First off, whether you’re hoping to get pregnant in the future or not, this post is for you. We are ALL exposed to toxins on a daily basis and the more we can become aware of what is wreaking havoc on our normal body processes, the more empowered we can be to improve our health.
This post will focus on the impact environmental toxins have on sperm and egg cells, a successful pregnancy, a developing fetus, and the health of future generations. It is estimated that we are exposed to over 82,000 different chemicals in the U.S., of which only 25% have been tested for toxicity and over 15,000 new chemicals are approved for release by the FDA each year. Our bodies are exposed to these chemicals daily and are given the task of metabolizing and detoxifying them. However, this task can be more than the body can handle as foreign substances accumulate in our tissue. The best defense for our health is avoidance.
What are environmental toxins?
Environmental toxins is a broad term that includes any chemical from our environment that interrupts normal body function. One of the most prevalent categories of environmental toxins are “endocrine disruptors”. These are chemicals that sit in the same receptor as our naturally occurring hormones and mimic the hormone’s action. For the case of fertility, endocrine disruptors can create a negative influence on the health of both parents and long term on the health of the baby.
Chemicals from our environment (plastics, pesticides, food, etc. - see list below) are absorbed into the body by breathing, eating, and transdermal absorption through personal hygiene products.
The chemicals look a lot like our hormone cells, namely estrogen, and bind to hormone receptors.
Most hormones work on what’s called a “feedback loop” which means our brain gets the signal from the periphery of our body that there is “enough”. Our brain then stops sending signals to our organs (in the case of fertility, testes and ovaries) to produce more of a particular hormone.
When thinking of fertility and the hormone, estrogen, this is a big problem because an environmental chemical does not have the same function as estrogen and the brain is told to decrease estrogen production. This is a vital hormone in ovulation (the release of a mature egg) and the building of a healthy uterine lining to support a growing fetus.
What can you do about this?
The first step is to evaluate your environment. Here are 3 of the more prevalent chemicals in our environment.
BPA (Bisphenol A), BPS (Bisphenol S), BPF (Bisphenol F)
Most often found in: food plastics, water bottles, aluminum can linings, store receipts
How to avoid? Say no to receipts or have them emailed, cook batch beans and soups, not canned. Opt for stainless steel or glassware for storage of leftovers and drinkware. Most important: never microwave or eat hot food out of plastic.
Pro-tip: something that is plastic but labeled BPA FREE is just a variant of the chemical BPA, the most common listed in the title here. These simply haven’t been studied and shown to have as many health impacts but are virtually the same molecule. BPA free doesn’t always mean better!
Most often found in: meat & dairy, fish, eggs, butter.
How to avoid? Limit eating of conventionally raised meat products, including dairy. Choose organic meat products whenever possible. Dioxins have some pretty scary research in regard to inhibiting sperm production and health. Even worse? Dioxin has also been shown to act in the body as a carcinogen, meaning it’s been linked to cause cancer.
Most often found in: water, non-organic produce (especially corn)
How to avoid? Drink filtered water, purchase organic foods when possible.
Possible health effects? Has been linked to breast tumors, delayed puberty, prostate cancer and one study found male frogs exposed to atrazine turned into female frogs, with the ability to produce completely viable eggs.
This is a very short list and there are many more chemicals we know that impact our hormones. Production of healthy hormones is the name of the game when it comes to fertility as well as our sleep, satiety, energy, growth, mood, etc. If a healthy pregnancy and baby are in your future plan, now is the time to consider the harmful toxins in your environment and to make subtle lifestyle changes to avoid exposures and improve hormones. This will ultimately improve your health and the health of your future baby(s).
In summary, the top 3 changes we recommend to reduce your toxic exposure and improve your fertility include:
Avoid cooking, eating, and storing your food in plastic
Eat organic when possible
Drink filtered water & use a water filter in your home.