PhD Candidate Finds Seafood Consumption is Associated with Exposure to Toxic Metals in Women Undergoing in vitro fertilization

PhD Candidate Finds Seafood Consumption is Associated with Exposure to Toxic Metals in Women Undergoing in vitro fertilization

A colorful plate of seafood topped with two lemon quarters sits on top of a grey, stone table. Cutlery with brown handles lays to the right of the plate.

ALBANY, N.Y. (July 7, 2020) - Environmental Health Sciences PhD candidate Celeste Butts was first author on an academic paper that found that higher seafood consumption is associated with higher exposure to  toxic metals for women undergoing in vitro fertilization.

Human exposure to toxic trace elements such as arsenic and lead is common, occurring through diet and occupational exposures. At high levels, toxic trace elements may have detrimental effects on reproduction, and at low levels, the impact on reproductive function remains unclear—but evidence suggests associations with adverse reproductive outcomes for those who undergo in vitro fertilization.

The study, published in Environmental Research, took a novel approach to assessing human exposure to toxic trace elements, examining ovarian follicular fluid (which surrounds the developing egg cell) rather than blood or urine.

Results showed that recent and long term seafood consumption was associated with greater arsenic and mercury concentrations in follicular fluid.

“Looking at follicular fluid may better reflect concentrations that potentially affect reproductive outcomes,” says Butts. “To our knowledge, this is the first study to report that diet might be a source of toxic trace elements in follicular fluid, making it very exciting research.”

Participants of the study were undergoing in vitro fertilization at the University of California at San Francisco. Exposure to toxic trace elements was measured when the eggs were taken from participants’ ovaries. A questionnaire was then collected to gather data on daily and annual consumption of a comprehensive panel of fish, shellfish and other food items.

“While the main results present associations of toxic trace elements in follicular fluid with dietary patterns, which include a group of food items, in early analysis we found that follicular fluid toxic trace elements were also correlated with some of the individual food items,” says Butts. “For example, we found correlations between cadmium and crab consumption and arsenic with cod consumption.”

The findings may have important clinical implications, as diet can be altered to reduce potential exposure to toxic trace elements and potentially improve reproductive outcomes.