Sign Up
Conception Mar 2, 2021
4 Minutes

Air pollution: a reason for unexplained infertility?

We know that infertility is on the rise. We also know that ‘unexplained infertility’ impacts 30% of those struggling to conceive. It can also be a devastating and frustrating diagnosis. However, a new study argues that damage from rising air pollution (specifically small particle matter) may be one factor to blame.

Unexplained infertility impacts 30% of couples struggling with fertility: 

Common reasons for infertility include: 

  • tubal/cervical malformation 
  • Issues with ovulation
  • endometriosis
  • Chromosomal abnormalities (often age/lifestyle related) 
  • Lower sperm quality

However, around 30% of couples do not have any of the issues above yet still struggle to conceive. 


As always there are many potential reasons. However air pollution has gained more recent attention as a possible causative factor behind unexplained infertility: 

Recent research has connected increasing infertility with the increase in pollutant emissions in some areas. Certain parts of Northern China are a good example of this. 

It is well documented that air pollution is responsible for many adverse health issues and this research is adding weight to its role in infertility. 

In fact, the WHO has listed air pollution as one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019. 

How could air pollution cause infertility? 

Three potential root cause areas:

  • Systemic inflammation (that’s your immune system reacting heavily and causing tissue damage – particularly vulnerable: egg/sperm cells.)
  • Oxidative stress: which in large amounts (more than can be cleaned up by antioxidants within the body) cause cell damage. 

Click here for more as to why these two wreak havoc on fertility, pregnancy and development. Plus: 

  • Hormone disruption. 

Which type of air pollution is the worst for fertility? 

The study linking air pollution with infertility talked specifically about small particle matter. This is known as: PM 2.5. This is airborne particulate matter which is less than 2.5 nano meters. Made up of a combination of solid/liquid pollutants and suspended in air. 

Common sources: car emissions, industrial processes which burn diesel/fuel plus burning of coal/wood fires. 

Indoor sources include: cleaning products, air fresheners, candles and wood burning stoves. 

How much is too much? 

The study showed that for every 10 micrograms/m3 increase the reduction of fertility was 11%.

The study was based in China – an area of higher pollution and was based on over 10,000 people. 

In English? You want as little exposure as possible!

Direct impact on infertility from air pollution: 

Research has shown a direct impact on certain important measures of fertility.

For women: egg reserve/quality:

For example; too much has been shown to impact Antral Follicle Count (number of follicles/immature eggs). Every 2 micrograms/m3 increase in PM2.5 exposure in the prior three months = reduction in AFC measurement by 7.2%. 

That is roughly a decrease equivalent to 2yrs of ageing in fertility terms!

It also seemed to hit serum AMH (a measure of ovarian reserve and quality- click here for more) and increase markers of inflammation: IL-6 and TNF. 

Prior research has also indicated potential damage to sperm DNA. 

Male fertility and air pollution: 

More research has been conducted on the links with air pollution and male fertility. The damage is more appreciated. Sperm is highly vulnerable to oxidative stress which easily damages the DNA. It has also been shown to impact other measures of sperm quality like morphology, motility and concentration. Another reason why it is so important to ask not just for a standard semen analysis but to include a DNA fragmentation test. Click here for more. 

So how can we realistically reduce the risks of infertility from air pollution?

First off is being aware of common sources of this type of air pollution in the home. Wood burning stoves are a major source (as nice as they are). Similarly things like scented candles should be kept to a minimum. 

See below for an excellent summary from 

air pollution

They also have examples of positive things we can do to improve our air quality: 

air pollution

Bottom line: its not rocket science when it comes to air pollution and infertility: 

Air pollution is no good thing. We know it is harmful to health. Research is now adding credibility that it is disruptive to the delicate balance needed for conception. Not to mention the health of a rapidly developing baby. 

We all want to breathe cleaner air and some simple proactive steps can certainly help. As always knowing your enemy is the first step!



This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.





The Journey Logo

Copyright © 2023

Welcome to The Journey

Each month we will be giving away a curated box of goodies to suit the individual stage of your Journey, worth £100. To enter the draw and join us, enter your details below. Winner announced at the end of the month.


Welcome to The Journey

Each month we will be giving away a curated box of goodies to suit the individual stage of your Journey, worth £100. To enter the draw and join us, enter your details below. Winner announced at the end of the month.


Next on your journey?