Updated: Aug 8
Endocrine disrupting chemicals and fertility: what's the connection? Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) mimic, block or interfere with the body’s hormones and are associated in research with a diverse array of health issues including infertility, PCOS, endometriosis, adenomyosis and fibroids. They can be present in the air we breathe, food we eat, water we drink and products we put on our skin and hair.
With EDCs being so widespread, the idea of eliminating them from our lives can feel a little futile. But knowledge really is power and we can make a significant difference by limiting our exposure where it counts the most. This is your guide to doing just that, in the easiest way possible. Herein, you will find actionable steps that you can begin to tick off one at a time so that you can feel confident you are reducing the impact of EDCs in your life.
In this article, I’ll be focusing on a particular group of EDCs called xenoestrogens (pronounced zeno-estrogens). These chemicals have the ability to interact with our oestrogen hormone receptors in a negative way, thereby disrupting hormone balance and increasing risk of reproductive disease and infertility. I am going to share with you my most powerful tips for reducing the impact of these EDCs based on my extensive clinical experience.
Bisphenol A (BPA), found in plastics, was first developed as a synthetic oestrogen then used in the manufacture of plastics. Researchers are concerned that BPA-free plastic alternatives may prove to be just as bad as BPA-containing plastics so the best thing to do is avoid using plastic and replace with good quality silicone, glass, stainless steel and ceramic alternatives.
Top Tips for Plastics
1. Minimise consumption of hot food or drinks out of plastic
> bring your own takeaway containers or cups to cafes and restaurants > don’t heat food/liquids in plastic (e.g. kettle, microwave)
2. Minimise storage of food and drink in plastic
> food can be stored and frozen in glass (leave room for expansion)
> get a food grade stainless steel or glass water bottle
3. Get a water filter
> BPA gets into water from PVC water pipes > you can filter it out with a ceramic counter-top or plumbed-in water filter
Personal Care, Make-up and Cleaning Products
These can contain a plethora of chemicals but two of the most notable for reproductive health are parabens and phthalates.
Parabens are found extensively in skin care, hair care and make up and are often listed as butylparaben, methylparaben and propylparaben or something with “paraben” on the end.
Phthalates are commonly found in plastics, cleaning products, make up, fragrances, face and body paint and glitter gels. They are not as easy to identify on labels as they are usually listed as an acronym or the word “fragrance”. Look for “phthalate-free on the label”.
Top Tips for Personal Care
1. Look for paraben-free and phthalate-free alternatives
> Start by replacing products that have the most impact - the ones you leave on your skin or use multiple times per day, and build from there.
> Check out Nourished Life online store for plenty of options.
2. Swap to natural deodorants (that actually work)
> Woohoo Body deodorant pastes (choose regular strength or extra strength options). > Weleda roll-ons or sprays
> Use essential-oil roll ons such as Salt and Glow brand.
> Cygnet Perfumery - divine perfume made purely from plants
Top Tips For Makeup
Make up is of particular concern because it can contain a plethora of chemicals including parabens and phthalates AND we leave it on our skin for long periods of time.
1. Investigate your favourite products by looking up on the Skin Deep Database
2. If you don’t find your product there look up individual ingredients on The Chemical Maze App > downloadable smartphone app available on apple or android
3. Make it easy by ordering on Nourished Life
> “We check every label so you don’t have to.”
Top Tips For Cleaning Products
Conventional cleaning products are mostly chemical-based and may be absorbed through the skin, ingested or inhaled in the course of use.
1.Use the Abode brand range of cleaning products
> Designed by Nicole Bijlsma, a former Naturopath who is now a renowned Building Biologist and is completing a PhD on health hazards in the home > THESE PRODUCTS ACTUALLY WORK!
