Your household items are affecting your hormones. Plastics, fragrances, lotions, pesticides — through your skin, air, and food — and science is showing us undeniable proof of the connection. Read on to find out what to do about it.
What are Endocrine Disruptors?
Hormones send messages around the body by acting like a “lock and key:” the hormone is a key, and needs to fit into a receptor – a “lock.” When it fits perfectly, a message is sent. Depending on the hormone, it’s a message like “mature an egg,” “make uterine lining grow,” “make head hair grow.” These hormones are called our endocrine system.
The problem is that compounds in certain household items can “mimic” different hormones. They’re not a perfect fit, but they block the receptor, and disrupt normal function. This means we don’t get the proper hormone signalling happening. They can also partially fit into a receptor, which means the signal getting sent is weaker than what it should be, or at the wrong times, or is filling more of the receptors than normal. The compounds are known as “Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals” or EDCs, and we’ve been studying them since the 90’s to figure out what exactly they’re doing to us.
The hormones that can be affected are pretty much all of them: estrogens, androgens, progesterone, gonadotropin releasing hormone (GnRH), follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), and thyroid hormones. Our hormones then go on to affect our eggs and sperm, fertilization, implantation, miscarriage, and live birth rates.
If you’ve been trying to conceive, you know how important all of those hormones are for getting – and staying – pregnant.
Research in Men
In men, we have data to show that bisphenol-A (BPA) likely diminishes sperm quality. You’ve heard of BPA by now, it’s a compound in plastics – we’re exposed through contact with food and beverages. The most conclusive data is still in animals models, where they’re able to establish that BPA causes these negative effects, it’s not just a hypothesis. Studies in rat models show that exposure to BPA decreases sperm count and motility, increases DNA fragmentation, and lowers testosterone, FSH, LH, GnRH in males. (1)
In a study on humans, 218 men “exposed to BPA in the workplace have an increased risk for compromised semen quality compared to men not exposed to BPA. In particular, an increasing urinary BPA level was significantly associated with the decrease of sperm concentration, total sperm count, sperm vitality and motility.” (2)
A meta-analysis of 14 human studies showed an association between reduced sperm concentration and exposure to phthalates (also found in plastics. We are exposed to phthalates through food, water, and fragrances, primarily). (3)
Unfortunately some of the effects on sperm begin when males are exposed as fetuses in utero. We started using plastic in the 50’s: the full repercussions of this information as we look across generations, are not yet known. But when we see reports about how men’s sperm counts have dropped by 50% in the last 50 years, we have to wonder. (4) Learn more about male infertility here.
Research in Women
BPA seems to lower egg maturation. “A 2015 study of 209 women undergoing infertility treatments demonstrated a significant trend (p-trend 0.001) of higher BPA associated with lower antral follicle count (AFC) [ a type of measure of ovarian reserve]. BPA affects oocyte maturation. In this study, the highest documented BPA urinary level in the 4th quartile showed a 17% decrease in AFC.” This means a lower number of eggs that can be recruited each month, especially important for the egg retrieval process for IVF. (5)
In 174 women studied during 237 IVF cycles, those who had “higher urinary BPA concentrations had significantly lower serum peak E2, oocyte yield, MII oocyte count and number of normally fertilizing oocytes. There was a suggestive association between BPA urinary concentrations and decreased blastocyst formation.” (6)
“Peri-implantation BPA levels were associated with an elevated risk of miscarriage in IVF cycles independent of age, transfer of good quality embryos and type of transfer, implicating endometrial effects of BPA on reproductive outcomes. Of the behaviors with potential to influence maternal BPA, frequent consumption of canned foods and beverages appeared to be the most important for miscarriage risk in this population.” (7) The research concluded a greater than 2-fold risk of miscarriage at the highest levels of BPA.
A 2016 study examined 256 women in Massachusetts who underwent a total of 375 IVF cycles. Of the women with the highest urinary concentration of phthalates, 28 percent had a baby, compared to 50 percent of women with the lowest exposure. (8)
Where do I find EDCs?
Endocrine disrupting chemicals that affect fertility have been linked to a massive list of chemicals, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, pesticides, heavy metals, phthalates, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, bisphenol-A and BPA alternatives, dioxins, nonylphenols, polychlorinated biphenyls, perfluorinated compounds, triclosan, and parabens. (5)
Let’s break it down a bit. Where would you find these compounds in your household items?
