Toxins and Fertility
Toxins in our personal habits, in our diets, and in our environment play a role in fertility. Many toxins are endocrine disrupters that upset both men and women's natural hormonal balance. Read our article on BPA, one of the most publicized toxins. Scientists are detecting a wide range of not only industrial chemicals, but prescription medicines and heavy metals in human blood, seminal fluid and fluids in the follicule and uterus. And we are exposed to these chemicals in water, air, food, household chemicals and personal care products.
Toxins and the Female Reproductive System
Let's look first at how a woman's menstrual cycle is regulated by hormones. In the first part of the menstrual cycle, the follicular phase, the immmature egg develops in the ovaries. This cycle ends with ovulation and marks the beginning the the luteal phase. In the luteal phase the egg moves to the uterus wall where it is nourished and made ready for fertilization.
If either of these phases is disrupted in some way then the process of fertilitzation cannot be completed.
Endocrine disruption in women is associated with endometriosis and poor ovary health. Endocrine disrupting chemicals, such as BPA, BPS, DDT, and chemicals in plastics, and pesticides are to be found in women's blood and uterine fluids.
Toxins and the Male Reproductive System
As in the overall trend, scientists are noting a ominous increase in male infertility with decreased sperm quantity, quality and/or motility. Researchers have observed an increasing association between sperm health and levels of industrial chemicals such as PCBs and BPA in urine samples. In addition, some of these chemicals can cross the blood-testis barrier which ordinarily protects the testis from contamination.1
These are the chemicals, like BPA, that you've heard so much about. They are industrial chemicals found in many products that gradually leach out or otherwise make their way into the environment and our food. There are plastics that are "BPA-free" but these have other chemicals that seem to behave in much the same way. See: http://www.ewg.org/research/dirty-dozen-list-endocrine-disruptors
Endodrine disrupters are also found in many personal care products such as makeup, shampoo, nail polish, skin lotion, etc. A good place to check to see whether your personal care products contain endocrine disrupters or other toxins is the Environmental Working Group website: www.ewg.org/skindeep/
Like endocrine disrupters, heavy metals such as lead, mercury and cadmium are now found in almost everyone's blood. The levels might be minute, but can give rise to a host of problems, including infertility and gene mutations.
Toxins in Cigarette Smoke
Probably the most significant thing you can do to improve fertility and protect your unborn child is to stop smoking.
The British Medical Association reported2:
- Men who smoke have a lower sperm count and a higher proportion of malformed sperm
- Women who smoke take longer to conceive
- Women who smoke are twice as likely to be infertile as non smokers
- Men and women who smoke have a poorer response to fertility treatment
- Women who have stopped smoking take no longer to become pregnant than those who have never smoked
- Stopping smoking improves sperm count and quality
Smoking cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco and social drugs have been well documented to have a negative effect on fertility and infant health. Smoking affects not only your fertility, but the fertility of your children (but not your grandchildren).3
While we tend to think of pesticide exposure being mostly among farmers, if we or our neighbors use insecticides and herbicides in our city or suburbian lawn, home or garden, we are exposed to pesticides. Many city parks and golf courses use pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides, all of which make their way into our air, water, and food.
Most farm workers have lower sperm counts. Researchers have found that a number of semen health indicators (motility, quantity, integrity, quality) are lower in men who have been exposed to pesticides. 4
Men experiencing infertility were found to be employed in agriculture/pesticide related jobs 10 times more often than a study group of men not experiencing fertility problems.5
On the other hand, in a study of Danish greenhouse workers, an unexpectedly high sperm count was found among organic farmers. Their sperm count was more than twice as high in those men as in a control group of blue-collar workers, suggesting that consuming organically grown foods may enhance fertility.6
We may feel that it is hopeless to try to avoid all of these contamination sources. However, we start at home by using safe home and personal care products and eating organic food.
Chemicals used in industry, in businesses such as refinishing companies and dry cleaners expose both men and women to a wide variety of dangerous chemicals.
Just one example: miscarriage increases in women (2.1 to 4.7 times) after exposure to chemical solvents. The major risk chemicals were those used in dry-cleaning, paint, paint thinners and paint strippers.7
- Avoid contact with insecticides, pesticides and herbicides (see www.ewg.org/foodnews/).
- Avoid chemicals used in household chores such as cleaners and cleanser, paint and paint remover (see www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/).
- Avoid chemicals in personal care products such as hair dyes and nail polish remover (see www.ewg.org/skindeep/).
- Avoid artificial lubricants and douches. Some non-contraceptive lubricants are as toxic as spermicides.
- Avoid chemicals in sunscreens (see www.ewg.org/sunscreen/).
1. A. Marques-Pinto, D. Carvalho, Human infertility: are endocrine disruptors to blame? Endocrine Connection Magazine, September, 2013.
2. Smoking and Reproductive Life, British Medical Association, 2004
3. N.J. Camlin, A.G. Jarnicki, et al, Grandmaternal smoke exposure reduces female fertility in a murine model, with great-grandmaternal smoke exposure unlikely to have an effect, Human Reproduction, June, 2017
4. L.Miranda-Conteras, I. Cruz, et al, Effects of occupational exposure to pesticides on semen quality of workers in an agricultural community of Merida state, Venezuela, Investigacion Clinicia, June, 2015.
5. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, Vol 24; 587-592, 1983
6. A. Abell, E. Ernst, et al, High sperm density among members of organic farmers’ association, Lancet 1994
7. American Journal of Industrial Medicine Vol 20; 241-249, 1991