My approach with any couple trying to get pregnant is multi-dimensional. To understand the appropriate evaluation and common underlying causes of infertility, be sure to read over my blog titled Infertility Part I. My focus on my next series of blogs is to discuss the environmental impact and role that specific toxins can play on fertility specifically. By explaining which chemicals have been associated with impairing reproductive health, I am hopeful that you will be able to recognize if any of these are a part of your life and work on removing them.
The toxins that affect fertility have their own name in the literature known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). They have been shown to interfere with the production and regulation of our own hormones, primarily affecting reproductive function. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals have been shown to manipulate the ovaries and alter binding of the hormone at the receptor level, sending mixed messages. Disruptions in the normal ovarian function by these EDCs can lead to irregular cycling preventing ovulation and infertility, causing estrogen deficiency, premature ovarian failure, and poor egg quality, among others. The deleterious effects of the EDCs are not gender specific. These endocrine disruptors have been linked to causing sperm abnormalities, including sterility.
The following chemicals have been tagged as EDCs and are going to be my focus for my next several blogs: plasticizers (BPA and phthalates), pesticides (DDT and its metabolite DDE), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and herbicides (Roundup and 2,4- D).
PLASTICIZERS, BPA, and PHTHALATES:
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a plasticizer found in reusable plastic containers, soup, and beverage can liners, and dental sealants among others. Plasticizers are a problem as they will leach from the products into the food and beverages that we consume. Animal studies have shown that this chemical has been found in the follicles (eggs) in the ovaries. BPA specifically has been shown to inhibit the growth of the follicles and decrease production of progesterone, DHEA, estrogen, and testosterone.
The other popular chemical, phthalates, have been known to affect fertility for both women and men. Phthalates are ubiquitous. They are in most personal care and household products like perfumes, cologne, nail polish, lotions, shampoos, make-up, household fresheners, dryer sheets, and most cleaning products. Phthalates are chemicals that are used in fragrances to enhance the scent which when inhaled or applied topically to the skin get absorbed into the bloodstream. Any time fragrance is listed as an ingredient it is most likely a phthalate. Another common source of phthalate exposure is plastic water bottles and food storage containers, which when warmed, leach into your food and water.
The medical concerns associated with phthalates are many. I am only relaying the connection of phthalates to infertility in this blog, but there are many other negative implications on health, including breast cancer and endometriosis. Animal studies have shown that when rats are exposed to phthalates fertility is impaired and there is an increase in mid-pregnancy miscarriages. Fish exposed to phthalates produced far fewer embryos, and have impaired ovulation. These studies are showing that not only are these phthalates disrupting the hormone production necessary for conception but it is also lowering the quality of the follicles (eggs).
To reduce phthalate exposure you must first be aware and then make a conscious effort to change over your current products. You can start evaluating your current beauty products by plugging them into www.cosmeticdatabase.org to determine how toxic they are. You can also peruse some of my other blogs, specifically on safe soaps, cleaning products, etc. to get more specific alternatives. The best way to avoid BPA is to limit your canned products as it lines all canned products and even boxes of cartons of milk and soup. Ideally eat fresh, non-processed foods as much as possible. If fresh vegetables and fruits aren’t possible then frozen is the next best option.
Here is my list of alternatives to the everyday beauty and household products:
Switch from plastic to either a glass or steel water bottle. Whole Foods sells several types. Pyrex makes several glass container Tupperware products that can be purchased anywhere.
For a great less toxic nail polish try the Zoya nail polish brand. They have a great selection and they work amazingly well.
For a good clean lotion, try Hugo Naturals’ brand of lotions. I really like the oatmeal and grapefruit ones. The scents are mild so they aren’t overpowering for my chemically sensitive patients.
Be mindful of your cleaning products as well which usually contain synthetic fragrances. I use either a mixture of water and vinegar and have recently tried a new product I like called Nature’s Paradise multi-purpose cleaner. To see some of my other suggestions read my blog on cleaning products.
Deodorants are not only filled with phthalates but also aluminum and other harsh chemicals. It can be difficult to find a less toxic effective deodorant and I have found two that work well: Terressentials Organic Deodorant unscented and Aubrey’s E Plus High C roll-on.
This all may seem overwhelming because it is. My advice is to slowly change out some of your current products for safer ones. This will not only impact you but others around you. Because there is a lot more information to share with you I have decided to break this topic up into several blogs, so look for more discussion on the other endocrine disruptor chemicals shortly.