Our practice is heavily focused on fertility concerns, and more often than not, our patients feel like they’re trying everything they can. And they’re exhausted and overwhelmed (rightfully so)! There is so much information out there on fertility that’s it’s hard to keep up with it, and one question we get asked time and time again is “is there anything else I can do?”. One area of discussion that often comes up is the idea of xenoestrogens and hormone disruptors, something most of us are exposed to on a daily basis (eeeekk!) – so we thought it would be valuable to share this conversation online so that all of you can benefit (and make babies, fingers crossed)! This is a must read if you’re trying to get pregnant.
What are Xenoestrogens?
Xenoestrogens = hormone-like chemicals that acts like estrogen in the body
Xenoestrogens can be natural or man-made. Because they have hormonal-like actions on the body, they have been linked to a number of reproductive health concerns, including infertility. Although more research is necessary, there are numerous clinical studies showing that xenoestrogens have negative effects on both female and male fertility by disturbing the body’s normal healthy hormonal fluctuations. When out of balance, these altered hormonal levels compromise egg and sperm development, endometrial lining thickness, and a host of other factors linked to infertility.
Daily Routines and Sources of Xenoestrogens in your Home
You won’t have to look further than your kitchen or medicine cabinet to find these sneaky hormone-imitators.
1) Having a Shower: Your Shampoo, Conditioner and Shaving Gel
The culprit: Parabens
Parabens are a class of widely used chemicals that act as preservatives commonly found in shampoos, lotions, deodorants and other personal hygiene products – in fact, more than 80% of cosmetic products available contain them. Because they function as xenoestrogens, they may be implicated in reproductive and fertility concerns. Although regulators say that paraben levels in these products are quite low and unlikely to pose a harm to the public, some research has linked high urinary paraben levels (suggesting high levels of paraben exposure) with a number of causes of infertility. In fact, Europe and Japan have already banned certain parabens in toiletries, taking a more proactive approach to this possible hormone disruptor.
The solution: look for “paraben free” on the label, or under list of ingredients, look for any term ending in “-paraben”. http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/ is also a great free resource to determine the health and environmental impact of cosmetic products – download their app on your phone and you can use it to make informed purchases at the store!
2) Moisturizing: Your body and face lotion
The culprit: Parabens
See the discussion above for details.
3) Packing up your Lunch: Your Tupperware
The culprits: phalates, BPA
Phalates are compounds primarily used in plastics to make plastic products more flexible and durable. They are commonly found in plastic food containers, but also in medications (as capsule coatings), medical devices/tubing, perfume and other fragrances (from shampoo to air fresheners to laundry detergent), and even in your home (from vinyl flooring and carpeting to shower curtains). That list is exhausting, isn’t it! Phalate exposure (which can be cumulative) has been linked to fertility and reproductive problems in many animals, and some research suggests that humans may also be susceptible.
BPA is a well-known xenoestrogen that makes plastics and resins for plastic containers, linings of canned goods, and is even found in cash register receipts. Research has shown it to negatively effect pregnancy rates in animal studies, and has even shown it to increase chromosomal abnormalities in a woman’s egg leading to an increased chance of miscarriage. Because of these hormonal effects, the FDA no longer allows BPA in baby bottles or toddler cups, but their use in other products is still widespread.
The solution: Stay away from artificially fragranced products, plastics with recycling codes 3 or 7 (generally seen on the bottom of the container), hand-me-down plastic toys (those made before strict guidelines on palate levels in children’s products, which came into effect in 2011) and other sources of plastics. Please, please, please don’t heat up food in plastic – this can leach these compounds into the food you eat 🙁
4) Eating with Friends and Family: Your Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Well, and sorry to say, snacks too…
The culprit: pesticides
Scientists have been aware of the potential hormone-disrupting effects of pesticides for over 40 years, but until there is enough proof of their harm, crops continue to be sprayed with chemicals that have xenoestrogenic compounds. Remember DDT? This pesticide was found to have estrogenic properties and reduces animal (and likely human) fertility, in addition to significant concerns about cancer. It it thankfully now banned, but other pesticides still in use may have similar potential consequences with long term exposure (research pending)…
The solution: Eating everything organic may be a bit crazy (unless you’re into that)… What we do, and what we recommend to our patients, is to avoid produce that are the worst offenders for pesticide residues (see http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/dirty_dozen_list.php for a list of the “dirty dozen” worst offenders for pesticides – an awesome resource that’s updated seasonally) or buy these organic. Washing your produce with a natural produce wash and soft scrub brush may help remove some surface residues as well.
5) Doing Laundry
The culprit: dryer sheets
Dryer sheets and fabric softeners do make your clothes smell mountain-y fresh, but what makes up that pleasant smell? It isn’t natural “extract of mountain”… it’s chemicals, some of which are known xenoestrogens, neurotoxins, carcinogens and irritants to your lungs. Chloroform (?!?!?), linalool, camphor, a-terpineol, pentane, benzyl acetate and other chemicals are hiding in that dryer sheet – some of these chemicals enter your body by breathing in the sweet mountain scent, while others can be absorbed through the skin when you’re wearing these clothes.
The solution: Don’t use dryer sheets. Some natural fabric softeners exist as alternatives, but there are many other easy and natural options. For a nice smell, you can put a few drops of an essential oil of your choosing (lavender, lemon, etc.) onto a scrap of cloth and throw this in with your clothes in the dryer. To keep clothes soft, you can add 1/2 cup of baking soda to the rinse cycle of your laundry. For static, a ball of tinfoil or dryer balls work surprisingly well.