Mothers who are exposed to certain toxic environmental compounds prior to pregnancy could limit their offspring’s fertility, according to a new study by researchers at U of T and Mount Sinai Hospital’s Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute.
The study, published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, provides evidence that when females are exposed to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, the number of eggs in their offspring’s ovaries is reduced by two-thirds. These hydrocarbons are known carcinogens and one of the most widespread organic pollutants. They are found in cigarette smoke, car exhaust, fumes from wood stoves and in charred and smoked foods. The chemicals accumulate in the body’s breast and fatty tissues before pregnancy and are later released into the blood during pregnancy, affecting the fetus.
“While young girls and women may not have thought about their reproductive future, exposure to these toxins now may reduce the fertility of their children,” says Professor Andrea Jurisicova of obstetrics and gynecology, lead author of the study (which is based on an animal model) and the Canada Research Chair in Molecular and Reproductive Medicine at the Lunenfeld Institute.
The reduction of eggs in a woman’s ovaries can lead to premature menopause, which not only limits reproduction but is also associated with osteoporosis, heart disease, stroke and depression.