May 9th to 15th 2016

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Environmental factors

Cigarette smoking

Cigarette smoke contains several thousand components including nicotine, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and cadmium, with diverse toxic effects.  Cigarette smoking is associated with lower fertility rates, adverse reproductive outcomes and a higher risk of IVF failure.  Exposure to cigarette smoke, active or passive, impairs every stage of the reproductive process in women, such as hormone production, embryonic development and implantation and placental formation. This appears to be mainly due to the reduction in blood flow in the uterus.  In men, deterioration of semen quality appears in direct proportion to quantity of cigarettes smoked. It can decrease sperm counts, impact movement and lead to DNA damage. .  Smoking increases susceptibility of sperm to oxidative damage, possibly due to cadmium and the myriad of other harmful substances present in cigarette smoke.

There is also a higher incidence of erectile dysfunction in men who smoke.

Further, smoking is a major cause of preterm births and low birth weight babies.  It is also associated with an increase in spontaneous abortions.

Prospective parents should stop smoking preconceptually.

Women who smoke are ineligible for publically funded treatment (women need to have been non-smokers for at least 3 months)

Environmental Toxicity

Many potential threats to reproductive health are encountered in everyday life through exposure to various chemicals and radiation in the home and work environment. People who are planning to become pregnant should increase awareness and attempt to reduce exposure to chemicals and radiation. Chemicals you are exposed to include cosmetics and hair dyes, not just industrial pollutants.

 The exposure of environmental contaminants (synthetic chemicals and metals), particularly during critical periods of development (such as before conception and during pregnancy), have potential effects on all aspects of future reproductive health throughout the life course, including conception, fertility, pregnancy, child and adolescent development, and adult health.

Free radicals are toxic metabolites that can impair the ability of sperm to fertilise and can damage the DNA contained in the head of the sperm. These toxic substances are found in a number of environmental chemicals that we are exposed to. Blocking the free radical damage by the use of anti-oxidant preparations can be a useful management option if increased DNA damage is thought to be a contributing factor.

Heavy Metals

Heavy metals include lead, mercury, aluminium and arsenic. There are many studies which demonstrate that heavy metals alter hormone levels, decreasing overall fertility in both men and women. They have also been shown to cause miscarriages, stillbirths and pre term delivery.

Pesticides, Endocrine Disruptors and Other Chemicals

Many of the chemicals used worldwide in today’s society, including pesticides, insecticides, plastics, and some cosmetics act as endocrine disruptors and may have various damaging effects on the reproductive health of both men and women. Mimicking natural hormones, impeding normal hormonal activity and varying regulation and function of the endocrine system are a few of the many ways that endocrine disruptors influence the body.

Radiation

Exposure to various kinds and amounts of radiation can ultimately affect fertility. This is due to the sensitivity of germ cells to x rays and gamma rays.

Cell phone usage has been linked with decreases in progressive motility of sperm, sperm numbers and morphology.

One study evaluating 52 men demonstrated that men who carried a cell phone around the belt line or hip region were more likely to have decreased sperm motility compared to men who carried them elsewhere or who did not carry one at all.