Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a group of synthetic compounds with a wide range of applications in consumer products, including non-stick coatings, stain-resistant coatings, and firefighting foam, are linked with decreased fertility in healthy women wishing to conceive, according to recent research. A study by researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai included the measurement of different kinds of PFAS in the blood plasma collected from 382 participants in Singapore’s preconception study of long-term maternal and child outcomes. The results demonstrated that the likelihood of pregnancy and live birth dropped 30-40% on average with increasing exposure to PFAS. The study showed a drop in fertility of between 5-10% in each quartile up to the top quartile. PFAS have been shown to disrupt reproductive hormones and could cause delayed puberty onset as well as an increased risk of polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis.
PFAS are per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances, synthetic compounds commonly encountered as non-stick and stain-resistant coatings. Despite the apparent benefits of their strength and durability, they can last for years in the environment and in living organisms, raising the risk of potential toxins.
The researchers recruited more than 1,000 volunteers who attended three preconception sessions before receiving follow-up phone calls over the following year to track their pregnancy progress. A sub-study measured levels of PFAS, and researchers found a drop in fertility of around 5 to 10 percent between the lowest 25 percent of PFAS exposure and the next 25 percent and further quartiles. Just why PFAS apparently interrupt the typical functioning of reproductive hormones is still unclear; however, researchers speculated that they might do so by interfering with hormone levels in some way.
The study’s senior author, Damaskini Valvi, suggests that women wishing to conceive should be aware of the harmful effects of PFAS and avoid exposure to this group of chemicals, and lead author Nathan Cohen stated, “Our study strongly implies that women who are planning pregnancy should be aware of the harmful effects of PFAS and take precautions to avoid exposure to this class of chemicals, especially when they are trying to conceive.” Researchers are seeking ways to increase the rate of breakdown of PFAS and bring about an end to the many health problems they are apparently causing. Despite this, researchers could not rule out bias in the results or the effect of other factors that may also influence fertility rates. The decline in fertility worldwide has been a cause for concern for some time, and although PFAS might represent one factor, they are not solely responsible for this trend.