Killing us softly: The detrimental effects of environmental toxins on fertility rates

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This past Wednesday, the Health Day News (a publication of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health) published an article quoting a recent study by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Rockville, Maryland about the serious risk to fertility that exposure to common chemicals can cause. Specifically, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were found to be the major concern and the chemical that had the greatest effect on pregnancy rates. PCBs have been banned from use in North America however the lasting effects of their use are still present in the environment and absorbed by the plants and animals that we eat.

The study looked at data collected from 501 couples. In addition to blood tests for chemical exposure levels, women kept a record of their menstrual cycles and the results of home pregnancy tests. The study showed that with increased levels of toxic chemicals in the blood the rate of pregnancy declined. This should be a fairly obvious finding to most people and avoiding harmful chemicals such as PCB and DDT (a banned pesticide) is something most people would knowingly do as well. What is illuminating about the findings of this study is that the levels of substances such as PCBs and DDT derivatives are still having an effect on humans even after the wide spread use in North America of these chemicals has stopped.

The environmental impact of many pesticides and synthetic compounds are only recently being understood and the correction of the mistaken use of these chemicals is going to take a long time. Since the exposure to many of these chemicals is inevitable, the best we can do is minimize our exposure. When it comes to making healthy eating choices it is important to choose pesticide-free food, avoid processed food and never microwave food in plastic containers.


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