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Breathing polluted air can harm reproductive health of women: Experts

Updated on: 17 November,2023 08:15 AM IST  |  New Delhi

Pregnant and expecting women are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution. This is because, pregnant and expecting women are breathing for two

Breathing polluted air can harm reproductive health of women: Experts

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Even as air quality remains in 'severe' category in Delhi, experts said that breathing polluted air can significantly hurt reproductive health.

On Thursday morning, air quality across Delhi remained in the 'severe' category. The Anand Vihar station was in the 'severe' category with PM 2.5 at 500 and PM 10 at 459, while the Carbon Monoxide (CO) was at 85 and the NO2 at 57, both in 'satisfactory' levels, as per CPCB at 9 a.m.

"Amid NCR's prolonged air pollution crisis, expecting mothers find themselves at the forefront of its adverse effects. The delicate particulate matter in the air has potential repercussions on foetal development, contributing to issues like low birth weight and preterm birth," Dr Shweta Wazir, Consultant - Obstetrician & Gynaecologist, Motherhood Hospitals, Gurugram, told IANS.

In addition, Wazir said that the constant exposure to pollution heightens stress and anxiety levels, impacting the mental well-being of pregnant women.

"As their immune systems become compromised, the risk of infections during pregnancy rises," she said.

A study published on Thursday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives showed that certain pollutants can negatively alter anogenital distance, a measure of prenatal exposure to hormones.

Researchers at the Rutgers University in the US suggest that air pollution can interfere with normal hormone activity during critical periods of prenatal and early infant development.

This disruption may have long-term consequences for reproductive health, they said. Air pollution is a major public health concern.

The hazardous air quality poses significant respiratory risks, increasing the likelihood of complications such as asthma and bronchitis.

However, pregnant and expecting women are particularly vulnerable to its harmful effects. "It is because, pregnant and expecting women are breathing for two. The placenta, which is the organ that connects the mother to the foetus, is permeable to air pollutants. And the foetus, which is developing rapidly, is more vulnerable to the effects of environmental toxins. Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy has been linked to several adverse health outcomes, including preterm birth, low birth weight, congenital heart defects, asthma, and autism spectrum disorder," Dr Priyanka Suhag, Consultant, Dept of Obstetrics & Gynaecology at the CK Birla Hospital (R), Delhi, told IANS.

Nisha Bhatnagar, MBBS. MD (ObGyn), Medical Director, Infinite Fertility added that daily exposure to high pollution levels is increasingly recognised as a significant contributor to declining fertility.

Besides women's reproductive health, prolonged exposure to bad air also affects men's sperm quality.

"Deteriorating air quality not only affects respiratory health but also leads to reduced sexual drive among couples trying to conceive. Exposure to air with estrogenic and antiandrogenic substances can impair testosterone and sperm production," the doctor told IANS.

Air pollution can be a silent adversary to fertility, affecting both men and women. The toxins in polluted air may disrupt hormonal balance and impair reproductive health. The experts suggested limiting outdoor activities during times when air pollution levels are highest, focus on a balanced diet, regular exercise, and stress management to support overall health, and engage in activities like prenatal yoga and meditation for stress relief.

"To protect your fertility, consider wearing masks in highly polluted areas. Prioritising a healthy lifestyle, with a balanced diet and regular exercise, can also mitigate the impact of air pollution. Awareness, precaution, and timely interventions are our allies in the fight for reproductive well-being," Dr. Lavi Sodhi, Consultant, MBBS, DNB (Obstetrics and Gynaecology), Birla Fertility & IVF, Lajpat Nagar, told IANS.

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