The Worst Fertility Disruptors in Your Home + How to Eliminate them
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals found in the environment that can impact your ability to conceive. These chemicals can alter the production, metabolism, and activity of hormones and are a big problem when it comes to your fertility. Fertility rates have been declining in North America for over 30 years now, and many researchers are pointing to the increase in these endocrine-disrupting chemicals as the reason why. These fertility disrupting chemicals have been linked to increased rates of endometriosis, PCOS, hypothyroidism, miscarriage and decreased quality and quantity of sperm. From toxic personal care products, to pesticide-laden produce, if you’re having a difficult time conceiving you should get rid of these fertility disrupting chemicals from your home ASAP:
Persistent Organic Pollutants
Persistent organic pollutants (aka POPs) are chemicals found in pesticides and insecticides. One of the primary reasons that pesticides should be avoided in patients experiencing infertility is because so many of them interfere with hormone metabolism. Pesticides also interfere with your thyroid gland, which is critical to maintaining pregnancy. Many POPs act as xenoestrogens, meaning they impact your endocrine system and hormone production. Xenoestrogens are synthetic compounds that mimic estrogen in the body. These xenoestrogens raise your own estrogen levels to disrupt normal hormone rhythms and high estrogen can lead to lower thyroid hormone levels. An especially dangerous POP called diazinon has toxic effects on the reproductive system and is linked to impaired sperm quality, poor IVF out comes and fertility problems. Diazinon is a mitochondrial toxin (which we already know play a huge role in fertility) and directly damage your ovaries.
When a new patient comes in for fertility support I often put them on an organic-only diet to limit exposure to these harmful POPs. Not only do they feel better when eating whole, organic foods, I also see a trend in increased numbers of natural pregnancies in patients when they switch to an organic & low pesticide diet.
Plastics / BPA
Plastics are everywhere in our homes in the form of plastic water bottles, plastic bags, tupperware containers and in the lining of canned foods. Not only is this unfortunate for the environment but it’s bad news for your fertility as well. BPAs found in plastics act like endocrine disruptors, meaning they affect hormones in both males and females to increase the rates of infertility. Plastics negatively impact male fertility with studies showing high concentrations of BPA in semen samples from infertile couples. Highest levels of plastics were most negatively associated with semen quality and resulted in more DNA damage.
When it comes to female fertility BPA and other endocrine disrupting plastics can accumulate in your follicular fluid (this is the fluid that surrounds your ovaries). Studies show that BPA exposure is associated with abnormalities in ovarian development: one study from Harvard examined over 350 human oocytes and found that BPA exposure disrupts female reproduction and plays a role in about 20% percent of unexplained infertility. Researchers concluded that increased rates of abnormal maturation in oocytes exposed to BPA is important to our understanding of the decrease in fertility reported in the last decades.
Unfortunately for your BPA-free plastic water bottles, emerging evidence tells us that BPA-free plastics are just as harmful as their BPA-filled counter parts. Your best bet is to eliminate plastics all together and never ever heat up food in a plastic container. These are my top tips for eliminate plastics from your life:
- Buy bulk! Bring a bunch of mason jars to your local bulk barn or health food store and stock up on plastic-free foods and cleaning products. Not only is this better for the environment but it also reduces your exposure to plastic containers.
- Toss plastic water bottles and instead grab a glass or stainless steel version. My favourite glass bottle comes from a company called BKR, and the stainless steel swell bottles are a great economical choice as well.
- Replace plastic Tupperware with glass, metal or good old fashioned mason jars. These are the ones we use at home.
- Purchase a glass or metal straw + a travel cutlery set to avoid plastics while dining out at restaurants. We also always bring out our own glass Tupperware containers to carry out leftovers.
- Say no to the receipt – sales receipts are a significant source of BPA. Simply ask the cashier to toss it (and please wear gloves at work if you are said cashier) or ask for an emailed copy of your receipt instead.
- Switch to organic & all natural beauty products. Conventional skin care and make up can contain BPA, and the coating material in the packaging of your beauty products can also be problematic.
