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ALTERNATIVE MEDICINE
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Acupuncture May Help Restore Lost Sense of Smell
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ANIMAL CARE
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'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
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BONES & JOINTS
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In Elderly Women, Hip Fractures Often Follow Arm Breaks
Fractures in Older Adults Up Death Risk
CANCER
Asthmatics Who Quit Smoking May Reverse Lung Damage
Vitamin E, Selenium and Soy Won't Prevent Prostate Cancer
Some Spices Cut Cancer Risk That Comes With Grilled Burgers
CAREGIVING
With Age Comes Greater Risk of Hypothermia
Many Hospital Patients Can't ID Their Doctors
With Alzheimer's, Health-Care Costs Could Triple
CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
A Brisk Pace May Keep Stroke at Bay
Laughter Can Boost Heart Health
Common Antioxidant Might Slow Parkinson's
COSMETIC
With Psoriasis, the Internet May Offer Hope
Mouse Study Finds Molecule That Tells Hair to Grow
Wrinkle Fillers Need Better Label Warnings: FDA Panel
DENTAL, ORAL
Gummy Bears Join Cavity Fight
Holistic Dentistry-My View
A Sweet Way to Shield Baby's Teeth
DIABETES
Americans Consuming More Sugary Beverages
Older Diabetics With Depression Face Higher Death Rate
Formula Puts Doctor, Patient Glucose Readings on Same Page
DIET, NUTRITION
Keep Stress Off the Holiday Meal Menu, Expert Advises
Fruit Even Healthier Than Thought: Study Shows
Many Cancer Survivors Don't Adopt Healthy Lifestyle
DISABILITIES
Could Your Cell Phone Help Shield You From Alzheimer's?
Review Finds Marijuana May Help MS Patients
ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Disinfectants Can Boost Bacteria's Resistance to Treatment
Household Chemicals May Affect Cholesterol Levels
Air Pollution May Cause Appendicitis: Study Reveals
EYE CARE, VISION
Florida Vision Test Law: Fewer Traffic Deaths Among Elderly
Green Tea May Ward Off Eye Disease
Guard Kids' Eyes Against Long-Term Sun Damage
FITNESS
Fliers Can Keep Blood Clots at Bay
Maximize Your Run
Mom and Baby Alike May Benefit From Exercise
GASTROINTESTINAL PROBLEMS
Intestinal Bacteria Trigger Immune Response
Gum Chewing May Speed Colon Surgery Recovery
Japanese Herbals May Ease Gastro Woes
GENERAL HEALTH
Natural Oils Help Lower Body Fat For Some
Keep Fire Safety in Mind as You Celebrate
Can You Talk Your Way to Happy?
HEAD & NECK
Zen May Thicken Brain, Thwart Pain
Many Children Will Outgrow Headaches
Ski Helmets Encouraged for All
HEALTH & TECHNOLOGY
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
'Comfort Dogs' Come to Emotional Rescue
Magnet Therapy May Ease Hard-to-Treat Depression
HEARING
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Noise Hurts Men's Hearing More, Study Shows
HEART & CARDIOVASCULAR
Women Who Run May Benefit From Extra Folic Acid
Review Confirms Links Between Diet, Heart Health
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INFECTIOUS DISEASE
Swine Flu Now Reported in All 50 States
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KID'S HEALTH
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MEN'S HEALTH
Countdown to Hair Loss
Drinking Green Tea May Slow Prostate Cancer
Eating Fast Until Full Triples Overweight Risk
MENTAL HEALTH
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Memory Loss Help from Brain Supplement Prevagen
The Acne Drug Accutane More Than Doubles Depression Risk
PAIN
'Cell Phone Elbow' -- A New Ill for the Wired Age
Alleviating Rheumatoid Arthritis
Tai Chi May Help Ease Fibromyalgia
PHYSICAL THERAPY
PREGNANCY
Acupuncture May Relieve Acid Indigestation In Pregnancy
Exercise As Well As Acupuncture, May Ease Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Calcium Supplements Cut Blood Lead Levels During Pregnancy
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Video Gaming Just Might Fight Aging
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6 to 8 Hours of Shut-Eye Is Optimal for Health
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WOMEN'S HEALTH
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Broccoli May Help Battle Breast Cancer
Natural Relief for Painful Menstrual Cramps
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Flame-Retardant Chemical Linked to Conception Problems

Women who are exposed to a common chemical that's used as a flame retardant may take longer to become pregnant, a new study finds.