* nail polish
* lotions, creams
* plastic containers (eg tupperware)
* plastic spatulas, strainers, mixing spoons – especially ones in contact with heat, that you use on the stove
* microwaveable meals
* all pesticides, herbicides, fungicides
* water bottles
* food bought in plastic, eg yogurt
* cans lined with BPA (eg beans, pop)
* Teflon coated pans (“non stick” – unless specified PFOA free)
* laundry detergent
* laundry softeners
* anything with “fragrance” in the ingredients, unless it’s a specified essential oil
* new carpet, new vinyl flooring – that off-gassing smell
* Stainmaster or any waterproof/water resistant coating
These chemicals permeate our lives to a broad extent, and are so common. We know how daunting it can be to try to eliminate every source of EDC, so the goal is to MINIMIZE as best we can. Start with replacing things as you run out of them. Take stock in your kitchen, and upgrade anything that comes into contact with heat. You want to see the label say free from “BPA, BPS, phthalate, PFOA, PCB, PFC, teflon…” Look for kitchen products made from natural silicon, uncoated wood, glass.
Use resources like the Environmental Working Group’s safe cosmetics database (https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/), or your trusted local health food store for safe brands.
The data may not be crystal clear yet, but it’s showing enough trends across the board that we do need to consider where it’s pointing. Climbing rates of couples seeking Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) is the clear evidence that our fertility is being impacted. While science catches up to what could be causing it, we have strong plausibility that endocrine disrupting chemicals are playing a role.
While many studies may show no effect from one type of chemical, we need deeper studies to understand the cumulative impact of all sources of exposure together, across generations.
In summary, making the effort to lower exposure from the EDCs should be considered a priority, alongside changes to diet, increasing exercise, and decreasing alcohol.
To learn more about how you can support your fertility, or to book an appointment with Dr. Krause ND, contact us today.
(1) Ewa Matuszczak, Marta Diana Komarowska, Wojciech Debek, and Adam Hermanowicz. “The Impact of Bisphenol A on Fertility, Reproductive System, and Development: A Review of the Literature.” International Journal of Endocrinology. Volume 2019, Article ID 4068717. April 2019.
(2) Federica Cariati, Nadja D’Uonno, Francesca Borrillo, Stefania Iervolino, Giacomo Galdiero, Rossella Tomaiuolo. “Bisphenol a: an emerging threat to male fertility” Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology : RB&E. Volume, 17. January 2019.
(3) Cai H1, Zheng W1, Zheng P2, Wang S1, Tan H3, He G3, Qu W4. “Human urinary/seminal phthalates or their metabolite levels and semen quality: A meta-analysis.” Environ Res. 142:486-94. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2015.07.008. October 2015.
(4) Hagai Levine, Niels Jørgensen, Anderson Martino-Andrade, Jaime Mendiola, Dan Weksler-Derri, Irina Mindlis, Rachel Pinotti, Shanna H. Swan. “Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis.” Human Reproduction Update. 1 DOI: 10.1093/humupd/dmx022. 2017.
(5) Bonnie Nedrow. “Female Infertility – Endocrine Disruptors Stealing Our Future” The Townsend Letter. (https://www.thetownsendletter.com/4156-female-infertility-endocrine-disruptors?rq=fertility) March 2018.
(6) Shelley Ehrlich, Paige L. Williams, Stacey A. Missmer, Jodi A. Flaws, Xiaoyun Ye, Antonia M. Calafat, John C. Petrozza, Diane Wright,Russ Hauser. “Urinary bisphenol A concentrations and early reproductive health outcomes among women undergoing IVF.” Human Reproduction, Volume 27, Issue 12, December 2012, Pages 3583–3592, https://doi-org.libaccess.lib.mcmaster.ca/10.1093/humrep/des328. September 2012.
(7) S.Butts, S.Holder, C.Mostisser, C.Mesaros, M.Imbalzano, C.Coutifaris, M.S.Bartolomei. “BPA levels at implantation are associated with elelvated miscarriage risk in IVF cycles.” Fertility and Sterility. Volume 104, Issue 3, Supplement, September 2015.
(8) Hauser, R., Gaskins, A.J., Souter, I., Smith, K.W., Dodge, L.E., Ehrlich, S., et al. “Urinary phthalate metabolite concentrations and reproductive outcomes among women undergoing in vitro fertilization: results from the EARTH study.” Environ. Health Perspect. 124, 831–839. 2016