There are a bunch of toxins in our environment that have been proven to reduce our fertility and increase the chance of miscarriage. Yes, we can’t avoid all of them. Yes, our grandparents did OK without this knowledge. But they didn’t live with the multitude of endocrine disrupters that we now do. There are a few main offenders. Let’s focus on them. And the simple steps we can take to reduce our exposure.
BPA – stands for bisphenol A, an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1950s. BPA is a known endocrine disrupter. Which means that it messes with our hormones. Hormones that are essential for normal ovarian function, follicle maturation, ovulation and fertilisation. And for sperm production. These normal processes are complex, there are lots of ways that things can go wrong. BPA has been found to be more frequently detected in infertile women thus leading to hypothesize a possible effect of BPA on natural conception. In addition, in procedures of medically assisted reproduction (such as IVF/IUI), BPA exposure has been found to reduce estradiol levels during gonadotropin stimulation, number of retrieved oocytes, number of normally fertilized oocytes and implantation¹.
So, where do we start to reduce our BPA exposure? BPA reacts/ leaks from hard plastics when exposed to:
- UV light
So the main things to look at are:
Drinking water. Get rid of your plastic drinking water bottle. Even if listed as BPA-free, other plastics probably contain other endocrine disrupters. We just don’t know about them yet. Best to go with glass or stainless steel.
Boiling water. Swap your plastic kettle for a stainless steel one.
Storing left-overs. Especially wet ones. Swap over your hard plastic food containers for glass or stainless steel ones. IKEA has some good glass ones with lids that don’t leak and stand the test of time.
Swapping plastic colanders for stainless steel ones.
Avoiding use of coffee machines with plastic components, using a stainless steel French press at home instead.
Canned food. BPA is often found in the lining of tin cans. Reduce your use of canned food as much as possible. Ie. Buy passata in glass bottles rather than cans. I’m aware that somethings are only found in cans ie. Coconut milk so let’s focus on reduce, not eliminate.
BPA is also found on printed receipts, such as receipts from EFTPOS transactions. So you can wash your hands after handling such receipts or try to avoid touching them often.
Interestingly, research has shown that folate-rich foods reduce the effects of BPA. The folate found in most supplements, doesn’t do the same thing. That may be because most supplements contain synthetic folic acid, whereas the folate present in fruits and vegetables is usually in the form of biologically active methylfolate or other forms that are readily converted to methylfolate. Folate-foods are berries, oranges, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, asparagus, avocado and lentils.
Even though high levels of BPA are linked to higher miscarriage risk. It is important to keep in mind that it is the highest BPA levels that are linked. To increase your odds of conceiving and preventing miscarriage, the main goal is simply to get out of that highest range; to lower your overall exposure rather than to avoid all possible sources of BPA.
Phthalates – Are also endocrine disrupters. Phthalates are found in many products made of plastics, but especially in synthetic fragrances. Such as:
- Perfumed cosmetics/ moisturisers
- Hair spray
- Scented fabric softener
- Nail polish
- Air fresheners
Before you freak out about all these products that you may use on the regular, remember it’s about reducing your exposure. Try to focus on one product at a time and swap it over for a natural, non-fragranced product. Maybe start with your body lotion/ moisturiser, as this covers a large part of your body. And when looking for alternatives, avoid items with fragrance listed in the ingredients. As these often contain Phthalates. And manufacturers can label products as phthalate-free but be aware – there is a labelling loophole in which the products may actually contain phthalates. It’s best to find products made from all natural ingredients or labelled fragrance-free. That way your reducing your exposure to other toxic chemicals such as parabens also.
New research indicates that the main way that Phthalates gets into our body’s is through food. In particular, fast food and highly processed food². One study suggests that simply making more meals at home is one of the most powerful ways to reduce exposure to the phthalates of greatest concern.
Have you already taken the above steps? Here’s some more you can do (only when you’re ready though, otherwise it can be overwhelming):
A provocative new study finds that women who have trouble getting pregnant are more likely to have high concentrations of certain non-stick chemical pollutants circulating in their blood than are those who become pregnant within the first month of trying. The suspect compounds — generally known as PFOA and PFOS —found in Teflon and Scotchguard products.
Today, the chemicals are present on non-stick pans and in carpeting, upholstery and clothing that has been treated with stain-guard chemicals. They’ve also been used for years to treat popcorn bags and other packaging that might make contact with grease. Yet tests of these products show minimal release of PFOA and PFOS. Meanwhile, these compounds are showing up in the water entering municipal treatment plants long distances from manufacturing facilities — not to mention in animals and people around the globe. So what can we do?
Filter your drinking water
Install a shower or bath filter
Ditch your old non-stick pans for ones made of cast iron, stainless steel, pyrex glass baking dishes and/or ceramic non-stick cookware
Whether you are trying to conceive naturally, going through IVF or trying again after a miscarriage, it is worthwhile doing what you can to improve egg (& sperm) quality. It takes 3-5 months for an immature egg to develop into a mature egg ready for ovulation. So it is worth making positive changes three months before trying to conceive (or now if you’ve already started).
Remember, one step at a time. When I was trying to conceive, I decided to focus on a new project each month. That is, each time my period came and I got over the disappointment, I then focused on what new thing I could do next to improve my chances.
Dr Elaine Hickman
B.H.Sc.TCM (Acupuncture), Cert.Cl.Ac. (Beijing)
Elaine has trained and worked in various settings, both in Australia and China. She has over 22 years experience in treating many health problems. Elaine loves to provide a health care experience for people that is respectful, effective, empowering and enjoyable. Elaine has particular expertise in Women’s Health, Children’s Health, Family Medicine and Wellness promotion. She brings extra understanding and knowledge to the table having been through infertility herself.
Elaine is available Mondays & Tuesdays at Freedom Chinese Medicine in Ivanhoe, Melbourne or via video chat. Click here to book.
1. Pivonello, C., Muscogiuri, G., Nardone, A. et al. Bisphenol A: an emerging threat to female fertility. Reprod Biol Endocrinol 18, 22 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12958-019-0558-8
Bisphenol-A and Female Infertility: A Possible Role of Gene-Environment Interactions. Xiaona Huo, Dan Chen, Yonghua He, Wenting Zhu, Wei Zhou, and Jun Zhang. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2015 Sep; 12(9): 11101–11116. Bisphenol-A and Female Infertility: A Possible Role of Gene-Environment Interactions
Fei, C., . . . and J. Olsen. 2009. Maternal Levels of Perfluorinated Chemicals and Subfecundity. Human Reproduction 24(in press). DOI:10.1093/humrep/den490
Fei, C., . . . and J. Olsen. 2008. Prenatal Exposure to Perfluoroocanoate (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonate (PFOS) and Maternally Reported Developmental Milestones in Infancy. Environmental Health Perspectives 116(October):1391. [Go to]
Fei, C., . . . and J. Olsen. Perfluorinated Chemicals and Fetal Growth: A Study within the Danish National Birth Cohort. Environmental Health Perspectives 115(November):1677