How do environmental toxins affect sexual development and fertility?

An image to illustrate environmental toxins such as pesticides, which may have an effect on sexual development and fertility
© iStock/simonkr

Environmental toxins such as pesticides affect sexual development and fertility by altering brain development.

Researchers have assessed the potential generational impact of environmental toxins such as pesticides, which can alter sexual development and impact fertility. The research on rodents will be presented in Lyon, at the European Society of Endocrinology annual meeting, ECE 2019.

The study monitored three generations of rats and assessed their sexual development. tHE parent generation was exposed to a mixture of common environmental toxins during pregnancy and lactation. The female rats born in the first and second generation were impaired in caring for their pups. The females in the second and third generation exhibited signs that their fertility was affected, such as a delayed onset of puberty.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals

The study suggests that the endocrine-disrupting chemicals in our environment may already be causing long-lasting harm and that people and agencies should take measures to minimise exposure.

The researchers identified that endocrine-disrupting chemicals can affect brain development through several generations. The generational effects on sexual development and reproduction have not previously been investigated, but the study found that the alterations in brain development can affect sexual development and fertility for several generations.

The dangers of environmental toxins

Prof Parent explained: “Our results raise real concerns about the effects of these pollutants in our environment. We found effects of EDCs in generations of animals that had not been directly exposed to the chemicals. We exposed the parent generation only and found long-term effects on fertility. Of course, in everyday life this would not happen and exposure to these harmful chemicals would continue, which means even more damage could be done.”

How the effects on fertility and sexual development will impact future generations

Mr Rodriguez commented: “These findings raise questions about the legacy we are leaving future generations. Current European legislation on EDCs does not consider how mixtures of low dose pollutants in our environment could be causing harm and affecting our children and wildlife in future generations, our data suggest an urgent need to follow the precautionary principle.”

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