Women who regularly breathe polluted air may be at a disadvantage when it comes to becoming pregnant through in vitro fertilization (IVF), says researchers from Penn State College of Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania in a new study tracking air pollution exposure in over 7,000 women undergoing IVF treatment. Published in the journal Human Reproduction, researchers worked out daily pollution concentrations for each patient during the entire IVF process and pregnancy, focusing on pollution exposure to traffic fumes—especially nitrogen dioxide—at home and at the IVF clinic during embryo transfer. According to researchers, women who regularly breathed in traffic fumes were 25 percent less likely to have a baby than those who lived in less polluted areas.
What's the connection between IVF and truck exhaust? Researchers hypothesize that traffic fumes may either damage woman's reproductive cells or obstruct the blood flow to the uterus or a developing placenta, resulting in IVF failure.
"Numerous studies have consistently shown a relationship between air pollution and human health ... we, and others, have reported significant links between air pollution and inflammation and increased blood clotting. These intermediate factors are also associated with reproductive health," says study co-author Dr Duanping Liao in an interview with UK's Telegraph newspaper.
Although air pollution has previously been linked to preterm birth and childhood asthma, the latest study is the first to show it could affect a woman's chances of conceiving in the first place. Despite this, researchers urge women who are about to start IVF treatment not to panic. "We still need to do further studies and confirm these findings. It's too soon to say what the ultimate effects (of air pollution) on reproduction are," says Dr. Richard Legro, another study co-author, in an interview with the London Daily Mail.