Norwich Natural Fertility Partnership

Fertility pregnancy and beyond
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< Previous E is for Endocrine Disruptors

Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals and Xenoestrogens are compounds that have an oestrogen like effect on humans and high exposure can dramatically affect hormone balance and subsequent fertility. They can interfere with ability to conceive due to their influence on a woman’s menstrual cycle and eggs as well as to a man’s sperm production. They come from pesticides and plastics and can enter our bodies via food and drink. They are stored in body fat.

Most food we buy in supermarkets have been produced using intensive farming methods, heavily dependant on chemicals and have therefore been exposed to a cocktail of chemicals before they even reach our shopping trolleys. Unfortunately the government has little control over the levels of toxins a lot of our food contains as such a high degree is imported. For example the pesticide DDT is banned in the UK but is still used by other countries. Studies detected levels of this chemical in breast milk and it is very hard to remove from the body.

Some fruit and veg are sprayed ten times or more with different chemicals before they reach the supermarket shelves, with lots of these being used after harvesting. It is estimated that 3,900 different brands of pesticides are used on food and in our homes. Ethylene gas is frequently used to ‘ripen’ fruit that has been harvested whilst green in order to save rotting during transit from around the world. These fruit are often also dosed with chemicals such as carbendazium and metalaxl to help the anti-rot, and then a lovely coating of wax seals these chemicals into the fruit.

Garden fertilisers, weed control products and pesticides are thought to have an adverse affect on babies following use in early pregnancy. Chemicals used in household cleaners, paints, air fresheners, washing powders and fabric conditioners are also coming in to question with many links made with reduction in sperm counts and other fertility issues.

Attention is also being turned to chemicals found in toiletries, beauty products and make-up, from preservatives in moisturisers, formaldehyde in nail polish, parabens in body lotions to sulphates in shampoo because of their possible toxicity. It is important to remember that our skin is porous and up to 60% of what we put on our skin and scalp is absorbed into the blood stream. Once absorbed chemicals and toxins then travel around our body and deposit themselves in to tissue and organs. Small amounts of these chemicals may not cause a reaction, however it is the constant use and the accumulative effect of the chemical ‘cocktail’ that is causing concern especially in the field of fertility.

Among the hundreds of xenoestrogens lurking in the environment, two of the most common- and most damaging are bisphenol-A and phthalates. BPA is a synthetic molecule used to make hard, polycarbonate plastics. Although BPA has been known to (amongst many other things) disrupt oestrogen receptors since the 1930’s it is only very recently that manufacturers have stopped using it in the production of baby bottles and children’s drinking cups! In the realm of fertility BPA predominantly interferes with the production of oestradiol in the ovaries.

Like BPA, phthalates are industrial chemicals and found everywhere in common life. They are found in nail polish, shampoos, and medical devices such as IV bags! Studies on phthalates show that they can affect male reproductive development and thyroid function. In women, they can affect the level of reproductive hormones, such as free testosterone, and sex-hormone-binding globin. One type of phthalate, called DEHP, blocks oestradiol production in the ovaries, which leads to oestrogen dominance. This can lead to other problems, such as build up of the uterine lining, with subsequent excessive bleeding and infertility.