Professor Simon Fishel, Founder and President of the CARE Fertility Group, has said air pollutants could directly affect fertility in both sexes.
“It has been shown for some time that pollution has devastating effects on fertility,” he said.
Prof Fishel was commenting on a study from the University of Modena in Italy, which looked at hormone measurements from 1,318 women, copied to the Ghana News Agency.
Conclusions from the Italian-led study linked air pollution to a drop in activity in women's ovaries, yet it did not look specifically at the impact of air pollution on fertility.
However, the study authors found that levels of the hormone AMH was lower among women who lived in areas with higher levels of air pollutants (AMH can give an indication of a woman’s ovarian reserve as this hormone is released by cells in the ovaries).
The scientists also found that AMH levels fell naturally with age for women over 25.
Prof. Fishel said, “hormones are released in pulsatile and rhythmical modes that give a highly tuned control on events such as reproductive function.”
“Toxic substances can work by disturbing such rhythms, or even by disrupting the control mechanisms in the cells by damaging the actual genes, and/or overall cell function.
“Studies have shown that such pollutants can cause reductions in ovarian reserve, development of the eggs, the number and quality of eggs retrieved, the lining of the womb, and the fertilisation of eggs and the quality of the embryo,” he said.
Prof. Fishel underscored the need for governments to tackle the air quality problem – by funding a change from diesel-run cars and taxis to electric vehicles or ensuring that sulphur and lead contents conform to standards.
“This, I believe, would be a huge step forward,” Fishel said, advising individuals to be aware of toxins and suggest a move towards ‘more genuine’ organic farming.
The other major factor affecting fertility is, of course, age – in both men and women.
“Sperm and a man’s age also has an impact on a woman’s fertility,” Fishel said, “but there are many factors, from hormone imbalance, genetic predisposition to structural issues in the reproductive tract.
He said it was therefore important for fertility clinics to specifically measure the level of pollutants in the patient’s system and measure ovarian reserve and sperm count to give patients a clearer picture.
Prof Simon Fishel is an English physiologist, biochemist and pioneering in vitro fertilisation specialist. Fishel joined Robert Edwards in 1975 and eventually worked alongside Edwards and Patrick Steptoe, the duo that successfully pioneered conception through IVF, leading to the birth of Louise Brown on 25 July 1978.