Associations between human internal chemical exposure to Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) outcomes: Systematic review and evidence map of human epidemiological evidence

Reprod Toxicol. 2021 Oct;105:184-197. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2021.09.005. Epub 2021 Sep 10.


The impact of environmental chemicals like persistent organic pollutants (POPs) on reproductive health is still poorly understood, despite the high societal and economical costs. The aim of the present study was to systematically review and evaluate the human evidence on the associations between internal levels of POPs and in vitro Fertilization (IVF) outcomes among women. We applied a protocol based on the National Toxicology Program Office of Health Assessment and Translation's guidelines for the study search, selection and quality assessment. Fifteen studies were finally retained in the present work. The results showed that main families of POPs are still pervasive in follicular fluid and serum of women undergoing IVF treatments. Globally, we found inconsistent findings across studies for specific exposure-outcome dyads, suggesting that adverse effects of POPs on IVF outcomes cannot be ruled out. Specifically, there is evidence that POPs, notably some polychlorinated biphenyls and organochlorine pesticides, may impair embryo quality and pregnancy rates. Most studies have been performed in small cohorts (n<50) and focused on PCBs and OCPs, whereas major research gaps remain for emerging compounds (e.g. perfluoroalkylated substances) and the most clinically relevant outcome, live birth rate. The overall evidence presented 'serious' or 'very serious' risk of bias, mainly due to the lack of consideration of relevant confounding variables, low sample size or underreporting of methods. Globally, we judged the level of evidence being "low". Given the high economical and societal costs associated to infertility and IVF, further well-designed research is urged to fill the highlighted gaps.

Keywords: Biomarkers; Follicular fluid; In vitro fertilization; Infertility; Persistent organic pollutants; Systematic review.