Chemicals Found in Yoga Mats May Mess with Fertility, Study Says

Here's what you need to know—plus, where to find eco-friendly mats.

Yoga mat

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A class of flame retardants found in yoga mats may mess with female fertility, according to a recent study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The study looked at organophosphate flame retardants (PFRs), which are found in polyurethane foams used in many consumer products, including yoga mats, upholstered furniture, and, ironically, baby products. The results suggest that women with high urinary levels of PFRs may have more trouble getting and staying pregnant than women with fewer PFRs in their systems.

But the study, which was published in Environmental Health Perspectives, comes with an important caveat: It examined urine samples from 211 women undergoing in vitro fertilization at the Massachusetts General Hospital Fertility Center. That means not only that subjects were from a highly specific population sample, but that they were experiencing fertility issues at the study outset. Indeed, all of the study’s findings—high PFR levels correlated with a 10 percent lower chance of successful fertilization, a 31 percent lower chance of embryo implantation, a 41 percent lower chance of clinical pregnancy, and a 38 percent lower chance of live birth—pertain to IVF, not natural conception efforts.

Still, first author Courtney Carignan, who is now an assistant professor at Michigan State University, says in a statement that “these findings suggest that exposure to PFRs may be one of many risk factors for lower reproductive success. They also add to the body of evidence indicating a need to reduce the use of these flame retardants and identify safer alternatives.” Animal studies in zebrafish and chicken have also shown fertility consequences from PFRs, the paper notes.

The study did not take male exposure into account, nor was it able to ascertain the exact source of different PFRs in the body—so it’s not possible pinpoint your yoga mat as a specific culprit. But if you’re nervous, you may want to look into these eco-friendly options:

1. Barefoot Yoga Co. Original Eco Yoga Mat: These mats are made from natural rubber, latex, and jute fiber. No chemical additives are used. $90,

2. Manduka Eko Yoga Mat: Made from sustainably sourced tree rubber, Manduka promises that “the foaming agents used to create the eKO are non-toxic.” $88,

3. Thinksport Yoga/Pilates Mat: These mats are made of thermo plastic elastomer, keeping them free of rubber, latex, BPA, PVC, lead, phthalates, dioxins, and biologically toxic chemicals. And they’re affordable to boot. $40,