French Study Shows Air Pollution Affects Women’s Health

Olivier Monod reports in Libération on the results of a French research project that show a correlation between peaks in local air pollution and disruption of women’s menstrual cycles, linking the study to a burgeoning international interest in environmental impacts on women's health and reproduction.*

Article source: "L'impact de la pollution et du réchauffement sur les hormones féminines", Olivier Monod, Libération, 17/01/2020*

Some of the effects of air pollution on human health are still unknown. “Researchers initially focused on how air pollution affects mortality and cardiovascular or respiratory conditions in adults. This is because it is easier to collect a significant amount of data on factors that are routinely monitored by health systems,” explains Rémy Slama, researcher at Inserm, a scientific institute operating under the authority of the French ministries of health and research.

But lately researchers have started to focus more and more on less obvious effects, especially those related to women’s health. Rémy Slama, for example, wanted to find out whether or not air pollution could have an effect on menstrual cycles. The researcher explains that this theory did not come out of the blue, and that they “have evidence to suggest that conceiving a baby takes more time for couples living in polluted environments.”

But studying women’s menstrual cycles is more complicated than it might seem. In order to analyse natural cycles, the first step is to find women who do not use hormonal contraception. Luckily, in France there is a fertility survey project called the Observatoire de la fertilité, whose representatives called 64,000 homes at random, and selected 16,000 women — aged between 18 to 44. They asked the women to take part in regular interviews. Out of one thousand survey participants who were not on hormonal contraception, 184 of them agreed to post regular urine samples to Rémy Slama’s laboratory.

Their findings showed that a 10 µg/m3 increase in the concentration of fine particulates (PM10) in the air during the thirty day period preceding the cycle corresponded with an average delay of ovulation of 1.6 days. While a 10 µg/m3 increase in nitrogen dioxide was associated with a delay of 0.7 days. These results were published in the journal Environmental Pollution. Rémy Slama explains that these numbers are “not considered definitive proof because the sample size was too small, but they are consistent with the known effects of air pollution on human hormonal systems. They are also consistent with tests in mice.” His forthcoming research will deal with the effects of pollution on foetal development.

Another study recently published in the British journal, Nature Climate Change, and led by Alan Barreca, an associate professor at UCLA’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability, has analysed the link between heatwaves and the risk of premature labour. The results show that the number of births per day increases by 5% when the temperature exceeds 32.2°C, according to US data for the period between 1969 and 1988. High temperatures can affect childbirth in many ways, such as increasing the production of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for inducing labour. It can also cause cardiovascular stress and sleep disruption, thus affecting the mother’s overall health.

So both global heating and pollution have specific effects on women’s health. Barreca says that he wants to know how society can help to protect pregnant women on low incomes or those who have no access to air-conditioning. “This is another case where climate change is actually an economic justice issue,” he told UCLA’s student newspaper, The Daily Bruin, “the people that are economically capable will be able to adapt, but other people won’t.”


* There is already a (laughable) English version of this article available here: This kind of machine translation of mainstream journalism is becoming increasingly prevalent online. The products remain extremely poor and are of highly dubious informative value, not merely because they provide patently terrible local translations, such as the first sentence in this case: "Tous les jours, retrouvez le Fil vert, le rendez-vous environnement de Libération." translated as "Every day, find the Green thread, the environment meeting of Release.", but because the algorithms involved clearly don't understand the structures of journalism at all. How else could this obviously external / editorial sentence be presented as if it were the lede in the journalist's copy?


Translated by Léa Glorieux, Eugénie Dufeu and Barbara Lepeltier.

Editing by Sam Trainor.

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