Environmental Chemicals & Infertility
EDCs are known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Over the last 40 years, these chemicals’ detrimental effects on fertility have become a hotly debated topic. This is mainly due to the increasing number of EDCs we find in our modern society. EDCs are found in many everyday items that we use, including; plastic containers, food products and personal care products, and others commonly used in agricultural and industrial manufacturing processes.
How Does Exposure To These Chemicals Reduce Your Fertility?
Evidence suggests that these EDCs can have adverse effects on both male and female fertility. Some EDCs may affect various sperm parameters such as sperm count, quality, and motility for males. In females, they can negatively affect oestrogen levels and increase failed fertilisation and implantation rates, which means that exposure can cause reduced IVF success.
What Chemicals Should You Avoid, And How Can You?
Stop using BPA containing products.
BPA stands for Bisphenol-A. It is one of the most commonly produced chemicals globally as it is used to make many plastics and resins. BPA is commonly found in many everyday products, including plastic drink bottles, plastic containers, sales receipts, the plastic lining of aluminium cans and dental fillings.
BPA often leeches from plastics into the food or drinks after heating. And in turn, when drinking from a plastic water bottle that you left in the car on a hot day or consuming foods in a plastic container that you heat the food in the microwave, you can end up ingesting the chemicals.
BPA exposure has been associated with infertility as higher BPA levels have been found in women experiencing infertility. Studies in females have found that BPA exposure may negatively affect egg quantity and quality, blastocyst formation and implantation success rates, and increase the risk of miscarriage.
In men, a relation has been found between higher levels of BPA and increased chances of sexual dysfunction. High BPA exposure may negatively impact sperm count, motility and concentration.
This can all sound a little overwhelming, and it is impossible to eliminate all sources of BPA, but there are some easy ways to reduce your exposure to BPA.
- Avoid soft plastic drink bottles and ensure that they are labelled as BPA free when you purchase reusable plastic drink bottles and food containers.
- Avoid heating your food in containers or covering them with plastic wrap when heating them.
- Opting for fresh foods rather than canned goods is another great way to lower exposure.
- Opting out shopping receipts and asking for electronic copies can also help.
Reduce consumption of foods that are high in pesticides.
Pesticides are a type of EDC that is commonly used in agricultural production that is used to protect plants from pests. This includes weeds, insects and fungus.
There are four types of pesticides, they are insecticides, herbicides, fumigants and fungicides. Pesticides are used in many fresh fruits and vegetables to protect the food products being grown. However, consuming fresh fruits and vegetables that contain high amounts of pesticide residue left on fresh produce can lead to an increased risk of cancer, immunological issues and adverse reproductive outcomes.
Each year the EWG releases the Dirty Dozen – a list of the 12 fruit and vegetables that contain the highest amounts of pesticides. In 2022 strawberries, kale, spinach, and apples were some of the top contenders.
It is understood that the reason these chemicals have an impact on fertility is due to their ability to alter hormone regulation. In males, high pesticide intake can lower testosterone levels and changes in sperm count, volume, motility and morphology.
In a group of infertile women undergoing IVF, one study found that increased pesticide residue intake was associated with a reduced likelihood of live birth. Women in the study who ate more than two servings of fruits and vegetables containing pesticides each day, compared to those who ate an average of one serving per day, were 18% less likely to get pregnant and 26% less likely to give birth.
The best way to reduce your intake of pesticides is
- Consume organic fruits and vegetables when possible; however, we also understand that it is not always the most budget-friendly option. So start with the foods that are listed in the Dirty Dozen list.
- Knowing which fruits and vegetables are low-pesticide options is also a great strategy. The EWG’s Clean 15 is a great place to start to find out which fresh produce is the safest to consume.
- Buy more fruits & vegetables from the local farmers’ market that uses organic farming methods.
Avoid using products containing phthalates.
Phthalates are the collective name for a group of artificial chemicals that have a range of uses in industry and production. They are commonly used as plasticisers, meaning they help make plastic more durable and flexible. Phthalates can also be used as solvents to dissolve other materials.
Products that often contain phthalates include vinyl wall and floor coverings, plastic food packaging, lacquers, varnishings, children’s toys, medical devices, air fresheners and personal care products such as shampoo, perfume and cosmetics. Exposure to phthalates generally occurs through ingestion of contaminated food and water, absorption across the skin, and inhalation.
Several studies have found that high exposure to phthalates in men reduces testosterone and oestradiol levels. Additionally, others found it associated with poor sperm quality, motility and concentration and morphology.
Studies looking at the specific DEHP (Diethylhexyl phthalate) effects in women found that high DEHP levels were associated with an increased risk of preterm birth and inter-uterine growth restriction. An associate link was found in women undergoing IVF treatment between increased DEHP levels, reduced total oocyte yield, and a lower probability of achieving pregnancy and having a live birth. Some studies have additionally found an association between DEPH levels and reproductive disorders such as endometriosis, PCOS and uterine fibroids.
A great way to begin reducing your exposure to phthalates is:
- Choose personal care products such as soaps, shampoos, conditioners and laundry detergents/fabric softeners that a phthalate-free.
- Looking for products like fragrance-free air refreshers rather than unscented ones is another excellent place to start, as chemicals can be used to hide scents in unscented products.
- Check to ensure the perfumes you purchase are ‘clean’ and phthalate-free. These are considered much safer for your skin and can help reduce exposure through inhalation.
- Begin checking that your beauty and cosmetic products are phthalate-free when purchasing new products.
Now you have a greater understanding of how these harmful chemicals can affect fertility. It’s time to take action to reduce your exposure to them.
Need More Help?
For more information on how you can best prepare your body for the pregnancy and increase your fertility, book a Free 15-Minute Discovery Call with Dietitian Catherine Chong to discover how our service can help.
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