Common chemical hurts fertility odds

A common type of flame retardant has been associated with women having trouble getting pregnant via fertility treatments, according to a new study out of Harvard University. For those women who do conceive, having high concentrations of the substance in their bodies was linked to lower rates of live births.

Researchers say this is the first to study to look at organophosphate flame retardants (PFRs) and reproductive outcomes. PFRs are found in polyurethane foam products like upholstered furniture, baby products, and gym mats. Said Courtney Carignan: “These findings suggest that exposure to PFRs may be one of many risk factors for lower reproductive success…. They also add to the body of evidence indicating a need to reduce the use of these flame retardants and identify safer alternatives.”

Similar studies have tied fertility problems and poor reproductive success to hormone-disrupting chemicals pesticides and phthalates. PFRs were introduced as a safer alternative to the flame retardant PentaBDE, which was used in polyurethane foam until about a decade ago. Research tied PentaBDE to negative health effects in animals.

In the Harvard study scientists tested urine samples from 211 women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) between 2005 and 2015. The analysis took into consideration factors like maternal age and race, smoking history, and body mass index. PFR metabolites showed up in more than 80 percent of the women’s urine. Women with higher concentrations had a 10 percent less probability of getting pregnant, 31 percent less chance of implantation of an embryo, and around a 40 percent decrease in clinical pregnancy (fetal heartbeat confirmed by ultrasound) and live birth.

Said senior author Russ Hauser: “Couples undergoing IVF and trying to improve their chances of success by reducing their exposure to environmental chemicals may want to opt for products that are flame-retardant free.” More research is needed, the scientists say,  to see what impact these chemicals may have on men’s reproductive biology.

The study appears in Environmental Health Perspective.

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