Flame Retardants Linked To Lower Fertility Rates In Women – HuffPost

 In Health
New research examining the link between common flame retardant chemicals and fertility rates finds that women with higher levels of the chemicals in their bodies have lower chances of fertilization, pregnancy and live birth compared with women who have low levels of the chemicals in their bodies. 

If this finding is confirmed in a larger number of study participants, couples struggling to get pregnant may want to take a second look at their furniture and carpet, experts say, as some of these items tend to have flame retardant components. However, because this is the first study of its kind to find a link between organophosphate flame retardants and fertility outcomes, couples struggling to get pregnant should not worry about getting a new couch or mattress pad to aid conception just yet.

Researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health recruited 211 women undergoing in vitro fertilization treatments to participate in the study. For each IVF cycle they went through, the women contributed one or two urine samples, and the scientists, led by environmental epidemiologist Courtney Carignan (now of Michigan State University), analyzed the urine for the byproducts of five flame retardant chemicals to estimate how much flame retardant they were exposed to in their everyday life. 

The scientists then compared the levels of chemical byproducts to the women’s outcomes during IVF and found that the women with the highest levels of three of the chemicals showed a 10 percent decrease in the rate of fertilization, a 31 percent decreased rate of embryo implantation, a 41 percent decreased rate of a clinical pregnancy (when a heartbeat is detected via sonogram) and a 38 percent decreased rate of live birth compared with the women who had the lowest amounts of byproduct in their urine. 

Carignan chose to examine women undergoing the IVF process because it was the best way to observe every step of conception and early pregnancy, as opposed to women who conceive naturally and may not know they are pregnant until they are six to eight weeks along. Because of this, Carignan writes in the study, the results are at least generalizable to the population of women seeking treatment at an infertility clinic, and perhaps among all women in general, presuming that their bodies would have the same biological response to these chemicals as the women in the study. 

Animal studies suggest that these flame retardant chemicals disrupt the thyroid and sex hormones in animals, as well as harm embryo development. If people want to limit their exposure to these chemicals and they’re due to replace a couch, Carignan suggested looking for furniture that doesn’t have flame retardant chemicals, such as furniture with barrier technology or a naturally flame retardant fabric, like leather or wool, that meets flammability standards. She added that while mattresses do not typically contain flame retardants, polyurethane foam mattress pads can.


Other options are carpet-free floors or carpet with padding that isn’t made from foam treated with these chemicals. Still, she said she understands these are big purchases that people make only a few times in their life, and many people don’t have much choice about the furniture they have. In that case, they should wash their hands often, especially before meals, as Carignan’s past research has found that people who do this have lower levels of these chemicals in their body. 

“There are a lot of contributors to infertility,” Carignan said. “This is just one factor, and people need to be careful not to beat themselves up over these types of exposures.”

Still, Carignan takes her research to heart. She waited nine years to upgrade from a futon to a couch because she was waiting for a policy change that allowed furniture without chemical flame retardants to hit the market. She also recently purchased a home, and one of her major concerns was that it be carpet-free, since padding under carpets is often made with recycled foam that is treated with flame retardant chemicals. 

“I do what I can with the time and the resources that I have, but there are so many things I certainly can’t avoid,” she said. “That’s why we have chemical policies — so people don’t have to have a Ph.D. in environmental health to be a conscientious consumer.”

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