Couples experiencing infertility may look at lifestyle factors such as stress, weight, and past/present drug use as part of their assessment and treatment, but it’s unusual for people to assess all of the chemicals found in their home. Unfortunately, these can also have an impact on fertility and chances of pregnancy.
The first study looking at the association between organophosphate flame retardants (PFRs) and reproductive outcomes in women has been completed, and the findings show an association between higher rates of PFRs and lower pregnancy rates. While the association appears strong, there is no proven direct link. It is also unclear whether this association is only seen in couples undergoing IVF or if it appears in rates of natural conception as well.
PFRs are seen as safer than past flame retardants, which have been linked to negative health outcomes. These retardants are found in everything from furniture to gym mats and household products, so it is extremely difficult to limit exposure to them, especially as they can migrate into air and dust, where they enter the bodies of people and animals and may disrupt embryo development.
The study analysed urine samples from 211 women who were undergoing IVF and checked for PFR metabolites (which are a sign that the chemical is present in the body). The success rates for IVF ‘significantly declined’ for women with the highest urinary levels of PFR metabolites when compared to outcomes for women with low levels. On average, their chances of successful fertilisation decreased by 10%, chances of successful implantation decreased by 31%, clinical pregnancy decreased by 41%, and live births decreased by 38%.
Research is needed to confirm these findings, establish a causal link, and see whether male partners experience similar impacts on fertility. Given that 8 in 10 women had traces of the PFR metabolites in their samples, a firm link would require the industry to find new, safer alternatives.
Until then, couples undergoing IVF may prefer to reduce their exposure by opting for products that are flame retardant-free.