A study has revealed that exposure to fine particulate matter prior to the retrieval of eggs during IVF can significantly reduce the odds of achieving a live birth.

RT’s Three Key Takeaways:

  1. IVF Success Reduction: Exposure to fine particulate matter before egg retrieval in IVF reduces the likelihood of a live birth by almost 40%.
  2. Egg Quality and Pollution: The study shows pollution negatively impacts the quality of eggs, not just early pregnancy stages, even in areas with good air quality.
  3. Health Implications: The findings highlight the need to minimize pollution exposure, as even low levels significantly affect reproductive health and IVF success rates.

Exposure to fine particulate matter (PM) prior to the retrieval of eggs during in vitro fertilization (IVF) can reduce the odds of achieving a live birth by almost 40%, new research finds. 

The study, presented at the ESHRE 40th Annual Meeting in Amsterdam, analyzed PM10 exposure in the two weeks before oocyte (egg) collection. It found that the odds of a live birth decreased by 38% when comparing the highest quartile of exposure to the lowest quartile.

The study abstract will be published in Human Reproduction.

Study Over Eight Years

Conducted over an eight-year period in Perth, Australia, the research analyzed 3,659 frozen embryo transfers from 1,836 patients. The median female age was 34.5 years at the time of oocyte retrieval and 36.1 years at the time of frozen embryo transfer. 

The study examined air pollutant concentrations over four exposure periods prior to oocyte retrieval (24 hours, two weeks, four weeks, and three months), with models created to account for co-exposures.

Increasing PM2.5 exposure in the three months prior to oocyte retrieval was also associated with decreased odds of live birth, falling from 0.90 in the second quartile to 0.66 in the fourth quartile.

Pollution’s Impact Despite Good Air Quality

Importantly, the negative impact of air pollution was observed despite excellent overall air quality during the study period, with PM10 and PM2.5 levels exceeding World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines on just 0.4% and 4.5% of the study days, respectively.

“This is the first study that has used frozen embryo transfer cycles to separately analyze the effects of pollutant exposure during the development of eggs and around the time of embryo transfer and early pregnancy. We could therefore evaluate whether pollution was having an effect on the eggs themselves, or on the early stages of pregnancy,” says Dr Sebastian Leathersich, lead author of the study, in a release. 

He continues, “Our results reveal a negative linear association between particulate matter exposure during the two weeks and three months prior to oocyte collection and subsequent live birth rates from those oocytes. This association is independent of the air quality at the time of frozen embryo transfer. These findings suggest that pollution negatively affects the quality of the eggs, not just the early stages of pregnancy, which is a distinction that has not been previously reported.”

Broader Health Implications

Ambient (outdoor) air pollution is one of the greatest environmental risks to health and is estimated to cause over 4 million premature deaths per year worldwide. Exposure to fine particulate matter is associated with a range of adverse health conditions, including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. 

In 2021, 97% of the urban European Union population was exposed to concentrations of PM2.5 above the WHO annual guideline. Although epidemiological data show a clear correlation between pollution and poorer reproductive outcomes, the mechanisms remain unclear.

“Climate change and pollution remain the greatest threats to human health, and human reproduction is not immune to this,” says Leathersich in a release. “Even in a part of the world with exceptional air quality, where very few days exceed the internationally accepted upper limits for pollution, there is a strong negative correlation between the amount of air pollution and the live birth rate in frozen embryo transfer cycles. Minimizing pollutant exposure must be a key public health priority.”

Professor Anis Feki, MD, PhD, chair-elect of ESHRE, says in a release, “This important study highlights a significant link between air pollution and lower IVF success rates, with a notable reduction in live births associated with higher particulate matter exposure before oocyte retrieval. These findings emphasize the need for ongoing attention to environmental factors in reproductive health.”

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