In a new study performed at Edinburgh University in Scotland, experts looked at how stress and chemicals that a pregnant woman is exposed to could affect her baby's fertility later in life. The study examined the effect of stress hormones combined with exposure to a common chemical used in glues, paints and plastics. They found that this combination significantly increased the likelihood of birth defects.
The combination of chemicals exposure and excessive stress frequently led to conditions called cryptorchidism, where a male baby's testes fail to drop, and hypospadias, when the urinary tract is not aligned. The conditions are the most common birth defects in male babies. Researchers believe the findings could help explain the recent increase in these conditions.
Dr. Mandy Drake from Edinburgh University's Centre for Cardiovascular Science, confirmed that it is the combination of both lifestyle and environmental factors that together have a greater impact on the baby's future fertility. In an interview with BBC News, she told reporters, "In most studies reproductive disorders are only seen after abnormally high levels of exposure to chemicals, which most humans are not exposed to. Our study suggests that additional exposure to stress, which is a part of everyday life, may increase the risk of these disorders and could mean that lower levels of chemicals are required to cause adverse affects."
The study, published in the journal Endocrinology, was carried out in collaboration with the Medical Research Council's human reproductive sciences unit based at Edinburgh University. It follows studies that found that between eight and 12 weeks into pregnancy is a crucial period for male reproductive development. During this timeframe, testosterone is produced which affects development of male reproductive organs and fertility in later life.