For those struggling to get pregnant, chemicals are just one potential cause
By Tony Davis
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
Tucson, Arizona | Published: 12.01.2007
At age 37, Tucsonan Erica Koerber knows she probably won’t get pregnant. Blame the hormones in her body and maybe, just maybe, the chemicals in her environment.
Koerber, chief operating officer for a local defense contractor, has premature ovarian failure, a disease striking 1 in every 100 women ages 30 to 40.
She also has polycystic ovarian syndrome, which strikes one in every 5 women of childbearing age. Such women often have high levels of male hormones, frequently missed or irregular periods, and may have many small cysts on their ovaries.
The lists of possible causes of these ailments is long.
Premature ovarian failure can be caused by autoimmune disorders, genetics, thyroid dysfunction, viral infections and eating disorders, to name a few, says the American Pregnancy Association.
But increasingly, researchers around the globe are also looking at toxic chemicals, many of them commonly used at home, as potential causes of these and other ailments that make it difficult or impossible for women to get pregnant.
Before Koerber read several reports on fertility, the thought that chemicals could be causing her problems hadn’t entered her mind. She was more likely to suspect genetically engineered or chemically altered food, such as growth hormones added to chicken and cattle.
Now, she said, “My problem could be environmental. My problem could be generational. My mother and my grandmother had breast cancer, and breast cancer is endocrine-related. My problem is hormonal-based and endocrine-based.”
Difficulty in getting pregnant
It’s not clear from studies whether women’s infertility has risen or fallen over the past few decades. But a noticeable increase has occurred since the 1980s in impaired fecundity, a related problem involving physical difficulty in getting pregnant, federal statistics show.
Decreased fertility and reproductive-tract abnormalities have been documented in wildlife species including birds, fish, shellfish and mammals that have been exposed to a wide array of chemicals, including many that are commonly known as endocrine disruptors. Those are chemicals that interfere with the body’s natural hormones.
Human studies on such issues are much rarer.
Still, in 2005, a group of 40 U.S. scientists met in San Francisco and reported that some chemical exposures evidently cause problems to the human reproductive system, although toxins aren’t likely to be the only factor.
Age, heredity, lifestyle, underlying disease, nutrition and reproductive tract infections are other likely contributors.
“What proportion of infertility today is environmentally induced is a question of profound human, scientific and public policy significance,” said their report, adding that the link seems to be stronger than most people realize.