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How Everyday Chemicals Impact Female and Male Fertility

By March 29, 2022No Comments
chemical impact on fertility health

So much of the conversation around our fertility and reproductive health focuses on how our changes in lifestyle, such as deciding to start families later in life and stressful lifestyles, have negatively impacted our chances of conceiving. Yet a major factor that is impacting our reproductive health is mostly outside of our control: our environment. Chemical impact on fertility and overall health have to be brought to our attention as one could be exposed to these substances without knowing.

In the past few decades our exposure to environmental chemicals has continually increased while fertility rates and sperm counts have continually decreased, we are starting to understand that these two trends are closely related. Unfortunately the chemicals that are having this negative impact are not considered overtly ‘dangerous’ in fact they are the everyday chemicals that we surround ourselves with in our homes, store our food in and even put directly on our bodies in our cosmetics. These everyday chemicals including plastics (mainly BPA), parabens, phthalates and pesticides, are known as endocrine disruptors as they closely influence and disturb our natural hormone balance and hormone production. They have the potential to disrupt our hormonal health and fertility in a variety of ways.

We’re going to look at how these chemicals might be influencing both male and female reproductive health and what we can do about it, therefore increase your chances of conceiving and having a healthy pregnancy.

Which chemicals act as endocrine disruptors and where are they found?

The 2 chemicals that are known to be the most powerful disruptors of hormone production and reproductive health are phthalates and plastics. A plastic called bisphenol-A (BPA) is known to have a strong negative impact on female fertility by reducing egg quality and chances of conceiving. BPA can be found in plastic food containers and plastic bottles, receipts, canned foods and even, worryingly, in feminine hygiene products. The most significant source of exposure to BPA is in our diet as the majority of food and drink packaging contains BPA, a recent study found that BPA levels in urine decreased by 66% following three days during which participants avoided packaged foods

If you regularly treat yourself to a gel manicure and don’t leave the house without a spritz of perfume, there’s a good chance you’re exposing your body to phthalates. Phthalates are used to make plastics soft and pliable and are also used to produce vinyl and cleaning products. Phthalate exposure can also negatively impact sperm and egg quality and has been linked to increased risk of miscarriage.

How can environmental chemicals influence our fertility?

The problem with so many of the chemicals we are exposed to is that they are potent hormone mimickers, these chemicals are so similar to the hormones that our bodies produce that they can actually take their place and interfere with our body’s own production of hormones. Hormones are our body’s chemical messengers and these foreign chemicals can interfere with these messages and impact processes reliant on these hormones such as ovulation, sperm and egg production, conception and foetal development.

If you think about how the contraceptive pill works by providing synthetic hormones to interfere with and suppress ovulation you can start to understand how these hormone-mimicking chemicals can have a contraceptive-like impact on our fertility.

Influence on female fertility

A large body of research has proven the negative impact of these everyday chemicals on female reproductive health and chances of conceiving, the findings of this body of research are rather worrying. Women with higher levels of BPA circulating in their bloodstream were found to be 3 times more likely to miscarry and produce eggs that are of lower quality. Higher levels of BPA have been closely linked to reduced chances of conceiving through assisted conception – in fact, women with higher levels of BPA were two times less likely to become pregnant through fertility treatment.

Not only can BPA interfere with the activity of our reproductive hormones it can drive a perfect storm of hormonal imbalances in the female body:  BPA can interfere with thyroid hormone activity, increase prolactin levels and drive insulin resistance. Imbalances in thyroid hormones and levels of prolactin can interfere with proper ovulation and chances of conceiving, while insulin resistance can drive PCOS. In fact women with PCOS were found to have levels of BPA up to 46% higher than women without PCOS.

The research on phthalates reports very similar findings: higher levels of phthalates were linked to increased chance of miscarriage. We know that phthalates inhibit production of oestrogen in a developing follicle and this interferes with both egg development and ability of an egg cell to fertilise.

Whereas BPA may promote PCOS, phthalates have been linked to the reproductive disorder endometriosis, in fact higher levels of phthalates were associated with double the likelihood of having endometriosis. Reducing exposure to both of these chemicals is an essential step in supporting reproductive health and boosting chances of conceiving.

Influence on male fertility

Male sperm counts have more than halved in the past 40 years and there is growing evidence that exposure to environmental chemicals has played a significant role in this downward trend. Male reproductive health is just as vulnerable as female reproductive health to the damaging impact of these chemicals.

Men who had higher levels of BPA in their bloodstream have been shown to be 30-46% more likely to produce lower-quality embryos and 3-4 times more likely to have a low sperm count. Phthlalates can directly interfere with male reproductive hormones by blocking the activity of androgens. Higher levels of phthlalate exposure was found to result in lower circulating testosterone and poorer quality semen. Men with higher phthlalate exposure were found to experience a longer time to achieve pregnancy with their partners compared to men with lower levels.

Impact during pregnancy

The impact of these chemicals can not only prevent us from achieving pregnancy but exposure can have a negative impact on pregnancy outcomes and the development of a growing baby. So by reducing our exposure we not only increase our chances of pregnancy but increase the chance of having a healthy pregnancy AND promote the health and development of our baby.

