Whether you are new to the world of fertility or you’ve been trying to conceive for years, if you haven’t considered your environmental exposures and their role in fertility and hormonal health it is time to do so.
There is a class of toxins known at endocrine or hormone disruptors that can play a negative role in both overall health as well as in fertility.
In this article you will learn
- how these toxins impact your fertility
- where to find them
- ways to help reduce your exposure
- how to improve your body’s ability to eliminate them.
- Nutrients that will help protect your body from the negative impacts
There are 2 types of hormone disrupting chemicals – persistent and non-persistent. Non-persistent chemicals are generally easier for your body to break down and eliminate. They also will usually breakdown in nature or landfill sites overtime. Persistent chemicals are generally more difficult for your body to metabolize and remain in the environment for decades unchanged.
Examples of non-persistent endocrine disrupting chemicals
Bisphenol A (BPA)
Examples of persistent endocrine disrupting chemicals
Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs)
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
Organochlorine pesticides (DDE and DDT)
We know we are exposed to many of these chemicals on a daily basis. Some are easier to avoid then others. This list is not meant to make you panic but to begin to draw awareness to the exposures that we can control.
How do these toxins impact your fertility?
Non-persistent endocrine disruptors generally have a short half life which means they will break down and don’t stay around long term. These are also generally easier for your body to detoxify and get rid of via sweat, urine or feces however there is some research showing even these toxins can accumulate in the body. There is a significant amount of research that shows there is a dose dependent association with different aspects of fertility. This means that higher exposure will cause more concerns then low levels of exposure.
BPA is a compound used to make epoxy resins found in food storage containers, lacquer lining of food and beverage cans, water pipes as well as polycarbonate used to make hard plastic items.
BPA is a toxin that imitates estrogen in the body. In a study looking at what toxins can pass through the planta to the developing baby, BPA was found in 9 out of 10 samples of babies’ cord blood. This means it does pass through the placenta to the baby while we are pregnant.
BPA can contribute to conditions such as endometriosis, fibroids, fibrocystic breasts and premenstrual syndrome. There are specific fertility-based studies that have shown a dose dependant (the higher the dose the larger the negative impact) effect of BPA having a negative impact on folliculogenesis – development of the egg, as well as on implantation. So, for women trying to achieve pregnancy both are aspects that can be detrimental. Studies in men have shown also a dose dependent effect with higher levels of BPA showing reduced sperm quality and antioxidant levels in the seminal fluid.
How can you minimize your exposure?
- Minimizing canned foods and focusing on fresh ones (unless they are labeled BPA free) since most metal-lined food storage containers will usually contain BPA.
- Avoid containers made of hard plastics marked either PC for polycarbonate or recycling label #7, as these often will contain BPA.
- Never microwave in plastic containers or wrap – heating of plastic can cause the BPA to leach into your food.
- If you don’t need them, avoid taking receipts when making purchases as thermal paper used in machines is often coated with BPA
BPA has been recognized by the Canadian Health Organization as a hormone disruptor and policies have been put in place to remove BPA from some products including baby bottles. Some manufactures have taken it upon themselves to remove BPA from other products such as hard plastic water bottles. They are usually labeled BPA free if that is the case, so if they aren’t labeled the product likely is not free of BPA.
BPA gets eliminated from the body via urine and feces but also a significant amount via sweat. Sweating seems to be one of the most efficient ways to help our bodies eliminate several of the non-persistent hormone disruptors including BPA.
It doesn’t matter what activity you choose to help with sweating. I will often recommend to patients to chose either an activity they really enjoy and if they aren’t a big fan of traditional exercise to try some different options for example Zumba, a new dance class or hot yoga.
Using a sauna is also a great option for detoxification. This should only be used before pregnancy in preparation not during pregnancy as this can be dangerous to the developing baby.
There are some nutrients that can help minimize the negative effects of BPA on reproduction.
CoQ10 is a powerful antioxidant. It has been shown in animal studies to minimize the negative impact of BPA on sperm. It does so by increasing the antioxidant glutathione and the activity of an important enzyme called superoxide dismutase that helps clear free radicals created by BPA and other hormone disruptors.
