Polycystic ovary syndrome and environmental toxins

We discuss how environmental toxins, from several sources and through multiple routes, can affect the metabolic and reproductive features of polycystic ovary syndrome.

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Volume 106, Issue 4, Pages 948-958


Aleksandra Zofia Rutkowska, Ph.D., Evanthia Diamanti-Kandarakis, M.D., Ph.D.


Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is the most common, heterogeneous, and multifactorial endocrine disorder in premenopausal women. The pathophysiology of this endocrinopathy is still unclear; however, the heterogeneity of its features within ethnic races, geographic location, and families suggests that environment and lifestyle are of prime importance.

This work is mainly focused on the possible role of the most common and studied environmental toxins for this syndrome in the pathogenesis of PCOS. Plasticizers, such as bisphenol A (BPA) or phthalates, which belong to the categories of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and advanced glycation end products (AGEs), affect humans’ health in everyday, industrialized life; therefore special attention should be paid to such exposure.

Timing of exposure to EDCs is crucial for the intensity of adverse health effects. It is now evident that fetuses, infants, and/or young children are the most susceptible groups, especially in the early development periods. Prenatal exposure to EDCs that mimic endogenous hormones may contribute to the altered fetal programming and in consequence lead to PCOS and other adverse health effects, potentially transgenerationally. Acute or prolonged exposure to EDCs and AGEs through different life cycle stages may result in destabilization of the hormonal homeostasis and lead to disruption of reproductive functions. They may also interfere with metabolic alterations such as obesity, insulin resistance, and compensatory hyperinsulinemia that can exacerbate the PCOS phenotype and contribute to PCOS consequences such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Since wide exposure to environmental toxins and their role in the pathophysiology of PCOS are supported by extensive data derived from diverse scientific models, protective strategies and strong recommendations should be considered to reduce human exposure to protect present and future generations from their adverse health effects.

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Fertility and Sterility

Editorial Office, American Society for Reproductive Medicine

Fertility and Sterility® is an international journal for obstetricians, gynecologists, reproductive endocrinologists, urologists, basic scientists and others who treat and investigate problems of infertility and human reproductive disorders.