Babies born to mothers with higher levels of BPA were more likely to have a low birth weight or be born prematurely. Exposure to these chemicals during gestation may also have a negative impact on neuronal development: children born to mothers exposed to BPA were more likely to be anxious or hyperactive in childhood, while there is a link between a mother’s exposure to phthlalates and risk of developing autism in male offspring.

How to reduce exposure to these harmful chemicals

It might seem like an impossible task to avoid these harmful chemicals but a few straightforward steps can help you control your environmental exposure. The first step in reducing exposure is to walk through your home and get rid of as much plastic as you can. Aim to buy as much food as you possibly can without plastic packaging: cooking from scratch is a great way to instantly reduce your exposure to BPA. Reduce how often you wear perfume (do you need it every day?) and stop painting your nails. Even these simple steps can help you to significantly reduce your exposure to these everyday chemicals and promote good reproductive health. In the coming weeks we’re going to provide a comprehensive guide on how you can protect yourself and your reproductive health from the negative impact of these chemicals and optimise your reproductive health.

 

References

Bloom MS, Vom Saal FS, Kim D, Taylor JA, Lamb JD, Fujimoto VY. Serum unconjugated bisphenol A concentrations in men may influence embryo quality indicators during in vitro fertilization. Environ Toxicol Pharmacol. 2011 Sep;32(2):319-23.

Ehrlich S, Williams PL, Missmer SA, et al. Urinary bisphenol A concentrations and implantation failure among women undergoing in vitro fertilization. Environ Health Perspect. 2012;120(7):978-983.

Fett R, (2016). It Starts with the Egg.  New York. Franklin Fox

Kandaraki E, Chatzigeorgiou A, Livadas S, Palioura E, Economou F, Koutsilieris M, Palimeri S, Panidis D, Diamanti-Kandarakis E. Endocrine disruptors and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): elevated serum levels of bisphenol A in women with PCOS. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Mar;96(3):E480-4.

Karwacka A, Zamkowska D, Radwan M, Jurewicz J. Exposure to modern, widespread environmental endocrine disrupting chemicals and their effect on the reproductive potential of women: an overview of current epidemiological evidence. Hum Fertil (Camb). 2019 Apr;22(1):2-25.

Li DK, Zhou Z, Miao M, He Y, Wang J, Ferber J, Herrinton LJ, Gao E, Yuan W. Urine bisphenol-A (BPA) level in relation to semen quality. Fertil Steril. 2011 Feb;95(2):625-30.e1-4.

Liang H, Xu W, Chen J, Shi H, Zhu J, Liu X, Wang J, Miao M, Yuan W. The Association between Exposure to Environmental Bisphenol A and Gonadotropic Hormone Levels among Men. PLoS One. 2017 Jan 13;12(1):e0169217.

Panagiotou EM, Ojasalo V, Damdimopoulou P. Phthalates, ovarian function and fertility in adulthood. Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2021 Sep;35(5):101552..

Radke EG, Braun JM, Meeker JD, Cooper GS. Phthalate exposure and male reproductive outcomes: A systematic review of the human epidemiological evidence. Environ Int. 2018 Dec;121(Pt 1):764-793.

Steinmetz R, Brown NG, Allen DL, Bigsby RM, Ben-Jonathan N. The environmental estrogen bisphenol A stimulates prolactin release in vitro and in vivo. Endocrinology. 1997 May;138(5):1780-6.

Sugiura-Ogasawara M, Ozaki Y, Sonta S, Makino T, Suzumori K. Exposure to bisphenol A is associated with recurrent miscarriage. Hum Reprod. 2005 Aug;20(8):2325-9.

Zhou W, Fang F, Zhu W, Chen ZJ, Du Y, Zhang J. Bisphenol A and Ovarian Reserve among Infertile Women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016 Dec 27;14(1):18.

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Amy Martin

Marketing Director

Amy is a high achieving individual with a number of marketing awards under her belt, including Young Digital Business Person of the Year 2019. She is a big believer in digital marketing and an expert in executing personalised targeted campaigns. Amy strives to learn from data and campaigns that show return on investment.

Robert Gordon

Managing Director, Gordons Chemists

 

Robert Gordon, director at Gordons Chemist's. Gordons Chemists is a chain of more than 60 pharmacies, located in NI and Scotland. Gordons Chemists is Northern Ireland's largest independent pharmacy chain.

Dr. Debbie Collins

MBBchBAO MRCGP

 

Dr. Debbie Collins MBBchBAO MRCGP, a practicing GP and partner in Belfast. She has a passion for patient education and advocacy. Her special interests are Women's Health and Fertility

Sarah Trimble

Nutritional Therapist

 

Sarah Trimble - a nutritional therapist with a passion for good food instead of fad diets. Sarah has a particular Interest in using the power of nutrition to support hormonal imbalances and reproductive health.

