‘Endocrine disruptors were detected in all women’ – New Scientist

Toxicologist Majorie van Duursen examined more than three hundred women for whom it is difficult to get pregnant. She discovered hormone-disrupting chemicals around the egg cells in all these women. These substances are contained in products such as plastics and cosmetics.

How many women have trouble getting pregnant?

Every sixth couple experiences fertility problems. The cause may lie with the woman, with the man or with both. There is a lot of research into male fertility, but much less into female fertility. It is much more difficult to investigate. For men, a sperm sample can be used to check whether there are enough sperm and whether the shape is correct. But in women, the ovaries in the body must be examined’.

You did and found that man-made chemicals disrupt the ovaries. How did you prove it?

‘We examined 185 Swedish women and 148 Estonian women who were undergoing fertility treatment. We tested the fluid around their eggs, in the ovaries, for the presence of 59 chemicals that we already knew were endocrine disruptors. Interfering substances were detected in all cases. 11 substances were even found in more than 90 percent of the women.


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We also looked at how the ovaries worked. All of these women underwent IVF treatment, which would require their ovaries to produce many eggs. If many interfering substances were present, the ovaries responded less well to the treatment. In short: The more chemicals, the fewer eggs.

We also looked at whether the treatment could lead to pregnancy. There was also a correlation: more chemicals, less successful pregnancies.’

What kind of drugs are they?

“We looked at plasticisers, which are used to soften plastics and as fragrance carriers in cosmetics. But also for parabens, which are used in cosmetics as an antifungal agent. And for PFAS: stubborn chemicals that, because they don’t break down, accumulate in our bodies.’

How do women come into contact with these substances?

‘Parabens penetrate your skin and you breathe them in, for example when you use cosmetics and deodorant. You consume substances that are in plastic through your food, for example because your food is in plastic packaging.

PFAS are actually everywhere in the food chain because they don’t break down. Factories emit PFAS, after which it ends up in the water and air. Via the environment, these substances end up in the food of, for example, fish, cows and chickens – and they eventually also end up on our plates.’

What can women do to reduce their intake of disruptive chemicals?

‘You can try to avoid perfumes, air fresheners and cosmetics that contain these substances, reduce your plastic consumption and avoid heating food in plastic microwave containers. But you can’t escape PFAS. They are everywhere.

It is therefore not fair to place this burden on the woman. The government and industry must do something about it. Yes, of course you can choose which products you use, but to truly prevent exposure, the use of these endocrine disruptors needs to be much better regulated. Steps are being taken at European level, for example to ban all PFAS, but it is happening very slowly.’

The study was conducted with Swedish and Estonian women. Is it different in the Netherlands and Belgium?

‘I want to find out. We are in contact with IVF clinics to also establish a study in the Netherlands.’

CV Majorie van Duursen
Majorie van Duursen is a professor at VU University Amsterdam. She heads the European scientific consortium FREIA, which investigates the connection between endocrine-disrupting chemicals and fertility. The results of the study were published in a professional journal Environmental studies.

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