Air pollution, which has once again engulfed the skies over Delhi with air quality reaching ‘serious’ levels in most of the national capital region, has been linked to a host of health problems including difficulty breathing, chronic bronchitis, chest tightness, lung and chest infections, among others. But did you know that air pollution can also significantly affect fertility? “Although the main causal factor of sterility is the age of a woman, many studies have shown that daily exposure to high levels of pollution is also linked to a decrease in potential fertility,” said Dr. Ratna Saxena, IVF specialist at Bijwasan, IVF and Nova Fertility Southend.
He added that the deterioration of air quality has been associated with lower sexual desire. “Many couples trying to conceive find their sexual interest declines,” she said. indianexpress.com.
Okay, Shilpa Ellur, MD, Senior Consultant, Reproductive Medicine, Milann Fertility Hospital, Whitefield, Bengaluru said air pollution harms fertility and Birth process, in addition to causing premature deaths. “Air pollution has been associated in numerous studies with infertility, difficult deliveries, increased birth defects in offspring, and stillbirths,” he added.
But why does it happen?
Dr. Saxena cited a 2018 study of 1,285 pregnant women in Chennai and its surrounding districts that found that every 10 g/m3 increase in PM 2.5 could result in a four gram decrease in a baby’s birth weight. “Other research studies support the theory that inhaling poor-quality air increases the risk of other aspects of reproduction, such as preterm birth and low birth weight. Furthermore, perinatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and particulate matter (PM) have been shown to affect the neuropsychological development of children,” she added.
Experts said air pollution can also have an impact on sperm quality. “According to a study by Hammoud et al, PM2.5 exposure was found to be negatively related to sperm morphology and motility,” said Dr. Saxena.
Ellur added that environmental pollutants release reactive oxygen species (ROS) that “can subject sperm to oxidative stress and lead to DNA fragmentation (DNA broken in the sperm head).” This, in turn, could lead to sterility problems.
Additionally, Dr. Saxena said that inhaling air that contains estrogenic and antiandrogenic substances, such as copper, zinc and lead, can affect testosterone and sperm production if inhaled over a long period of time. “Endocrine disruptors generate estrogenic, antiestrogenic and antiandrogenic activity, interfering with the thyroid axis and influencing metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance and obesitywhich are strongly linked to infertility,” he added.
So what can be done?
The expert suggested everyone monitor their sleep cycle. “Sleep is an important factor in fertility because it allows the body to regenerate many cells while also regulating the rate of hormone changes. Additionally, sleep produces dark melatonin, which can benefit the entire body system,” said Dr. Saxena.
He added that there are some lifestyle measures one can take to safeguard fertility. “To maintain good general health, exercise daily, avoid canned foods, eat a balanced diet, avoid eating substances such as alcohol or tobacco, discuss medication side effects with your doctor and avoid endocrine disruptors,” he said.
However, if the problem persists, it is recommended to consult a fertility specialist.