Can everyday products negatively affect women's fertility?

We are surrounded by brominated flame retardants (BFRs), chemicals which are added to consumer products to reduce their flammability. They are often used in plastics, textiles and electronics and are recognized as endocrine disruptors, which can have adverse effects on health by interfering with hormonal activities. Studies have already linked the toxins in these chemicals to male infertility. However, scientists need more data about how BFRs affect women's fertility and fetal development. Researchers from the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) are putting BFRs under the microscope to assess the health risks for future generations. 

“One of the reasons we have to conduct this kind of study is that we are exposed to BFRs on a daily basis through dust and food; yet we have no idea what the long-term consequences may be to our health,” said Dr. Cindy Goodyer, the study's principal researcher and director of the Endocrine Research Laboratory at the Montreal Children’s Hospital of the MUHC and. “What's more, our exposure to BFRs is ten times greater in North America than almost anywhere else in the world.”said Dr. Goodyer who is conducting the study with Dr. Barbara Hales. 

According to Dr. Patricia Monnier, an obstetrician and gynecologist specializing in infertility at the McGill Reproductive Centre, and co-researcher on the study, the number of couples seeking assisted reproduction is increasing. “Infertility in women is far less documented than it is in men, so it makes sense for Dr. Goodyer to study the effects of BFR exposure on women with fertility problems but also on in vitro fertilization techniques.” 

The researchers are measuring the amount of BFRs in hair samples from expectant mothers, as well as in the follicular fluid that surrounds the egg. They will also look at whether or not exposure to BFRs modifies the genes in the follicular cells that surround the egg. “We are very fortunate to be able to observe the immediate environment in which the egg develops as it allows us to study the BFR exposure to both the woman and her eggs,” explains Dr. Goodyer. 

”We have previously shown that exposure to BFRs begins as early as the eighth week of fetal development”, added Dr. Goodyer. “We have hypothesized that these contaminants may be a problem because they accumulate in our bodies and they also remain in our environment for a long time,” she says. 

“The problem is especially worrisome for this vulnerable group - pregnant women - because they will be giving birth to the next generation,” says Dr. Monnier. 

The study, financed by The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), began in the fall of 2009 and aims to recruit 300 women. The results are expected in 2014.