Do Environmental Contaminants Adversely Affect Human Reproductive Physiology?
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There is increasing concern among Canadian women that unwitting and unwanted exposures to environmental contaminants are adversely affecting their health, particularly their ability to become pregnant and have a healthy baby. Evidence of adverse reproductive outcomes among populations exposed to environmental contaminants in the workplace via accidental poisoning, together with detection of environmental contaminant residues in serum and ovarian follicular fluid, has led to the hypothesis that chemical contaminants may be contributing to adverse reproductive outcomes such as infertility, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, spontaneous abortion, preterm labour, intrauterine growth restriction, and pregnancy-induced hypertension in the general population. The lack of clear evidence concerning the association between exposure to environmental contaminants and adverse reproductive outcomes hampers the clinician's ability to counsel women who are trying to conceive or who have concerns about their pregnancy. This review summarizes the evidence linking environmental contaminant exposure to selected adverse health outcomes by examining the changes in health-outcome trends, the consistency of the epidemiological evidence of an association between the health outcome of concern and exposure to environmental contaminants, and the biological plausibility for environmental contaminant mediated effects on human reproductive health. At best, only a moderate association can be found linking exposure to environmental contaminants with evidence of deleterious reproductive effects in women. Lack of disease trend data, weak exposure assessments, and limited mechanistic data supporting the biological plausibility of potential effects are the primary limitations to the hypothesis that exposure to environmental contaminants adversely affects human reproductive physiology.
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