A recent study conducted by scientists from the University of Cambridge has found that mothers who smoke during pregnancy could be harming their unborn daughters’ fertility in years to come.
Women have been warned about the risks of smoking while pregnant for years, with their offspring at risk of heart defects and other health problems. The damage this cause has gotten far more than thought and could even put a woman’s chance of having grandchildren at risk.
The study published in the FASEB science journal, is the first to suggest that girls born to women who smoked during pregnancy may struggle to have children of their own.
The researchers, who experimented with pregnant rats, due to the similar reproductive system they share with humans, found that oxygen deprivation also known as hypoxia, which happens to smokers lungs while smoking, resulted in female mouse pups born with fewer ovarian follicles.
The scientists opined that girls born to women who smoked during pregnancy will see a similar reduction in ovarian function, which they say could result in loss of fertility and earlier menopause.
To arrive at their findings, the team placed pregnant female rats in reduced levels of oxygen, 13 percent compared to the standard 21 percent found in the air, from day six to day 20 of their pregnancy.
Thereafter, the researchers examined the reproductive tract of female pups at the age of four months and found a 30 per cent decrease in the number of ovarian follicles.
According to Dr Catherine Aiken, from the department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Cambridge : “It is 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,” Aiken added.
Despite the research being carried out using rats, previous rat studies looking at oxygen deprivation during pregnancy in relation to other conditions such as heart disease have been shown to be relevant to humans, she added.
Aiken explained further by saying pregnancy conditions such as pre-eclampsia, which also result in lower oxygen levels during pregnancy, could have similar results.
“Now that we’ve seen a link between hypoxia and fertility problems in rats, we know what to look for in women,” she added. “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.”