Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals and Reproductive Health; Practical Tips to Reduce Your Exposure

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Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are chemicals within our environment that can impact the way our hormones work1. Depending on the chemical, they can either ‘mimic’ our hormones and bind to hormonal receptors, some can block our hormones from performing their important actions, while others can increase or decrease the levels of hormones in our body1.

There is an evolving area of research looking into how EDCs may negatively impact fertility by interacting with sex hormone production or activity, implantation of an embryo and egg and sperm health. 

While this can sound scary, there is a lot we can do to reduce our exposure to EDCs and minimize their impact on our hormonal health. Many EDCs are ubiquitous in our environment and to avoid them 100% is not possible. Thankfully, research to date shows that lowering exposure is the most important goal, not avoiding completely, and small changes can have a meaningful impact!

The two most studied EDCs when it comes to hormones and fertility are BPA and Phthalates. Understanding where we are exposed to these chemicals and how to reduce exposure can have positive effects on our reproductive health.

Bisphenol A (BPA)

BPA is a synthetic compound that is used in plastics, the lining of canned foods, and thermal cash receipts2. BPA is a xenoestrogen, meaning it has been found to bind to estrogen receptors in the human body2.

Studies looking at BPA and reproductive health are mostly done in those going through IVF where we can more easily collect data on egg health and fertilization rates. Research has found that those who have increased exposure to BPA had lower eggs retrieved in their IVF cycle, lower egg maturity rates, reduced fertilization rates and reduced egg quality compared to those with lower BPA expsoure2

You can reduce your exposure to BPA by:

  • Switching to stainless steel or glass water bottles
  • Limiting your intake of canned foods
  • Store food and leftovers in glass or stainless steel
  • Avoid heating foods in plastics
  • Avoid storing acidic liquids (tomato sauce) in plastics

Phthalates

Phthalates are another EDC that we want to minimize. They have been found to impact the progesterone hormone as well as an important enzyme known as aromatase3

Phthalates are commonly used as plasticizers and as ingredients in many home and personal care products.

Similar to BPA, research is finding increased exposure to phthalates may impact reproductive health. One study found significant decreases in mean Antral Follicle Count (a marker of egg reserve) in women with higher phthalate exposure3. Higher exposure has also been associated with lower mature egg numbers in those going through IVF3

You can reduce your exposure to Phthalates by:

  • Avoid scented air fresheners and fragranced candles, laundry detergent, soaps and beauty products
  • Most products with a strong smell have phthalates (Look for the ingredient ‘Fragrance’ in labels and avoid if listed)
  • Choose body and makeup products that list ‘phthalate free’ on the label
  • Use the Environmental Working Group’s site ‘Skin Deep’ to pick products that are cleaner – https://www.ewg.org/skindeep/

Remember that avoiding EDCs 100% is very difficult and can cause more harm than benefit in some cases because the process of eliminating all EDCs can cause a lot of stress. Instead, work on reducing your exposure by replacing your products over time. These small changes will add up, reduce your exposure and make a big impact.

References

  1. Ruiz, PHD, D. and Patisaul, PHD, H., 2021. Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals EDCs. [online] Hormone.org. Available at: <https://www.hormone.org/your-health-and-hormones/endocrine-disrupting-chemicals-edcs> [Accessed 3 May 2021].
  2. Ayelet Ziv-Gal, Ph.D.and Jodi A. Flaws, Ph.D. (2016). Evidence for bisphenol A-induced female infertility: a review. Fertility and Sterility, 106(4), 827–856. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2016.06.027
  3. Messerlian, C., Souter, I., Gaskins, A. J., Williams, P. L., Ford, J. B., Chiu, Y.-H., … Hauser, R. (2016). Urinary phthalate metabolites and ovarian reserve among women seeking infertility care. Human Reproduction (Oxford, England), 31(1), 75–83. http://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dev292

Dr. Kelly Clinning, ND

Dr. Kelly Clinning is a licensed and registered Naturopathic Doctor (ND) with a passion for research and evidence-based care. Her clinical focus is in treating women’s health with a particular concentration on reproductive health, PCOS, endometriosis and thyroid health. Her goal is to help women connect with their bodies, understand their remarkable physiology, and maintain sustainable balance in their health and life.

Dr. Kelly has her naturopathic prescribing license and incorporates natural desiccated thyroid (NDT) and bio-identical hormone treatment into her practice. She also uses nutrition, botanical medicine, acupuncture, and clinical supplementation.

After graduating from Western University with a Bachelor of Science and an Honours specialization in Kinesiology, she completed a Doctor of Naturopathy (ND) degree from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto. She is a member of the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors, the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors, and the Endocrinology Association of Naturopathic Physicians and is in good standing with the College of Naturopaths of Ontario.

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