Increased Lead and Cadmium Levels Linked to Lower Fertility

Many couples struggle with fertility. There probably isn’t any one thing that can explain the high infertility rates, but there are a few important factors that researchers have discovered over the years. One of the most recent discoveries links increased lead and cadmium levels to lower fertility rates.

pregnant belly

Cadmium is a metal substance used in batteries, plastics and metal coatings. It is also a substance found in cigarette smoke. It is the most common exposure to cadmium in the United States today.

Lead exposure in the U.S. is most commonly linked to lead-based paints in older homes, contaminated soil or water, and lead-glazed pottery.

Both types of exposure have been linked to multiple health problems in men, women, and children. But until recently, the effect that these toxic chemicals have on fertility had not been extensively studied.

In a study that was published in the February 4th online publication of the journal Chemosphere, researchers from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and their colleagues tested the theory that leads and cadmium exposure could affect a couple’s ability to conceive. It turns out that they may have been correct.

Included in the study were 501 couples from Michigan and Texas who were trying to conceive. Women included in the study ranged in age from 18 to 44. Men in the study were at least 18 years of age. All participants were followed for one year or until pregnancy was achieved, whichever one came first.

Based on statistical measurements of blood concentration, researchers found that for each increase in the blood’s cadmium concentration level, pregnancy probability was reduced by 22 percent. For men, the probability of conception decreased 15 percent for each increased level of lead concentration in the blood.

What was really interesting about this study was that it included men. Most fertility studies are conducted solely on women. But researchers had an interesting theory when it came to including men in the study.

“[The] findings highlight the importance of assessing couples’ exposure jointly, in a single, combined measure. Males matter, because couples’ chances of becoming pregnant each cycle were reduced with increasing blood lead concentrations in men,” stated principal investigator Dr. Germaine Buck Louis, director of the division of epidemiology, statistics, and prevention research at the U.S. National Institute of Child and Health and Human Development.

“Our results indicate that men and women planning to have children should minimize their exposure to lead and cadmium,” Dr. Louis said. “They can reduce cadmium exposure by avoiding cigarettes or by quitting if they are current smokers, especially if they intend to become pregnant in the future. Similarly, they can take steps to reduce their exposure to lead-based paints, which may occur in older housing, including during periods of home renovation.”

It is important to know, however, that the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between lead or cadmium levels; only that higher levels of these toxins in the blood decrease fertility chances. Still, anyone trying to conceive could better their chances by simply reducing their exposure to both types of toxins.


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About the author


Kate Givans is a wife and a mother of five—four sons (one with autism) and a daughter. She’s an advocate for breastfeeding, women’s rights, against domestic violence, and equality for all. When not writing—be it creating her next romance novel or here on Growing Your Baby—Kate can be found discussing humanitarian issues, animal rights, eco-awareness, food, parenting, and her favorite books and shows on Twitter or Facebook. Laundry is the bane of her existence, but armed with a cup of coffee, she sometimes she gets it done.

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