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Fossil fuel pollution is putting our future in jeopardy by contributing to climate change. But scientists say there’s another risk factor, too: increased infertility rates.
According to a new study published in the journal Nature Reviews Endocrinology, childbirth rates have been declining for the last half-century, overlapping with the beginning of the Industrial Age.
The findings were centered on Denmark population samples, but the researchers say the trends are consistent with other industrialized countries. According to the researchers, ten percent of Danish children are born through assisted reproduction methods, such as IFV; and more than 20 percent of men have never fathered a child. The data supports findings that unintended pregnancy loss has been increasing by 1-2 percent since 1990.
Birth rate trends are being impacted by growing rates of infertility in both men and women, with cancer, low sperm counts, poor egg quality, and early puberty in women, as leading causes.
“We have to realise that we know all too little about infertility in the population so the next step forward would really be to find out why so many young couples do not have children,” Niels Erik Skakkebæk, a professor at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and lead author of the study told the Guardian.
“What has struck me in this study was the finding that so much of modern life originates from fossil fuels,” said Skakkebæk. “We don’t think about it that way. When we buy a pair of shoes made of chemicals originally produced from fossil fuels.”
The researchers say they looked at declining birth rates connected to factors including birth control and more women in the workplace. They say the declines in birth rates precede these socioeconomic factors.
Fossil fuels in the body
According to the researchers, fossil fuels, mainly in the form of pollutants, are ubiquitous in the human body, found in urine, semen, placenta, breast milk, and fatty tissues. Microplastics are also being found in fetal tissue samples. Plastic is produced from oil.
When in the body, these chemicals work as endocrine disruptors and can interfere with hormone production and regulation, which can negatively impact reproductive health.
“We know from numerous experimental animal studies that plastics, chemicals, and so forth can cause problems in animal reproduction,” said Skakkebæk. “We cannot do such exposure studies in humans, that would not be ethical, but we know enough from animal studies to be concerned.”
Investigation into the impact of endocrine disruptors on reproductive health in animals show problems for men and women, and bigger risks during early pregnancy.
Lead image by Chris LeBoutillier on Unsplash