Heavy metals like mercury build up easily in your body, and can freely pass through the placenta to affect your future baby’s brain development. There are also studies showing that they may impact your ability to conceive, but so far the mechanism of action is unknown. Researchers from The Chinese University of Hong Kong studied 150 infertile couples undergoing IVF and 26 fertile couples. Overall, they found that the infertile group had significantly higher blood mercury concentrations than the fertile group. A third of infertile men had abnormally high concentrations, as did one quarter of infertile women.
Fish are an excellent source of nutrients including omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D, so don’t remove fish from your diet – just be selective about the fish you eat. You can also remove the skin; this will reduce your exposure to mercury and other toxic chemicals that have accumulated in fatty layers of skin tissue. The following highly toxic fish contain high levels of mercury and should be avoid completely during preconception and pregnancy:
- Atlantic halibut
- King mackerel
- Farmed salmon
- Tuna (especially canned)
PCBs are a group of human-made chemicals that were largely banned in the 1970s due to environmental concerns. Unfortunately, PCBs are chemically stable so around 10% of those produced still exist in our environment and food supply. Before the ban, companies using PCBs were dumping them into the water where they made their way into the soil used to grow our food and feed farmed animals. PCBs are fat soluble, meaning that they’re stored in fat cells. Once the PBCs accumulate in animal cells they remain there for a long time and can even be transferred to babies through a mother’s milk. The main sources of PCBs come from our diets with research indicating the top three sources are meat, fish, and eggs.
PCBs are problematic for fertility health because they act like hormones and confuse our bodies into mistaking them for hormones. They bind to hormone receptors where they can interrupt normal hormonal function and lead to infertility. These tips can help you limit your exposure to this fertility disruptor:
- Choose lean cuts of meat and purchase organic whenever possible. PCBs are concentrating in fatty tissue so leaner cuts of meat will naturally contain less fat-soluble toxins.
- Limit your dairy intake as PCBs have been found in high amounts in cow’s milk. Non-dairy alternatives like organic almond milk, coconut milk and nut cheeses are a safer bet for your thyroid.
- Avoid farmed salmon and other commercially produced fish, which are found to have the highest levels of PCBs.
- When it comes to safe sources of PCB-free eggs, my best advice would be to raise your own backyard hens. Keeping chickens allows you to control the quality of food and water that your chickens are exposed to leading to lower levels of toxins accumulating in their eggs. If backyard chickens are not a possibility then you can reduce exposure by serving your eggs with a side of veggies. Studies of PCB exposure show that foods like vegetables, mushrooms and seaweed reduce your absorption of PCBs
Phthalates are chemical compounds that can be found in plastics and many common household products. DEHP is a particularly worrisome form of phthalate that is found in personal care products, medical devices and even your food. A new study linking DEHP to infertility found a strong relationship between male infertility and this common plasticizer. 1/3 of infertility is due to the male partner, yet we largely ignore sperm health when it comes to making a baby. This study found that phthalates disrupt the body’s hormones causing negative changes to all parameters of sperm health. Even more worrisome; researchers believe that these changes to fertility can be passed on from generation to generation. Sperm counts have dropped significantly over the past few decades and these study results suggest that a parent’s exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals can actually affect their baby’s future fertility.
You can reduce you phthalate exposure by switching to all-natural and organic personal care products. Websites like the detox market and Environmental Working Group can be wonderful resources when switching over to natural phthalate-free products. It’s also important to get rid of those plastic food containers and water bottles asap as they’re a common source of endocrine disrupting phthalates.
If you live in the GTA and want to developed your own personalized fertility protocol you’re welcome to book in for an initial consultation or contact me via my website for additional information.
- Balabanic D, Rupnik M, Klemencic AK. Negative impact of endocrine-disrupting compounds on human reproductive health. Reprod Fertil Dev. 2011;23(3):403-416.
- Johnson BL. What are the human health effects of PCBs? Clearwater News & Bulletins.
- Marques-Pinto A, Carvalho D. Human infertility: are endocrine disruptors to blame? Endocr Connect. 2013;2(3):R15-R29
This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Naturopathic doctor or primary care physician. Do not use the information in this document for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease. Always speak with your Naturopathic doctor before taking any medication or nutritional or herbal or using any treatment for a health problem. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your health care provider promptly. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking professional advice because of something you have read online.