Home Science Health Can't get pregnant? Maybe too much PBDEs!


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A U.S. study adds to mounting evidence that polybrominated diphenyl ethers (commonly labeled PBDEs) are health risks and, specifically, may reduce fertility in women. PBDEs are found everywhere in the home and office, from furniture, computers, and carpets, to plastics and TVs.

Drs. Kim G. Harley, Amy R. Marks, Jonathan Chevrier, Asa Bradman, Andreas Sjödin, and Brenda Eskenazi studied whether PBDEs have any affect on the fertility of women.

Their results are published in the January 26, 2010 issue of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

As the first scientific study to analyze this supposed relationship, the title of their paper is 'PBDE Concentrations in Women's Serum and Fecundability' (doi:10.1289/ehp.0901450).

Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) is a widely used ingredient in products used as flame retardants. According to the abstract to their paper, ''¦ 97% of Americans [have] detectable levels' of PBDEs in the bodies.

Knowing that other scientific studies had analyzed the relationships of PBDEs to reproduction and hormones in animals but not in humans, these authors decided to analyze the affect that PBDEs might play in the fertility of human females.

Specifically, they wanted to determine, ''¦ whether maternal concentrations of PBDEs in serum collected during pregnancy are associated with time to pregnancy and menstrual cycle characteristics.' [Abstract of their paper]

Page two continues with the specifics of the study.

The researchers studied 223 pregnant women living in a 'low-income, predominantly Mexican-immigrant' agricultural community in the U.S. state of California.

Included within their research was the use of interviews with the women, asking such questions as how many months it took them to become pregnant once they became sexually active and were not using any birth control methods.

The U.S. researchers also collected blood samples, which measured PBDE levels in four congeners (PBDEs of the same type) that are detectable in over 75% of the human population.

The four PBDE congeners measured are:

'¢    BDE-47 (2,2´,4,4´-Tetrabromodiphenyl Ether);
'¢    BDE-99 (2,2',4,4',5-Pentabromodiphenyl ether);
'¢    BDE-100 (2,2',4,4',6-Pentabromodiphenyl ether); and
'¢    BDE-153 (2,2',4,4',5,5'-Hexabromodiphenyl ether).

The researchers found that all four PBDE congeners were detected in over 95% of the women. In addition, they found that increased levels of BDE-47, -99, -100, and -153 were all associated with longer times for the women to conceive (get pregnant).

In fact, the women with the highest concentrations of PBDEs in the bloodstream experienced longer times in which they got pregnant.

Page three contains quotes from Dr. Kim Harley, one of the authors of the study.

Specifically, the study found that a ten times larger concentration of PBDEs in the blood of some of the women resulted in these women having a 30% decreased chance of becoming pregnant each and every month.

Dr. Kim Harley, the lead author in the study and the associate director of the Center for Children's Environmental Health Research, School of Public Heath, University of California'”Berkeley, stated, "It's a pretty strong effect. They can all become pregnant, but they all had very different amounts of time it took them to become pregnant." [Los Angeles Times (1.27.2010): 'Household chemicals linked to reduced fertility']

Harley, also an associate research scientist at UC-Berkeley, added, "PBDEs have the ability to just leach out of these products into our environment. We're thinking the routes are probably ingestion or hand to mouth. But it seems that the larger route of exposure is house dust." [Los Angeles Times]

And, "One of the strongest associations of PBDEs is with thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone does seem to play an important role in fertility. Either too low or too high levels can impair fertility. PBDEs also seem to mimic estrogen. It could be through a hormonal mechanism. But we need more research on that." [Los Angeles Times]

They concluded within the paper's abstract: 'We found significant decreases in fecundability associated with PBDE exposure in women. Future studies are needed to replicate and confirm this finding.'

Fecundabiity is defined as the likelihood, or probability, that conception will occur in a given population of women during a specific period of time.

Page four concludes with information on PBDEs.

PBDEs have been used within flame retardant products for about four decades. They are commonly found in such household products and materials as carpets, fabrics, plastics, electronics (such as TVs) and furniture.

However, the chemicals composed within PBDEs are being phased out within the United States, with California leading the way. PBDEs are already banned in California, having been banned from products made after 2004.

Please read the Los Angeles Times article mentioned earlier here. Also, take special attention to the first comment, at the end of the article, made by Dr. Roy Mankovitz, the director of Montecito Wellness LLC (Santa Barbara, California). He adds interesting and valuable comments to the article.

Check out the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website "Polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs)" for additional information.


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