There is no doubt we live in a society riddled with toxins. “No Swimming” signs haunt our beaches. Air quality updates are a part of our daily news coverage. The organic food business is booming as people try to find alternatives to foods that have been loaded with chemicals. How are these chemicals affecting our health? Are the toxins in our environment affecting our ability to conceive?
Dr. Dorothy Mitchell-Leef, an endocrinologist and partner at Reproductive Biology Associates in Atlanta, Georgia, believes that while studies have not yet shown a direct link between the toxins in our environment and our fertility, common sense should tell us that one exists."Men's sperm counts on a worldwide basis have decreased over 30 years," says Dr. Mitchell-Leef. "The environment itself and its components should be carefully considered as a plausible risk. No one has truly established a direct link to infertility and the environment, but seeing infertility rates increase over the last 24 years I have been practicing makes me concerned for the future and what further effects we might see over time."
Smoking and Fertility
One of the most common toxins we put in our bodies is cigarette smoke. Whether by choice or by secondhand smoke, the toxins in cigarettes may affect our ability to conceive. Though the full effect of cigarette smoking on fertility isn't known, one thing we do know is that smoking compounds problems in people who already have a compromised situation. Because cigarette smoking is related to a decrease in responsiveness to medications that increase ovulation, women who are undergoing reproductive therapy should not smoke. Men who smoke also have fertility issues.
"Sperm motility is the most obvious problem," says Dr. Mitchell-Leef. "If sperm cannot move forward appropriately, they cannot reach the end of the fallopian tube where fertilization occurs or enter the egg once they are there. Motility is a very important aspect of sperm function."
Dr. Mitchell-Leef says that sperm develop to maturity over a 72-day period. Therefore, it will take over three months to improve motility in a smoker who quits and to ascertain if smoking is the only factor causing motility problems.
Smoking is also a clear risk factor for tubal infertility or the inability to get pregnant due to malfunction of the fallopian tubes. Smoking has a negative effect on tubal cilia, or hairs that help transport the egg down the length of the tube to the uterus. Because of this, women who smoke are also at greater risk of having ectopic pregnancies that develop within the tube.
"We remind all our patients that it is imperative for them to stop smoking when they wish to go forward with medications to help ovulation to occur," says Dr. Mitchell-Leef. "Many women whose reproductive therapy went poorly while they smoked improved their egg production after quitting."