Toxic chemicals lurking in cookware, makeup and toiletries can leave women infertile, another study today suggests.
Scientists have been warning for years about the dangers of perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS.
Such “forever chemicals” – so called because they can linger in the environment for thousands of years – have been linked to everything from cancer to infertility.
But the latest evidence from US and Singaporean researchers suggests that the impact of PFAS on fertility may be even greater than previously thought.
They found that women with different types of PFAS in their blood who tried to conceive were up to 40 percent less likely to conceive and give birth to a live baby.
Scientists have linked exposure to so-called forever chemicals found in items such as non-stick cookware to a decreased chance of having a baby
This graph shows the impact of PFAS exposure on birth outcomes, lines below the horizontal baseline value of 1.00 showing a reduction in the probability of the outcome, where the lower the line, the worse the outcome. Green represents the average time it takes to conceive or ‘Time To Pregnancy (TTP)’, red is a pregnancy that occurs at all, and blue a live birth. The solid dot in the center of each line represents the overall mean grade, while the flange ends represent the lowest and highest results recorded in the study
Scientists said the results should serve as a warning to women who want to have a child to avoid the chemicals added to everything from cookware, clothes and makeup because of their stain and water-resistant properties.
Publication of the findings in the journal Science of the total environmentlead author Dr. Nathan Cohen, an expert in environmental medicine and public health from New York’s Mount Sinai health organization, said it should serve as a wake-up call.
“The results of our study should serve as a warning to women around the world about the potentially harmful effects of PFAS when they plan to become pregnant,” he said.
“We can minimize exposure to PFAS by avoiding foods associated with higher levels of these chemicals and by purchasing PFAS-free products.”
Fellow author Dr Damaskini Valvi said their study was one of the first to suggest the chemicals could harm the fertility of even healthy women.
What ARE forever chemicals?
Forever chemicals are a class of common industrial compounds that do not degrade when released into the environment.
Humans are exposed to these chemicals after coming into contact with food, soil or reservoirs of water.
These chemicals — more commonly known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS — are added to cookware, carpets, textiles and other items to make them more water and stain resistant.
PFAS contamination has been detected in water near manufacturing facilities, as well as military bases and firefighting training facilities where flame retardant foam is used.
The chemicals have been linked to an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer and damage to the immune system, as well as birth defects, lower birth weight and reduced vaccine response in children.
“PFAS can disrupt our reproductive hormones and have been associated in some previous studies with delayed puberty onset and an increased risk of endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome,” she said.
“What our study adds is that PFAS can also reduce fertility in women who are generally healthy and are trying to conceive naturally.”
She added that it was also important that authorities put in place policies banning the use of PFAS from everyday products.
PFAS are a class of chemicals more commonly known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.
They are found in a range of everyday items from non-stick cookware, clothing, food packaging, carpets, paint, toiletries and antique products.
The chemicals, designed to make surfaces stain and water resistant, do not break down naturally in the environment, hence their nickname of forever chemicals.
In their study, American and Singaporean researchers analyzed blood samples from 1,032 women.
All were trying for a baby and had an average age of 30, with samples from the island nation between 2015 and 2017.
Researchers analyzed the samples for 15 specific types of PFAS, then followed each woman for at least a year to see if she had a successful pregnancy.
The researchers at New York’s Mount Sinai health organization found that higher exposure to PFAS was associated with a reduced chance of having a baby.
This was true both for individual types of PFAS and when their effects were combined.
‘Forever chemicals’ and the consequences of their exposure to human health were the focus of the 2019 legal thriller ‘Dark Waters’ starring Mark Ruffalo
Scientists found that the powerful blend of PFAS was linked to an up to 40 percent lower chance of getting pregnant within a year and also of being born alive.
The authors noted that their study had some limitations, the first being that they could not identify the specific mechanism by which PFAS reduced fertility in the participants, such as measuring reproductive hormones.
Another was that they only examined exposure to established PFAS, with the researchers noting that there are some emerging chemicals now being added to products that are worth exploring.
Finally, the scientists said they couldn’t account for male infertility and exposure to PFAS in their study because their analysis only looked at the women’s results.
PFAS, commonly known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have previously been associated with an increased risk of kidney and testicular cancer.
Studies have also suggested that they damage the immune system and increase the risk of birth defects.
There are about 5,000 different types of chemicals.
They were featured in the 2019 Hollywood movie Dark Waters starring Mark Ruffalo after a community’s water was poisoned by the chemicals from a local factory.
PFAS is different from another group of commonly used chemicals called phthalates, which are used to make plastics more durable and are found in floors as well as products such as shampoos, soaps and hair sprays.
Like PFAS, there are also health concerns about exposure to phthalates in everyday life, with the substances linked to cancers, asthma, ADHD, and obesity.