The chemicals, called PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), are found in a variety of products including foam furniture, electronics, fabrics, carpets, plastics and other common household items and have been linked to a variety of health problems, researchers say.

"Women with high PBDE levels were 30 to 50 percent less likely to become pregnant in any given month than women with lower levels," said lead researcher Kim Harley, an adjunct assistant professor of maternal and child health and associate director of the Center for Children's Environmental Health Research at the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health.

"Although these chemicals are being phased out of new products, they will be around for a long time," she added.

The report is published in the Jan. 26 issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

For the study, Harley's team measured PBDE levels in blood samples from 223 pregnant women who took part in a study at the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas, which looked at environmental exposures and reproduction.

Among these women, concentrations of PBDEs were slightly lower than in the general U.S. population. The researchers speculate that this may be due to the fact that many of the women grew up in Mexico where exposure to PBDEs are limited.

Limiting their analysis to women who were trying to become pregnant, Harley's group found that women with high levels of PBDE in their blood were half as likely to become pregnant in any given month. In fact, for every tenfold increase in blood levels of PBDEs, the odds of becoming pregnant were reduced 30 percent.

These findings held even after the researchers took into account exposure to pesticides, irregular menstrual cycles, frequency of intercourse, weight, use of birth control pills in the year before conception, smoking, and alcohol and caffeine use.

The reasons for the chemical's effect on pregnancy isn't clear, Harley said. Harley noted that very little research has been done in humans. However, animal studies have found a variety of health effects from these chemicals including pregnancy problems, she said.

These animal studies have found that PBDEs can harm neurodevelopment, lower thyroid hormones and change levels of sex hormones. High or low thyroid hormone levels can disrupt normal menstrual patterns in humans, Harley noted.

PBDEs became common after the 1970s with new fire-safety standards in the United States. Studies have found widespread PBDE dust in homes. These chemicals are known to leach into the environment and accumulate in human fat cells, Harley said.

Studies have found that 97 percent of Americans have detectable levels of PBDEs in their blood. These levels are 20 times higher than found in Europeans. According to Harley, Californians have some of the highest exposures to these chemicals due to strict fire laws in that state.

Harley said the best way to reduce your exposure to PBDEs is to reduce your exposure to house dust, by using a wet mop and vacuuming with a filtered vacuum cleaner and washing your hands often.

While there are some 209 different formulations of PBDEs, only three -- pentaBDE, octaBDE and decaBDE -- have been developed for commercial use as flame retardants. PentaBDE and octaBDE have both been banned in several states, including California, but are still in products made before 2004.

Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that three major manufacturers of decaBDE will phase out this product by 2013.

Although PBDEs are being phased out, other chemicals are taking their place. "We know even less about the newer flame-retardant chemicals that are coming out," Harley said. "There has been even less research on these chemicals."

Dr. George Attia, an associate professor of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, said that "there are a lot of other factors that would affect the fertility of these women, not only PBDEs."

Attia thinks these findings need to be proven in prospective studies that can control for the complicated set of factors that affect fertility.

However, Attia does not exclude the possibility these chemicals affect fertility.

"Common sense says avoid this substance, but we don't have data to substantiate that, but common sense will tell you be careful and be aware that there is something out there about this stuff," he said.

The American Chemistry Council, which represents chemical manufacturers, declined to comment on the findings.

SOURCES: Kim Harley, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor, maternal and child health, and associate director, Center for Children's Environmental Health Research, University of California Berkeley School of Public Health; George Attia, M.D., associate professor, reproductive endocrinology and infertility, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine; Jan. 26, 2010, Environmental Health Perspectives