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Smoking and Pre-Eclampsia May Lead To Fertility Issues for Offspring

Study suggests that hypoxia, resulting from smoking or pre-eclampsia, are likely to cause problems with fertility later in life.

A team of researchers from the University of Cambridge found that low levels of oxygen in the womb of rats led to them having advanced ageing of the ovaries and fewer eggs available. According to Dr. Catherine Aiken from the University of Cambridge, “It’s as if low levels of oxygen caused the female’s ovarian tissue to age faster. Biologically, the tissue appears older and the female would run out of eggs; in other words, become infertile at a younger age.”

Intrauterine hypoxia occurs when the fetus is deprived of an adequate supply of oxygen. It could result from a variety of reasons such as maternal obesity, living in high altitudes, and smoking during pregnancy. Previous research has established the condition to adversely affect fetal health and have potential, long term effects on the offspring’s health. The current study, however, is the first to show it affecting fertility. Dr. Aiken pointed out that despite the fact that the research was carried out in rats, the findings could be still applicable to humans.

The researchers acknowledge that smoking can be consciously avoided during pregnancy, however other conditions such as pre-eclampsia and living in a high altitude which lead to hypoxia are beyond the individual’s control. “Now that we’ve seen a link between hypoxia and fertility problems in rats, we know what to look for in women,” Dr. Aiken says. “If the same turns out to be true for them, then women at risk will be able to take action: by having children earlier in life or looking to assisted reproduction, such as IVF, there should be no reason why these women cannot have children.”

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