Many people are putting off having children these days to build careers, start businesses, travel and explore their dreams. By the time they decide that they are ready to become parents, an interesting phenomenon has befallen a growing universe of women and men: Conception proves to be more fraught with stumbling blocks than the career mountains they’ve conquered. In some cases, age drives the problem, though it’s hard to go more than a day without reading about new research into causation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 6.1 million women in the U.S. struggle with infertility issues. Doctors cite cysts, irregular menstrual cycles, thyroid imbalances, obesity, “old” eggs, endometriosis and blocked fallopian tubes as the reasons most women fail to become pregnant.
Men haven’t escaped the blame game; the health and production of male sperm are also infertility factors. You’ve probably asked yourself this question more than once: How is it that women have been having babies in fields for centuries, yet the proportion of women incapable of conceiving is escalating? You’re not alone. Scientists are looking for deeper, more troubling reasons and pollution is driving plenty of these theories. As researchers tackle everything from chemicals in food to polluted air, and from plastic to water, evidence shows that there’s plenty of merit to following this line of investigation. If you seek answers to your personal infertility struggle, you may wish to ask yourself the following questions to see if pollution could be driving your situation:
Do you live in an area with high levels of ground-hugging ozone?
Doctors have established a link between this type of air pollution and heart and lung problems. Ozone levels in summer increase dramatically in some areas due to a toxic mix of emissions disbursed into the air by industry and machinery when the sun is at its brightest.Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine physician Carla R. Caruso suggests that if you live in such an area, pay attention to weather reports; when high-pollution days are reported, avoiding exposure could result in cessation of signaling events in the brain that have the potential to disrupt proper ovulation. Do you live in a home built before 1988? According to www.chem-tox.com/chlordane, 75-percent of all homes built before that year contain alarming levels of the pesticide chlordane in the air, so don’t discount your home’s age as a contributing factor.
Could your water contribute to your infertility problem?
The Universities of Exeter and Reading and Centre for Ecology & Hydrology in the UK undertook a three-year study into testosterone-blocking chemicals in water systems and the results are alarming: Anti-androgens that inhibit testosterone have been found in water supplies as a result of dumped pharmaceuticals and industrial waste. Once in a water system, reproductive behaviors in fish go haywire and in some cases, male fish actually change sex as a result of being bombarded with estrogen from chemicals in ordinary drinking water. The resulting testicular digenesis syndrome has the potential to move further up the evolutionary chain to humans. In 2014, a study undertaken in China and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that men persistently exposed to chlorinated water in any form (drinking, swimming and bathing) showed a decrease in both the quality and mobility of their sperm.
How about your lifestyle?
As far back as 1993, researchers found evidence of fertility blockers due to pollution. From cigarettes to home cleaning products and from pesticides to hormones in our food supply, none have been ruled out more than 20 years later. In 2010, American women had 20 times more flame retardant chemicals in their blood than Europeans (where PBDEs are banned), making them 30 percent less likely to become pregnant. Other studies tie higher levels of phthalates, a chemical used to make plastics and textiles, to infertility. Frequently included on lists of suspect products are shampoos, plastic wrap, carpet padding, cosmetics and toiletries, all cited in Environmental Health Perspectives journal articles! “20 percent of all cases where the male is the only contributing factor to infertility can be corrected by lifestyle,” concluded Dr. Wolfram Nolten of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism at the University of Wisconsin. Thankfully, bans on chemicals are impacting these numbers, but you would be wise to apply due diligence when you shop if you’re having infertility issues.
Does this mean you should crawl under your bed and stay there?
Of course not. But there are steps you can take to minimize the pollutants to which you are exposed while you investigate methods of improving your odds of conceiving via medical tests, surgical procedures and the growing number of in-vitro fertilization methods currently available to infertile couples. Keeping up to date on information related to pollutant/infertility advances is as easy as reading new information on the subject via your favorite media, but make sure your reading list is filled with reliable sources since the Internet has been known to throw out some pretty strange theories spun by people with no credibility. Your fertility specialist can be counted on to disprove some of the more illogical information you dig up, so don’t hesitate to consult with her if you’re skeptical. Adopting an optimistic mindset about your condition is bound to help you along your journey, too.