Women who want to have children should consider moving to the countryside to improve their fertility, scientists have suggested following a new study.
Research in Italy found women living in polluted areas are likely to have a shorter window in which to conceive due to the damage done by toxic particles to their ovarian reserve.
The results showed a “reproductive disadvantage” even in areas significantly less polluted than the official European limit, which some parts of the UK regularly breach.
They corroborate recent research from the US which indicates that smoking can hasten the menopause by as much as two years.
Professor Antonio La Marca, who led the new study at the University of Modena, said: “We already knew that smoking is toxic, but now we know that air pollution may be toxic too.
“If this is true, then air pollution can be seen as a reproductive disadvantage.”
He added: “I would suggest women think twice about where to live.”
More than 1,300 women living in Modena, Northern Italy, underwent blood tests to check for levels of a hormone serum called anti-Mullerian hormone, which indicates how many sacs in the ovary are capable of releasing eggs.
In areas of high nitrogen dioxide, which comes mainly from diesel cars, women had a three-fold likelihood of having a low ovarian reserve.
Meanwhile fewer than 38 per cent of the reproductively challenged women in the study lived in the areas of lowest pollution.
While having a low ovarian reserve does not thought to mean a woman of normal child-baring age is less fertile at that given moment than a woman with a normal reserve, it does bring forward moment at which fertility begins to decline.
The research team also examined the effect of tiny pollution particles known as PM10 and PM2.5, finding that areas with the highest levels were home to nearly two-thirds of the women with low ovarian reserve.
Professor Nick Macklon, medical director of the London Women’s Clinic, said: “These results suggest that pollution can speed up biological ageing.
“Wit high enough exposures, they might reduce the time they [women] are fertile.
“That is something women should be mindful of, if they are exposed to pollution day in, day out.”
The research was presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology annual conference in Vienna.