Endocrine disrupting chemicals: Are they harming your fertility?
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC); heard of those? Quite a mouthful, no? Simply put, these are chemicals found in the environment that can disrupt the way our hormones function. The reason why they are important in regards to fertility is that, by changing the way our hormones work (sometimes by mimicking the actions of hormones, other times by blocking the action of hormones), they can increase or decrease the levels of hormones in our body which subsequently changes the way our hormones are produced, broken down and stored.
Examples of EDCs include pollutants, pesticides, industrial chemicals, plastics and fuels.
So, what does the science say? In reality, the research is still emerging. A lot of the studies have been done on animals (needless to say we are not animals and so we cannot directly translate the findings to humans), but there have been studies in women trying to conceive who have had the levels of EDCs in their urine measured. These studies have suggested that the women who had the greater levels of EDCs in their urine had an increased risk of infertility and associated issues.
I can hear you saying 'Rania, you're a dietitian. Why are you even talking about chemicals?'
Because one of the main sources of EDCs is through our diet - whether through pesticides or BPAs. Many of you would have heard of BPA previously. BPA is a plasticizer that was used in pretty much all plastics and is gradually being phased out. You can get loads of BPA free products now. However, other plasticisers that are often used to replace BPA such as BPF and BPS have been shown to cause similar issues.
The solution: First, be aware that this research is still in its infant stage, so try to avoid getting overwhelmed. Who knows, perhaps in 10 to 20 years, we may have evidence to show that these EDCs are not as bad as we are currently hypothesising that they are. However, in the meantime, it may be best to err on the side of caution if you have been having difficulty conceiving.
So, here are my top practical tips to get you started:
- Wash fruit and vegetables really well to clear them off pesticide residue.
- The jury with organic produce is still not out and is pretty mixed. Just because a product is organic, it doesn’t mean that it is pesticide-free. However, it just means that different pesticides are used in different amounts. If you can afford to buy organic, then it may be worth considering buying organic produce that doesn’t have a skin that can be removed (the skin is where most of the residue will be on).
- Opt to buy loose produce from the supermarket or if you can’t remove it from its plastic packaging as soon as you get home to reduce its exposure time to plastics. The same applies to any non-perishable goods.
Heating plastic leads to chemicals leaching out of these and going into your food and drink. Luckily, the solution here is quite simple:
- Never heat any food in a plastic container in the microwave.
- If you order a takeout, remove the food from the plastic container once delivered and put onto a plate from which you can eat.
- Avoid drinking out of a takeaway coffee cup. Even though takeaway coffee cups look like paper/cardboard, the inside is often coated in plastic. It is more of an issue if it is repeated exposure i.e daily. If this applies to you, then my suggestion would be to purchase a takeaway ceramic or stainless steel mug. You can also consider removing the lid of the coffee cup container as this will also remove one layer of plastic with which your liquids will be coming into contact.
- Store all foods in glass/stainless steel.
- Avoid storing liquids in plastic bottles and especially avoid leaving plastic bottles out in the sun or in a hot vehicle.
- Use metal or glass kettles - a lot of kettle linings are made out of plastic.
- Choose dried pulses and legumes over canned wherever possible - cans have a plastic coating on the inside and often contain BPA.
And there you have my top tips. Choose the ones you think are easier to implement and go from there. Overall, think of these tips as the icing on the cake. They may be helpful in improving your fertility potential but if making the above changes feels too overwhelming and stressful, then it is best to focus on your diet.
Ultimately, eating a diet plentiful in fruit, vegetables, healthy fats, wholegrains, nuts etc can reduce the issues that may arise secondary to EDC exposure. If you think you may benefit from an in-depth look into your diet and lifestyle, book in for your free discovery call to find out how I can help you get that bit closer to growing your family.