A study conducted by Chinese researchers suggests that exposure to air pollution can be one of the leading causes that might aggravate the problem of infertility among couples.

With a population of over 1.3 billion people, India is the second-most populous country in the world after China. However, overpopulation is not the only problem the country that we are facing, but there is another problem that is standing right in front of us but is less talked about, and that is the problem of infertility. In a society like India, there still exists many stigmas associated with intercourse and gender-specific approach towards fertility and are not openly talked about in the society.

Recently, a study conducted by Chinese researchers suggests that exposure to air pollution can be one of the leading causes that might aggravate the problem of infertility among couples. According to the study, 30 percent of infertile couples suffer from various fertility issues such as hormonal imbalances, poor sperm quality, etc.

In the course of two decades, over 10 percent of the global population has been affected by infertility and concerns associated with it. In India, almost 10 to 14 percent of people tend to suffer from the problem of infertility. Moreover, the study asserts that lower fertility was quite pervasive in areas with higher levels of pollution that means a high amount of PM 2.5 particles in the air.

Air pollution: Affecting men and women alike

A considerable rise in levels of PM 2.5 is poised to be dangerous towards the fertility of the couples. According to the results of the research, there was an increase of 20 percent in the infertility rate solely due to high exposure to pollution in the atmosphere. In comparison with the women living in non-polluted areas, the women living in polluted areas showcased a 15 to 26 percent increase in the infertility condition. 

Further, to dissect the problem, scientists also hinted that air pollution is severely affecting the eggs in women’s ovaries while it is also reducing sperm count in men. Although the biological mechanism that is causing such grave threats is yet to be known. The studies are more and more emphasising the wider risks of air pollution while encompassing large proportions of the human population.

The research which was published in the Environmental International was done covering 18,000 couples in China. Further, the research took into account various sociodemographic factors such as age, weight, income, lifestyle, smoking, drinking, etc. The team also analysed PM 2.5 particles for the period of one-year, three-years, and five-years.

Another study that was done in the US that studied cases of 600 women concluded that infertility rose among them due to the increase in pollution levels. Besides this, polluted air often leads to premature birth and low birth-weight among babies. Other than that, the presence of nitrogen dioxide in the air is also known to raise the chances of miscarriage among women.

In some startling cases, doctors even found microplastics in the placentas of unborn babies. Along with this, another study that was done in 2017 conclusively said that pollution poses a negative impact on sperm count as well.

Fertility rates in India

As far as fertility rates among women in India are concerned then they are plummeting down which can be considered as a relief amid exploding numbers of the growing population in the country. The fertility rate of women has fallen down from 4.97 in 1975-80 to 2.3 in 2015-20. Further by the end of the century, fertility rates are expected to spiral down to 1.78. This is a huge concern as the fertility level of 2.2 is considered to be normal as it is called the replacement level.

Further, countering the stigma of the gender-specific approach to infertility, doctors have said that both men and women tend to suffer from it. Along with that obesity and diabetes are also dangerous which may hinder the chance of conceiving. It is a well-established fact that over 40 percent of the women who suffer from infertility are obese.

With this, STIs, polycystic ovarian syndrome, fibroids are also among the list of new concerns. Unprotected sex caused unwanted pregnancies among couples often leads to surgical abortions and various chemical-induced methods to tackle it. This may later cause serious infections while reversing the chances of proper fertility.

As compared to Europeans, the average age of menopause for Indian women is 47 years, while it is 52 years among their European counterparts. This sharp decline in fertility levels can also be understood by the fact that people are increasingly leaving amid environmental toxins along with using higher amounts of plastic and chemical-based products.

All this has led to unwanted genetic mutations which have exacerbated the risk of infertility. Also, inadequate facilities in public health centres, lack of specific programmes in mitigating anxiety among couples have also worsened the problem in the country.