If you've ever used non-stick pans or enjoyed the benefits of stain-resistant clothing, chances are you've come in contact with per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These "forever chemicals" are notoriously difficult to degrade and persist in the environment for years, with many variants posing a potential toxicity risk.
But it's not just the environment that is at risk. Recent research has linked these chemicals to a drop in fertility in women. According to a study by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, concentrations of PFAS in a sample of women in Singapore were found to significantly increase the difficulty of becoming pregnant. "PFAS may also decrease fertility in women who are generally healthy and are naturally trying to conceive," warns Damaskini Valvi, environmental epidemiologist and senior author of the study. The study found that exposure to PFAS reduced the likelihood of becoming pregnant or giving birth within a year by around 30%-40%. The exact nature of the connection between PFAS and fertility is unclear, but it's thought that these chemicals may disrupt the typical functioning of reproductive hormones.
So what can we do to reduce our exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals? Nathan Cohen, lead author of the study, cautions that "women who are planning pregnancy should be aware of the harmful effects of PFAS and take precautions to avoid exposure." While it's difficult to avoid PFAS entirely, given their prevalence in everyday products, Cohen suggests limiting our use of non-stick cookware and stain-resistant clothing, as well as avoiding fast food packaging and other products that contain PFAS. As worrying as these findings may be, they highlight the importance of understanding the potential risks associated with the everyday products we use. By being more informed, we can make more conscious choices about what we put in and on our bodies – and hopefully, reduce the negative impact of these synthetic compounds.
With fertility rates decreasing globally, it's helpful to have avenues of research for potential causes. Although PFAS are not solely responsible for the decline, they may be a contributing factor we can do something about. Researchers are currently working to increase the breakdown rate of these durable substances. By implementing measures to restrict their use and breaking them down more quickly, we may be able to put an end to PFAS and the litany of health problems they pose.