A Chemical Reaction

Environmental toxins & fertility

A Chemical Reaction

Environmental causes of infertility include exposure to chemicals in household electronics. Natural fertility boosters can minimize these effects.

Changes in our environment and the effect on our health have been a concern for decades. Most of the environmental focus in recent years has been on greenhouse gases and their effect on global warming.

But should we also be concerned about other environmental toxins we come into contact with on a daily basis—without even knowing it?

Do our TVs, computers, carpets, and favourite furniture, for example, actually affect our health and the health of our future generations?

Unfortunately, the answer appears to be a resounding yes.

A recent study from the University of California, Berkeley is suggesting that chemicals used as flame retardants on a wide variety of everyday articles, such as fabrics, furniture, and carpets, have a significant and profoundly negative impact on a woman’s ability to become pregnant.

These chemicals, broadly named “endocrine disruptors,” have been shown in studies to mimic the hormones that women’s bodies produce, hormones essential in promoting and maintaining a healthy pregnancy.

Higher exposure = lower fertility

The UC Berkeley study, published January 26, 2010, in the journal, Environmental Health Perspectives, focused on the chemicals called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) that are used as flame retardants in many common household items such as computers, stereos, furniture, and TVs.

The researchers evaluated Mexican women at risk for exposure to high levels of PBDEs and their ability to conceive a child. The women were examined for the length of time it took them to become pregnant and this information was compared to blood samples analyzing the levels of PBDEs in the women’s bloodstreams.

Results indicated that the length of time it took a woman to become pregnant directly correlated with higher concentrations of PBDEs found in a woman’s bloodstream.

This is the first study to look specifically at the effects of PBDEs on a woman’s ability to conceive, but studies looking at endocrine disruptors in general have indicated similar results for both male and female reproductive ability.

Natural fertility boosters

If you and your partner are having some concerns about your exposure to environmental toxins and the effect this might have on your ability to conceive, you may want to consider these natural approaches to boost your fertility.

Supplements
  • Vitamins C and E are important for maintaining balanced body systems—important for both partners.
  • Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus) has been used traditionally to promote fertility in both women and men: it promotes menstrual regularity in women and increased testosterone levels in men.
Traditional Chinese medicine

Acupuncture has been practised for centuries in aiding fertility. In a 2005 study acupuncture improved the pregnancy rate in women compared to Western medicine (65 percent versus 45 percent).

Exercise

Endorphins released as a byproduct of exercise help with overall circulation, a key factor in fertility.

Relaxation

Deep relaxation, whether by massage, gardening, taking a bubble bath, or getting outside, reduces stress and relaxes the sympathetic nervous system. Good-quality sleep is crucial too, as is connecting with family and friends.

Eating right

To achieve optimal health for fertility, follow a whole food, plant-based diet, which is high in antioxidants and includes slowly digested carbs such as beans, lentils, whole grains, and brightly coloured vegetables.

Cleansing your liver

Naturopaths recommend taking a few weeks to cleanse your liver very gently—three to six months before you plan to get pregnant. This can be done by adopting a simple vegetarian diet and cutting out caffeine, sugar, wheat, and dairy.

Toxic effects on endocrine system

Studies conducted as early as 1991 have shown that there are many chemicals that have been introduced into the environment by human activity that are capable of disrupting the endocrine system of both animals and humans.

Research has indicated that PBDEs and other chemicals in the environment may promote estrogenic, anti-estrogenic, or anti-androgenic (another hormone created by the body) actions within the body.

Some studies have gone further to suggest that these chemicals are significantly stronger than a body’s own hormones and may take the place of these hormones, preventing normal reproductive functioning.

Is it only reproductive hormones that are affected by these chemicals?

Sadly, no. Research has indicated that these chemicals are also capable of mimicking and displacing thyroid hormones, which are imperative in promoting fertility, and that these effects are evident in both the male and female body.

Reduce toxin exposure

Aside from moving onto a mountaintop somewhere, is there something we can we do to reduce the impact of these toxic chemicals?

Absolutely. Here are some simple suggestions.

Dust and vacuum

Do your best to avoid exposure by keeping your internal environment free of dust, and when cleaning, use a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter to get maximum results.

Studies have indicated that up to 98 percent of normal dust in your home is contaminated by chemicals that may function as endocrine disruptors; increased levels of these compounds in the bloodstream directly correlate to both female and male infertility.

Avoid exposure to foam padding from furniture or under carpets, and purchase electronics from companies that have committed to phasing out use of PBDEs. A list of companies can be found at ewg.org/pbdefree.

Watch what you eat

Eat lean meat and avoid farmed fish; PBDEs and other chemicals are stored in fat tissue, so to prevent exposure through your food, eat lean meat and remove any fat from cooking before consumption.

Avoid farmed fish, especially fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel; studies have indicated that farmed fish have significantly higher PBDE contamination levels as a result of exposure to the chemical in the food they are fed. Choose wild fish instead.

Get involved

Support programs that encourage changes to the use of PBDEs in Canada. The final Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers Regulations were finally put into place on June 19, 2008, and now prohibit the manufacturing of seven PBDE compounds or the use, sale, or import of these products within Canada.

Encourage further efforts to focus on preventing the use of these chemicals in new products and monitoring the effect of these chemicals within the environment.

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