A Boon for Reproductive Health

written by Elise Miller, MEd
CHE Director

For those concerned about environmental impacts on reproductive health, the stars have aligned. Last month, the University of California, San Francisco’s Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment (PRHE) honored three exceptional leaders: Teresa Woodruff, PhD, the new president of The Endocrine Society; Linda Giudice, MD, PhD, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine; and Jeanne Conry, MD, PhD, president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Not only do these highly gifted women head major professional societies which represent tens of thousands of researchers and health professionals around the world, they are deeply committed to expanding the scientific literature on links between environmental contaminants and reproductive health and to highlighting the need for stronger chemical policy reform.

(L-R) are PRHE Director Tracey Woodruff with Linda Giudice and CHE Fertility founder Alison Carlson.

This has not always been the case. When Alison Carlson first contacted CHE about 10 years ago, she had been knocking on doors at medical centers for some time trying to find someone who could tell her anything about links between chemical exposures and infertility. Because of her tenacity and deep concern about these issues, she eventually connected with leading researchers and health professionals in this budding field and formed the CHE Fertility Working Group. In turn, her efforts were instrumental in catalyzing the first scientific consensus conference, “Understanding Environmental Contaminants and Human Fertility Compromise: Science and Strategy,” in 2005. Two years later, the UCSF-CHE Summit on “Environmental Challenges to Reproductive Health and Fertility,” helped pave the way for the establishment of PRHE. PRHE, currently directed by Tracey Woodruff, PhD, MPH, is the first program of its kind in the US.

A core focus of research in this field is on endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), such as bisphenol A, phthalates and organophosphate pesticides, which have been shown to mimic or block hormones that are essential to the healthy development of the reproductive system (in additional to other biological systems in animals and humans). The Endocrine Society, which published a seminal scientific report on EDCs and health concerns in 2009, sent an open letter in April to the European Union to include more endocrinologists in their deliberations on EDCs.

The scientific evidence linking EDCs to reproductive health concerns is burgeoning. Just yesterday a new study, “Chemicals Tied to Reduced Fertility in IVF,” undertaken by Dr. Irene Souter and colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital, was presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology meeting in London, and almost every week there are several more relevant research studies published. Having the Endocrine Society and other notable organizations that work closely with CHE, such as the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), PRHE and The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX), in turn, provides a strong foundation for ASRM and ACOG to educate their memberships broadly about this research—and how it applies in both clinical and policy settings.

In short, the evolution of the field of reproductive health and the environment has gone from (almost) zero to 100 mph in just 10 years, and serves as another inspiring example of what a small group of committed people can do to catalyze significant and lasting change. With this triumvirate of luminaries now in key positions, the next 10 years of advances in this field are looking more attainable than ever. Of course, that will take a lot more collective, visionary and dedicated work. Towards that end, we hope you will add your expertise to these efforts by joining CHE’s Fertility and Reproductive Health Working Group, now headed by Karin Russ, MS, RN.

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