Physiological aspects of female fertility: Role of the environment, modern lifestyle, and genetics

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    © 2016 the American Physiological Society.Across the Western World there is an increasing trend to postpone childbearing. Consequently, the negative influence of age on oocyte quality may lead to a difficulty in conceiving for many couples. Furthermore, lifestyle factors may exacerbate a couple’s difficulty in conceiving due mainly to the metabolic influence of obesity; however, the negative impacts of low peripheral body fat, excessive exercise, the increasing prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, and smoking all have significant negative effects on fertility. Other factors that impede conception are the perceived increasing prevalence of the polycystic ovary syndrome, which is further exacerbated by obesity, and the presence of uterine fibroids and endometriosis (a progressive pelvic inflammatory disorder) which are more prevalent in older women. A tendency for an earlier sexual debut and to have more sexual partners has led to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases. In addition, there are several genetic influences that may limit the number of oocytes within the ovary; consequently, by postponing attempts at childbearing, a limitation of oocyte number may become evident, whereas in previous generations with earlier conception this potentially reduced reproductive life span did not manifest in infertility. Environmental influences on reproduction are under increasing scrutiny. Although firm evidence is lacking however, dioxin exposure may be linked to endometriosis, phthalate exposure may influence ovarian reserve, and bisphenol A may interfere with oocyte development and maturation. However, chemotherapy or radiotherapy is recognized to lead to ovarian damage and predispose the woman to ovarian failure.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)873-909
    JournalPhysiological Reviews
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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