If you are after the basic top tips on how to reduce chemical exposure in your life and can’t be bothered reading all the info, skip to the bottom :)
Chemicals are everywhere, they are part of our reality and our everyday life in 2021. Chemicals are in things ranging from the obvious such as fertiliser, cleaning products, detergents etc to the not so obvious – furniture, food additives, plastics, make-up, toys and much more. Chemicals are involved in the processing of almost all products you come into contact with daily. In fact trying to find specific data on the amount of commercial and general chemicals in use today is very difficult, results range from 85,000 up to 220,000 different types of chemicals, many of these chemicals cannot be accurately defined nor is their safety data fully known (Janet Pelley, 2020). According to the WHO in 2004, 17 years ago, an estimated 4.9million deaths (8.3% of all deaths) were due to chemical and environmental exposure (“WHO | Chemicals,” n.d.).
So, what exactly are endocrine disrupting chemicals and how do they impact how health and fertility?
Endocrine disrupting Chemicals (EDC’s) are chemicals that may mimic and interfere with our body’s natural hormones which are produced by our endocrine system. EDC’s have been linked with developmental, reproductive, brain, immune, digestive, cardiovascular and respiratory issues. EDC’s are found in everyday products, as mentioned above.
Some EDC’s are slow to break down in the environment and some may never fully break-down.
Common EDC’s you may have heard of include:
Bisphenol A (BPA) — used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, which are found in many plastic products including food storage containers
Dioxins — produced as a by-product in herbicide production and paper bleaching, they are also released into the environment during waste burning and wildfires
Perchlorate — a by-product of aerospace, weapon, and pharmaceutical industries found in drinking water and fireworks
Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) — used widely in industrial applications, such as firefighting foams and non-stick pan, paper, and textile coatings
Phthalates — used to make plastics more flexible, they are also found in some food packaging, cosmetics, children’s toys, and medical devices
Phytoestrogens — naturally occurring substances in plants that have hormone-like activity, such as genistein and daidzein that are in soy products, like tofu or soy milk
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) — used to make flame retardants for household products such as furniture foam and carpets
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) — used to make electrical equipment like transformers, and in hydraulic fluids, heat transfer fluids, lubricants, and plasticizers
Triclosan — may be found in some anti-microbial and personal care products, like liquid body wash
(NIEHS, n.d.; Olea & Fernandez, 2007)
After female age the 2nd biggest factor of infertility in Australia (and most likely extrapolated to other Western societies) is male factor infertility. Research has shown that sperm count and quality has declined by 60% in the last 40years alone, the prime culprit is environmental exposure to EDC’s and toxins (Hauser & Sokol, 2008; Kumar & Singh, 2015). Male factor infertility is like the canary in the coal mine. It is slowly showing us that something is wrong in our environment and we need to make changes. Occupational exposure to chemicals in workplaces effecting testicular function and sperm health is not a new concept.
Studies on women have shown that PFCs and PFAs will have significant impacts on thyroid health and thyroid hormone production – TSH, T3, T4, fT4. This is important as the thyroid gland plays a vital role in fertility, especially for females. If the thyroid gland is not functioning optimally due to hypothyroidism, low thyroid hormone levels or autoimmune thyroid disease this can result in poor egg quality, anovulation, menstrual irregularities, altered sperm motility in men and recurrent miscarriage, amongst many other things associated with sub-fertility (Crawford et al., 2017; Gude, 2011; Petkus, Murray-Kolb, & De Souza, 2017).
Research has been done on the levels of chemicals and toxicity of cord blood and the placenta, indicative of the cumulative effects of chemical exposure and their transfer from mother to infant not only via placenta but further research also shows transmission through breastmilk to infant. Research is now showing that this transmission of chemicals is not only impacting the direct generation (mother and child) resulting in a diverse range of illnesses and varied presentations across the lifespan, but also having widespread effects on epigenetics meaning the EDC effects can be passed on through multiple generations (Mitro, Johnson, & Zota, 2015).
So I don’t want this to sound all doom and gloom, because at the end of the day chemicals are now a part of our environment and whilst we need to work on developing friendlier alternatives in commercial production in the meantime there are plenty of things you can do at a domestic level. These are easy swaps that can happen gradually overtime, or if you prefer to go all in then that’s great too! But I know this is also not realistic for everyone, and expensive, especially when you start talking about beauty products.
