Spotlight on Fertility and Reproductive Health Work at CHE

Karin Russ, MS, RN, CHE’s Fertility and  Reproductive Health Working Group Coordinator

Years ago,  I  was a nurse caring for a patient who had just had her sixth miscarriage. She was, as one might expect, emotionally  devastated and searching for answers as to why this might have  happened. At the time, some potential physiological causes  were examined, but environmental factors were not  considered.

As CHE celebrates its 10th  anniversary, significant progress has been made toward  educating professionals and the public on environmental  contributors to infertility, early pregnancy loss, and impacts on the developing fetus. Since CHE’s early years, the Fertility and Reproductive Health Working Group  has sought to bring  attention to the growing body of research linking environmental factors to problems with reproductive health. In  the male, many environmental agents are associated with decreased sperm quality and increased risk of prostate cancer.  Women are more susceptible to endometriosis, polycystic ovary  disease, and problems with in vitro fertilization following exposure to some environmental chemicals. A substantial body  of scientific literature demonstrates the crucial nature of  fetal environmental exposures on developmental origins of  adult health and disease.

Thanks to work done by CHE  partners in recent the years, environmental issues are  receiving greater attention. Researchers at the University of  California’s Program on Reproductive Health and the  Environment (PRHE) have been instrumental in creating  materials for educating clinicians and the public on  environmental risks during the reproductive years. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) convenes a  special interest group to encourage the study of environmental  factors affecting reproductive health. The Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) offers continuing  education on multiple environmental health topics. Planned  Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) created a toolkit used  at all 800 offices across the US to screen and counsel clients  on environmental issues important to their health. The American Fertility Association (AFA) and RESOLVE, national  associations dedicated to meeting the needs of couples  experiencing infertility, provide information on environmental  risk reduction to improve fertility. This sampling of CHE  partners engaged in moving reproductive environmental health  forward illustrates the progress that has been made in the  last decade.

The CHE Fertility & Reproductive  Health Working Group continues to advance research and  translation into practice and policy, facilitating collaboration on reproductive environmental health. CHE  partners will recognize the methods used to accomplish these  goals: a) a listserv to share new science; b) teleconference  seminars on timely topics; c) and connecting and convening individuals to catalyze and/or augment collaborative  initiatives. The working group also hosts the Fertility/Reproductive Health Online Abstracts Library, a searchable database of selected journal  abstracts on a wide range of reproductive health  topics.

A new venture within the working group seeks to  maximize the national reproductive environmental health  research agenda through collaborations across research  institutions. The Women’s  Reproductive Environmental Health Consortium is a group of  NIEHS researchers meeting via teleconference and at professional society meetings to share resources such as datasets and tissue banks, and to form partnerships for joint research proposals and publications. CHE facilitates and  documents the Consortium’s activities.

Topics of interest to CHE Fertility & Reproductive Health working group also extend to other groups within CHE. Recent working group teleconferences include Breast Health and Early Life Exposures and “Electromagnetic Frequency Radiation & Reproductive Health Risks”. Topics of future calls include “Developmental Origins of Metabolic Disease” and “Pregnancy as a Vulnerable Period for the Mother.”

It has been said that the measure of a society if how it treats its most  vulnerable members. The value of CHE is in facilitating a  truly cross-disciplinary dialog, serving a vital role in  highlighting evidence on environmental exposures that affect human reproduction and the developing fetus. Thanks to efforts  by all of CHE’s partners, there are many more resources on  environmental health available to clinicians and advocates in  reproductive health. This will continue to improve the  preservation of reproductive capacity and the protection of  humans during their most susceptible period.

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