How Does the Environment Impact Child Development and Reproductive Health?

By WBASNY’s Environmental Law Committee

What can WBASNY members do to protect themselves and their families? A recent news story from Harvard’s School of Public Health, (How Our Environment Impacts Reproductive Health) contains this information from Professor Carmen Messerlian:

“Early life exposures can also impact your reproductive health as you age, through perimenopause and menopause and beyond for women, and also across life for men. In children and teenagers, exposures to certain chemicals, foods, social environments, or stress can affect the rate at which your body matures.  They can either accelerate or delay pubertal progression. These changes can affect both fertility and overall health across the life course. In women, the number of years we menstruate can affect our brain, heart, and bone health. Environmental exposures can influence our menstrual cycles, our fertility potential, and the age at which we reach menopause. We also have some work showing that women who enter menopause earlier have more precipitous cognitive decline, their brains age differently, and they have increased risk for age-related diseases.”

Professor Messerlian has this advice about how people can protect themselves from dangerous exposures that may affect their ability to conceive, maintain a pregnancy, or have a healthy child:

(1) Do not use any products on your skin or in your home that have scent or color. Professor Messerlian lists these beauty and cleaning products as examples: cleaning supplies, detergents, dryer sheets, soaps, deodorants, face and body creams, and car deodorizers. She notes “Those products [with scent or color] have phthalates and phenols in them. Phthalates have been shown to harm reproductive health and affect a baby’s brain, immune system, reproductive health, and development during pregnancy, and phenols have been linked with decreases in brain and heart health and immune function, adverse birth outcomes, and pregnancy loss.”

(2) Reduce exposure to chemicals from food by: buying organic if possible; eating more fresh fruits, vegetables and plant-based proteins and less processed foods and meat; reducing the amount of takeout/prepared foods (many food containers have PFAS chemicals); not cooking foods in “microwaveable” plastic or any other type of plastic; and filtering your water.

More information is in the Harvard news story link above, and in a series of educational prevention pamphlets that Professor Messerlian’s team produced (download them here.)

WBASNY members should also take note of studies showing an increased risk of cancer from certain products that many women use (chemical hair straighteners and permanent hair dyes). The next newsletter will contain an article with more information about those studies. For those who want to look onto this more closely right now, here are links to information about these studies from the National Institutes for Health: chemical hair straighteners and uterine cancer and permanent hair dyes, chemical hair straighteners and breast cancer.

More information is in the Harvard news story link above, at Professor Messerlian’s Instagram @drmesserlian, and in a series of educational prevention pamphlets that Professor Messerlian’s team produced (download them at