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Reproduction. 2014 Mar 2;147(4):R97-R104. doi: 10.1530/REP-13-0472. Print 2014.

Persistent environmental pollutants and couple fecundity: an overview.

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Division of Intramural Population Health Research, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, 6100 Executive Blvd., Room 7B03, Rockville, Maryland 20852, USA.


Speculation has arisen that human fecundity may be declining, possibly a function of exposure to persistent environmental chemicals that resist degradation resulting in various pathways for human exposure. In contrast to considerable animal evidence suggesting adverse effects of such chemicals on reproduction, limited human research has been undertaken. To date, available data stem largely from ten unique study cohorts that have quantified individual chemical exposures in relation to time-to-pregnancy (TTP), which is a measure of couple fecundity. Diminished fecundability odds ratios indicative of longer TTP were observed in all but two studies, although not all findings achieved statistical significance. Persistent chemicals associated with reduced couple fecundity as measured by a longer TTP included ╬▓HCH, cadmium, lead, mercury, 1,1-dichloro-2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl)ethylene, TCCD dioxin, and select polybrominated diethers, polychlorinated biphenyls, and perfluorochemicals. Important methodologic limitations need to be considered in weighing the evidence: i) reliance on pregnant women, which may exclude women with the highest exposures if related to the inability to conceive; ii) retrospectively reported TTP, which may be associated with bidirectional reporting errors; and iii) limited attention to male partners or couples' exposures. While current evidence is not inconsistent with animal evidence, concerted efforts to address lingering data gaps should include novel strategies for recruiting couples, the longitudinal measurement of TTP, and the continued enrollment of couples across successive pregnancies. This latter strategy will provide a more complete understanding of the toxicokinetics of chemicals during sensitive windows and their implications for fecundity and its related impairments.

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