Endocrine disrupting chemicals: Impacts on human fertility and fecundity during the peri-conception period

Environ Res. 2021 Mar:194:110694. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2020.110694. Epub 2020 Dec 30.


It is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid exposure to man-made endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and environmental toxicants. This escalating yet constant exposure is postulated to partially explain the concurrent decline in human fertility that has occurred over the last 50 years. Controversy however remains as to whether associations exist, with conflicting findings commonly reported for all major EDC classes. The primary aim of this extensive work was to identify and review strong peer-reviewed evidence regarding the effects of environmentally-relevant EDC concentrations on adult male and female fertility during the critical periconception period on reproductive hormone concentrations, gamete and embryo characteristics, as well as the time to pregnancy in the general population. Secondly, to ascertain whether individuals or couples diagnosed as sub-fertile exhibit higher EDC or toxicant concentrations. Lastly, to highlight where little or no data exists that prevents strong associations being identified. From the greater than 1480 known EDCs, substantial evidence supports a negative association between exposure to phthalates, PCBs, PBDEs, pyrethroids, organochloride pesticides and male fertility and fecundity. Only moderate evidence exists for a negative association between BPA, PCBs, organochloride pesticides and female fertility and fecundity. Overall fewer studies were reported in women than men, with knowledge gaps generally evident for both sexes for all the major EDC classes, as well as a paucity of female fertility studies following exposure to parabens, triclosans, dioxins, PFAS, organophosphates and pyrethroids. Generally, sub-fertile individuals or couples exhibit higher EDC concentrations, endorsing a positive association between EDC exposure and sub-fertility. This review also discusses confounding and limiting factors that hamper our understanding of EDC exposures on fertility and fecundity. Finally, it highlights future research areas, as well as government, industry and social awareness strategies required to mitigate the negative effects of EDC and environmental toxicant exposure on human fertility and fecundity.

Keywords: IVF; Infertility; Periconception; Reproduction; Toxicant.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Endocrine Disruptors* / toxicity
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Pollutants* / toxicity
  • Female
  • Fertility
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Parabens
  • Pregnancy


  • Endocrine Disruptors
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Parabens