retardants tested had a 10% lower rate of getting fertilized, a 31% decreased rate of implantation, a 41% drop in clinical pregnancy, and a 38% decreased rate of a live birth, compared to the women who had the lowest amounts of byproducts in their urine.
Carignan said that women undergoing IVF are the best candidates for the study as they can be observed every step from conception to pregnancy. The results can then be generalized for women seeking fertility treatments, and among women as a whole if their bodies responded the same way.
Previous studies showed that flame retardants disrupt the thyroid and sex hormones in animals, and can harm embryo development.
On the plus side, Carignan said, PFRs clear out of the body faster than older kinds of flame retardants that have been phased out. However, she cautions couples trying to get pregnant to be careful when making purchases for their homes. Carignan suggests that people who want to limit their exposure to such should replace their furniture with naturally flame retardant fabrics or materials.
There are a lot of contributors to infertility. This is just one factor, and people need to be careful not to beat themselves up over these types of exposures.
“That’s why we have chemical policies — so people don’t have to have a Ph.D. in environmental health to be a conscientious consumer,” Carignan added.
The study was published in Environmental Health Perspectives.