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What is Reproductive Toxicology?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2016
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Reproductive toxicology is the study and treatment of chemicals and their effects on reproduction in humans. This can include the study of causes of infertility, the effect certain substances have on the ova and spermatozoa, and the potential effects these substances have on offspring. There are many studies which indicate that chemicals being used in food, drugs, and the environment may have a direct impact on reproductive health.

One of the main aspects of reproductive toxicology is to study the potential effects environmental chemicals and toxins may have on human offspring. Certain birth defects and disorders are now thought to be a direct result of certain chemicals used in many households. Other conditions may also come as a direct result of toxins. One example that has been investigated is the cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Infants who have died of SIDS have been shown to have a defect in the brain stem. They have also been shown to have lower levels of the hormone serotonin, which controls many aspects of bodily function. Some researchers are looking into toxins which may be ingested by the mother during pregnancy as the culprit which causes this malformation in the brain stem.

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Another focus in reproductive toxicology is on fertility. There is some speculation that environmental chemicals may play a role in the surge of infertility cases. This could be because toxins cause defects in the eggs of the female or the sperm of the male, or by causing the mother’s body to become less hospitable to a growing fetus. Studies are also being conducted to determine if there is a link between certain cancers and other diseases and the use of certain chemicals during pregnancy. Some believe that substances used by the mother during the vulnerable period of fetal development may predispose some people for health problems later.

Researchers also keep track of and study the effects that certain medications have on pregnant women as they occur. This is a challenging task, since a woman who is pregnant would not willingly put her child in harm’s way for the sake of research. That means that researchers must find and document the outcomes of women who took certain drugs due to necessity in order to discover if any negative effects have occurred. One example is a drug once used for morning sickness that was later discovered to cause infertility in the children born to mothers who used it.

By studying reproductive toxicology, scientists may one day be able to help parents prevent certain birth defects, prevent long-term damage to children even after they are born, and help couples who may not otherwise conceive have a child of their own. It may also give insight into the delicate mechanisms of the human body and how it is impacted by chemicals in the earliest stages of development.

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