My top tips to reducing chemical exposure for your health (& fertility)
· Eat organic where possible. Now I don’t want to get all high and mighty, if your end goal is literally just to eat vegetables because your current version of veggies is potato and corn then that’s ok. Let’s work on eating more fruit and veg.
For the rest, if you are in a position – financially and practically able to, if you can buy all your produce organic then fantastic, that’s amazing. But for those who can’t, trying to prioritise buying what you can organically source and what you consume the most of. For example, I buy organic apples and eggs, these are my non-negotiables as I eat a lot of them. Opt for spray free if it is available and all remaining produce you can simply wash at home with a mix of apple cider vinegar and water to remove residue.
· Swap out ‘traditional’ cleaning products for more natural ones. You can find several brands in the supermarket like bositos or online such as Koh or Norwex or you can make your own cleaning products with vinegar, water and a mix of tea tree and lemon oil.
· Switch to natural skin care and cosmetics. Some of my favourite brands include quite frankly natural, miskin organics, simple as that (sunscreen), Inika, Raw and the list goes on.
· Avoiding eating and drinking out of plastic bottles or containers.
· Avoid heating food in plastic.
· Cook with cast-iron pans rather than non-stick
· Avoid fragrance. The term fragrance is a universal term for a host of various chemicals that the manufacturer does not need to disclose to you. You’ll find fragrance in perfume, cosmetics, moisturisers, exfoliator and so on.
· Drink filtered water. I am the first to agree we are very privileged to live in a country that has readily available drinking water and I do drink tap water. However, if you are able to access filtered water try to drink this.
Please don’t think changes need to be made all at once, gradual and steady changes will ensure you don’t get overwhelmed and allows time to decide what your top priorities are for change and to research your new favourite brands. Also, a great tip is that when you do decide you would like to convert to a more natural approach don’t feel as though you need to rush out and buy all the products, slowly replace them one by one as your products run out.
Hope you have found this helpful x
Crawford, N. M., Fenton, S. E., Strynar, M., Hines, E. P., Pritchard, D. A., & Steiner, A. Z. (2017). Effects of perfluorinated chemicals on thyroid function, markers of ovarian reserve, and natural fertility. Reproductive Toxicology, 69, 53–59. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.reprotox.2017.01.006
Gude, D. (2011, January). Thyroid and its indispensability in fertility. Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences, Vol. 4, pp. 59–60. https://doi.org/10.4103/0974-1208.82368
Hauser, R., & Sokol, R. (2008, February 1). Science linking environmental contaminant exposures with fertility and reproductive health impacts in the adult male. Fertility and Sterility, Vol. 89, pp. e59–e65. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2007.12.033
Janet Pelley. (2020). Number of chemicals in commerce has been vastly underestimated. C&EN Global Enterprise, 98(7), 5–5. https://doi.org/10.1021/cen-09807-leadcon
Kumar, N., & Singh, A. (2015, October 1). Trends of male factor infertility, an important cause of infertility: A review of literature. Journal of Human Reproductive Sciences, Vol. 8, pp. 191–196. https://doi.org/10.4103/0974-1208.170370
Mitro, S. D., Johnson, T., & Zota, A. R. (2015, December 1). Cumulative Chemical Exposures During Pregnancy and Early Development. Current Environmental Health Reports, Vol. 2, pp. 367–378. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40572-015-0064-x
NIEHS. (n.d.). Endocrine Disruptors. Retrieved April 16, 2021, from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/index.cfm
Olea, N., & Fernandez, M. F. (2007, July 1). Chemicals in the environment and human male fertility. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Vol. 64, pp. 430–431. https://doi.org/10.1136/oem.2007.033621
Petkus, D. L., Murray-Kolb, L. E., & De Souza, M. J. (2017, September 1). The Unexplored Crossroads of the Female Athlete Triad and Iron Deficiency: A Narrative Review. Sports Medicine, Vol. 47, pp. 1721–1737. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0706-2
WHO | Chemicals. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2021, from https://www.who.int/gho/phe/chemical_safety/en/