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Factors affecting fertility: environmental hazards FACTORS AFFECTING FERTILITY: ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS
We live in a society where we are bombarded with chemicals and toxins. All the time we are exposed to chemicals in our food, in the packaging around it, in pesticides, additives and preservatives. In our houses, we can be in contact with chemicals through household cleaners, aerosols, new carpets treated with moth-proofing, and anti-woodworm and wood preservation treatments.
Outside, the environment is equally laden with toxins - traffic fumes, factory pollution, pesticides sprayed on parks and railways. Dangerous chemicals seep out from landfill sites. The list goes on ...
All this affects your fertility. Logic tells us that toxins must be one of the main reasons why an increasing number of couples face difficulties conceiving. The fact is that we are living in a 'sea' of hormones.
Of course it's difficult to link a specific chemical to a particular medical problem or illness. So much else in our lives may affect our health that it's often impossible to isolate the real culprits.
But we can learn a lot from the animal world. Infertility in wildlife is known to be linked to substances called xenoestrogens, oestrogen-like chemicals in the environment caused by pollution from pesticides and the manufacturing of plastics.
The power of these xenoestrogens was demonstrated when a group of scientists discovered that alligators which had hatched in Lake Apopka, Florida, had abnormally small penises and altered hormonal levels. In 1980 there had been a massive spill of Kelthane pesticide into the lake - the xenoestrogens from the pesticide were feminizing the alligators and stopping reproduction.
Meanwhile, in the UK, the Department for the Environment found hermaphrodite fish in one river. The fish were part male and part female.
In view of all this it seems very likely that chemicals in regular use are having a damaging impact on our fertility.
Genetically Modified Foods
Fortunately the issue of genetically modified foods has provoked a groundswell of opposition amongst the British public. We were just recovering from the BSE crisis when suddenly our food faced another threat. If the commercial production of GM foods goes ahead in Britain, we could find ourselves sitting on yet another health time-bomb - possibly the most devastating of all.
GM foods are already affecting the fertility of insects that feed on them. For example, ladybirds that ate greenfly fed on genetically modified potatoes had a drastic reduction in fertility, with fewer eggs being produced.
Likewise, when a gene to produce redness was put into a petunia, it produced plants with more roots, hairier leaves and a reduction in fertility. Scientists should know by now that they cannot manipulate nature without consequences.
Think about the number of chemicals we have in our houses - all those cleaners and aerosols. There is plenty of evidence that the chemicals they contain can be harmful.
In an American study, published in 1991, women with a history of unexplained infertility and recurrent miscarriages were found to have high levels of two chemicals commonly found in carpets, leather upholstery and wood preservatives.
Leading UK fertility expert Lord Professor Robert Winston believes that chemicals in emulsion paint being used in a closed laboratory over 100 meters away from his clinic affected embryo growth at a vital stage of treatment. No one is allowed to wear perfume or aftershave in Lord Winston's clinic because he believes it is important to avoid chemicals when trying to maximize fertility. Some chemicals can stop women conceiving, or the egg may fertilise naturally but not be able to grow or develop.
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