CoQ10 also has great research in women showing it does concentrate in follicular fluid to help minimize the damage to developing eggs.
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is a precursor that your liver uses to make an antioxidant called glutathione. When it comes to antioxidant ability glutathione is our most powerful ally. It helps to clear free radicals that can damage DNA for both egg and sperm. In a mouse study BPA was shown to impact both fertilization rates and the formation of blastocytes. When the mice where also given NAC this reduced the negative impact that BPA on these 2 parameters.
Phthalates are one of the biggest concerns when it comes to reproductive health. Phthalates have been linked to thyroid irregularities, irregular menstrual cycles, birth defects in the male reproductive system, lower sperm counts and less mobile sperm.
How do you limit your exposure?
- Looking at your personal care products as phthalates are found in many of these products usually listed in the ingredients as “fragrance”. These can include products such as perfumes, soaps, body washes, shampoos, conditioners, lip gloss, antiperspirant, and deodorant.
- Phthalates are also found in most plastic food containers, some children’s toys (some have been banned from children’s products) as well as in plastic wrap made from PVC or items labeled recycling #3.
This site reviews hundreds of personal care products and gives them a ranking based on the toxicity level of the ingredients it contains. It will also explain what ingredient the products contain that led to a poor ranking, for example if they are endocrine disrupting or if they may contribute to cancers or diabetes.
As mentioned above different antioxidants such as CoQ10 and NAC can also be helpful for eliminating phthalates. Sweating is also a great mechanism for excretion of these harmful compounds.
Persistent hormone disruptors or persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are extremely problematic with regards to reproduction. They can impact hormones by exhibiting estrogenic, antiestrogenic, androgenic or antiandrogenic properties. So essentially you can see concerns with all sex hormones either increasing or decreasing. They have even been linked to primary ovarian insufficiency.
These toxins such as DDT and PCBs have extremely long half lives which means they bioaccumulate in the environment and in the food chain. A lot of this class have known negative health effects and have been banned for years. We still however get exposed to them through food products such as meats, fish and dairy.
To protect yourself from POPs changing your diet to increase your intake of omega 3 fatty acids (from smaller fish with low toxicity) and improving the balance of omega 3 to 6 fatty acids has a significant positive impact on reducing the inflammatory damage causes by these toxins. Research has also found that the antioxidant found in green tea called EGCG is very protective as are Vitamin C and E. Making dietary changes to ensure higher intake of these nutrients or speaking to your Naturopathic doctor or health professional about supplementation is a great idea.
We know we are continually exposed to a plethora of toxins and can’t possibly avoid them all. The good news is that minimizing exposures does offer positive health outcomes when it comes to both overall health as well as reproduction.
Overall supporting your body’s ability to eliminate toxins via all available pathways will go a long way to supporting a healthy pregnancy.
This would include ensuring proper hydration. Hydration is critical for your body to be able to continual deal with the toxin exposures you are bombarded with daily. The easiest way to tell if you are drinking enough water is to check the colour of your urine. If it is clear to pale yellow you are likely drinking enough.
You also want to optimize other routes of detoxification. These include your digestive system, liver and kidney function as well as your lymphatics.
In terms of digestive health, it is important to be having at least two bowel movements daily. Movements should be easy to pass, in a log shape and not contain blood or mucous. If this is not the way your digestive system is currently working, you may need to explore potential foods that may be creating inflammation in your digestive system.
There are also foods such as root vegetables including beets, sweet potatoes, yams, parsnips as well as greens such as parsley, cilantro and dandelion that will assist the liver to function more efficiently. Including more in your diet will be a tremendous help for your body to move toxins out.
We live in an extremely toxic world and this toxicity may be a contributing factor to the increasing rates of infertility. Minimizing your exposure and improving your body’s ability to eliminate these toxins will encourage your body to work optimally to regulate your hormones and overall health.
Body Burden: Pollution in newborns. http://www.ewg.org/research/body-burden-pollution-newborns; July 14, 2005.
Dr. Jodie Peacock is a Naturopathic doctor and author of Preconceived. A book written as a step by step guide to optimizing your health and fertility. It is available at www.enhancefertility.ca or on amazon.