2. Make your own to save on cost
> Vinegar and clove oil spray for keeping wet areas mould-free (see next slide) > Baking soda and vinegar-based recipes, e.g. Homes to Love
3. Use phthalate-free detergents when washing up
> Or at least use rubber gloves to minimise contact
Flame Retardants (PBDEs)
Polybrominated diphenyl esters (PBDEs) are flame retardants used to reduce flammability of computers, carpet, furniture fabrics and mattresses. While banned in Australia since 2005, they may still be present in imported products.
PBDEs off-gas into the air and end up in household dust. Further, they take a long time to break down so may persist in existing furniture and household dust.
Top Tips For Flame Retardants
1. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter > and consider getting an air purifier with a HEPA filter
2. Damp dust and wipe surfaces of equipment
3. Allow adequate ventilation and good air flow, particularly in rooms with computers
4. Regularly clean air conditioners and heater vents and inlets
> again use water or damp cloth
The main sources or pesticides are non-organically grown fruits and vegetables. It’s been noted in research that they may permeate past the skin into the flesh of produce, so washing/ peeling is helpful but may not fully eliminate the pesticides.
Top Tips For Pesticides
1. Follow the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 List:
> This list of veggies and fruit is updated each year and tells you the produce that's most important to buy organically and that which it's probably fine to buy as conventional.
2. Seek out local farmers markets:
> often they have spray-free produce for reasonable prices
3. Invest in certified organic food where you can:
> Farm gates and farmers markets often offer more affordable organic food than supermarkets.
Heavy Metals (Mercury, Lead and Cadmium)
Metals too can interact with hormone receptors.
Due to ocean pollution from industry, the main source of mercury is fish. However, there is also some evidence that large numbers of mercury fillings can lead to increased mercury in the body.
Top Tips for Mercury
1.Eat low mercury fish.
> Avoid shark (flake), billfish (swordfish, marlin, broadbill), tuna, barramundi, ray, ling, catfish, gem fish and orange roughy. > Eat more freely (2-3 serves per week) from fish that are <40cm in length (including head), especially herring, sardines, anchovies, salmon, snapper, blue grenadier, whiting, leather jacket, halibut, cod, mullet, mackerel, ocean trout, pilchards.
2. If you have a mercury fillings:
> Leave in place if not damaged, especially if you are trying to conceive. > If you need to remove them consult an experienced dentist who will take care to avoid inhalation of vapours and wait three months if trying to concieve.
Lead can sometimes be found in tap water at unacceptable levels and is also found in paint from homes painted prior to the 1980s. It may even be present in bone broth, even if made from organic animals.
Top tips for lead
1. Filter your tap water
> e.g. get bench top ceramic filter or ask your local supplier for one to attach to your tap that filters lead.
2. Avoid renovating house walls painted prior to 1980s
> If you must follow government guidelines and work with a naturopath while doing it.
3. Avoid consuming large amounts of bone broths
> Or use a powdered one that has been independently tested for heavy metals including lead.
The main source of cadmium is tobacco smoking. It takes a very long time to leave the body so the sooner you quit the better.
Cadmium can also be found in organ meats.
Top tips for Cadmium
1. Quit smoking
> if you are having trouble with this it is really worthwhile working with an experienced naturopath on a quit plan. But remember there are also a range of great free resources including the free app My QuitBuddy and website quit.org.au to help you formulate a successful plan and support you along the way.
2. Avoid organ meats
> Including supplemental form unless these have been independently tested for heavy metals including cadmium.
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals and Fertility, Next Steps
If you are having trouble with any of the above for any reason just start with the things you can do and work toward a plan for eliminating the rest one by one. It can be overwhelming and there’s no such thing as a fully EDC-free life but we can make a powerful difference by limiting wherever we can. It can also be useful to work with a Naturopath on a detoxification plan to ensure you are eliminating these chemicals as best as you possibly can.
Want to discuss things further? Book in for a free 10 minute discovery call here.
Josephine Cabrall - BHSc (Nat)
Naturopath & Nutritionist
RH Reproductive Health