With infertility on the rise, and sky-high cost of fertility treatments, it's important for couples trying to conceive to explore some of the potential root causes of infertility. While lack of proper fertility-supporting nutrition could be one such cause, chemicals in our environment, food, and household products can also have an adverse effect.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are chemicals that mimic the hormones naturally produced by our body and, thereby, interfere with endocrine function. (Proper endocrine function is essential to optimal health as the endocrine system produces hormones that regulate sleep, mood, tissue function, sexual function, metabolism, and growth). Exposure to EDCs can cause the body to either over- or under-produce hormones key to positive fertility outcomes–such as estrogen and testosterone. And unbalanced hormones can impact ovulation, sperm count, and fertilization.
EDCs have been linked to health complications involving the brain, immune system, as well as, obviously, the reproductive system. When it comes to reproductive issues specifically, however, research has discovered a possible link between EDCs and conditions such as polycystic-ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, and uterine fibroids.
For those attempting to conceive, reducing exposure to EDCs is critical for optimal reproductive health (and general health, too). Let’s explore potential sources of EDCs so that you may be better able to identify and reduce exposure to these toxins:
Plastic products such as water bottles and tupperware containers contain an EDC known as Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is an industrial chemical that can also be found in canned food and on printed store receipts.
Studies have linked BPA to increased risk for miscarriage, but steps can be taken to reduce exposure such as: drinking from stainless steel bottles, using glass containers, opting for digital receipts, avoiding canned foods or ensuring cans are labeld “BPA-free.”
Cleaning and Cosmetic Products
Used as cleansing agents, sulfates are another type of EDC and can be found in shampoos, cosmetics, skincare, beauty products, as well as household cleaners. By choosing “sulfate-free” options, you can avoid these particular EDCs.
Parabens–an artificial preservative–are also found in these products. When it comes to fertility, parabens have been linked to reduced gestational age, reduced bith weight, and increased risk for miscarriage. To reduce exposure, choose products such as sunscreen, toothpaste, and deodorant without the following ingredients: methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, or proplyparaben. Or look for a “paraben-free” label.
Phthalates are chemicals also found in plastic, but can be found in beauty products with “fragrance” on their ingredients list as well. Reducing your use of plastic dishes and tupperware (and most definitely don’t microwave food in/on them!) and carefully reading ingredients labels will help reduce your exposure.
A substantial amount of EDC-free products can be found on the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website.
Unless produce is organic, it likely contains chemicals called pesticides. Pesticides are an EDC used to repel or kill bugs, plants, bacteria, or prevent mold/mildew. Opting for organic produce can substantially reduce the amount of pesticides to which you’re exposed.
The following produce contains the highest amounts of pesticides and should always be eaten organically if possible: strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peppers, cherries, peaches, pears, celery, and tomatoes (also known as the “Dirty Dozen”).
A Word on Folate
Studies show that high consumption of folate can reduce the effects of some EDCs such as phthalates and BPAs. Folate can be found in foods such as spinach, asparagus, brussel sprouts and liver, so consider incorporating them into your diet if you’re struggling with infertility. A quality prenatal vitamin will also contain folate (not folic acid).
EDCs are seemingly everywhere–from our household products to our food. The goal, however, should not be to eliminate EDC exposure completely, but to become more mindful of the products we use and food we consume so as to reduce exposure on a day-to-day basis. Even if you’re not struggling with infertility, reducing exposure can vastly improve general health.