Barbara Scott

Director, Seren Natural Fertility
Chair, Association of Reproductive Reflexologists

 

Barbara Scott is Chair of The Association of Reproductive Reflexologists, founder of Seren Natural Fertility and author of Reflexology for Fertility. In 2017, she was awarded ‘Complementary Therapist of the Year’ by the Federation of Holistic Therapists and has been nominated for several awards within the field of complementary therapy. In 2019 she was awarded the Innovation in Reflexology Award by the Association of Reflexologists.

Barbara speaks and lectures globally on her integrative approach to supporting couples having difficulties conceiving. She has spoken at many of the Fertility Shows and Fertility Fest. Alongside her own busy clinics, she also trains practitioners in providing this integrative, approach to fertility and reproductive healthcare and well-being. The ARR (Association of Reproductive Reflexologists) has trained practitioners globally, from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Europe, and most areas of the UK.

Her expertise and passion is in advocating a patient-centred and integrative approach to supporting both men and women on their journey to parenthood.

Cindy Charles

Fertility coach and Founder of Fertilelife

 

Cindy Charles- Fertility coach and Founder of Fertilelife. Cindy is a committed advocate of social and personal development. Her own life experiences inspired her fertility support services. Cindy has worked with the Fertility Network UK, and has had the privilege to work as a resident Fertility Coach for the London Women's Clinic on Harley Street. Cindy believes in the importance of nurturing our own fertility.

Dr. Lyuda Shkrobot

MD, MSc Gynecologist, Fertility specialist at unq.life fertility clinic

 

Dr Lyuda has a special interest in reproductive immunology. Dr Shkrobot assisted in establishing the first European Donor Egg programme at Sims, coordinating and liaising with Intersono Clinic in Ukraine Advisors. She is passionate about patient-centred, results-driven care.

Lisa Corcoran

Business Development Executive

 

Lisa has 15 years of commercial business experience. She has proven her capabilities in Investment Property Sales and, Management & Business Development for Technology companies that have provided her with an understanding of different customer needs across several sectors. Lisa appreciates the value of customer education and relationship building in long-lasting partnerships.

Aoibheann Murphy

Chief Financial Officer

 

Having trained with PWC, Aoibheann qualified as a Chartered Accountant in 1997. She subsequently spent eight years working in industry, gaining invaluable experience in many areas In 2005 Aoibheann became MD of Pangur Consulting, providing professional expertise to a broad client base. She is looking forward to the new challenge of Nua Fertility.
 

Share a little about yourself—the things we wouldn’t learn from simply reading your professional bio.

 

What was your journey to parenthood like?

Right craic!
 

Do you prefer podcasts or books? And of the one that you prefer, what is a show or title that you recommend?

I love sport…any sport…and the outdoors. Living in the Barrow valley I get to enjoy swimming and kayaking in the Barrow and exploring the Blackstairs mountains. Since I hung up my soccer boots (the body just couldn’t take it anymore!), I’ve been cycling with my lovely friends in Mount Leinster Wheelers and was chuffed to have completed the Ironman 70.3 triathlon event in Dublin in 2019!
I’m an avid reader…books beat podcasts hands down!...although recently I’ve dabbled with audio books through the library app Borrow Box. “A Little Life” left its mark on me. A harrowing story, definitely not for the faint hearted.
 

If there was just one thing you could impart on women on their journey to parenthood, what would it be?

Don’t be consumed by the roles in your life – parent, partner, employee etc. Parenthood, be it getting there or going through it, will have its tough times. Cherishing yourself as an individual and making time for yourself can help you through those times….it’s good to be a bit selfish!!

Mark Mullins

Director of Sales

 

What was your journey to parenthood like?

To be honest it was very difficult. At the beginning we thought that when we decided that we wanted to start a family Deborah would fall pregnant shortly afterwards like many of her friends. As time went by, we started to suspect something was wrong. After initial tests we found out that I had a low sperm count which meant that we would have to go down the assisted pregnancy route. This took me several months to get my head around as I blamed myself for this. All I wanted was my wife to be able to go through the pregnancy journey. We couldn’t wait to become parents. There were many long and painful nights where I thought this would never happen for us. After several failed attempts we decided to look at further ways of improving our chances. This led us to look at fertility supplements, our diet, exercise. I will never forget when that morning during our Two Week Wait when Deborah woke me up at 5 a.m. to show me those two lines, we had both been yearning for! We are blessed to now have our beautiful daughter.
 

On challenging days, what kept you going? Where did you find inspiration?

My wife was my inspiration. She kept me going through those challenging months and years. She was there to help me deal with everything. The guilt I felt when I saw her having to go through everything.
 

What is your ideal was to relax and unwind?

My latest passion is cooking on my BBQ. I find it so peaceful and I just switch off. It just gives me a bit of alone time which everyone needs.
 

If there was just one thing you could impart on men as they begin trying to become parents, what would it be?

I would highly recommend communicating with friends and family. A problem shared is a problem halved. Failing that there are some really good private Facebook groups for men suffering from infertility. I found this great support through the good and especially the bad times.

Deborah Brock

Founder & CEO of Nua Fertility

 

Deborah has a personal passion for fertility health, supporting people and communities. With over 15 years experience of working in the Non profit and Education sector, I have had the honour of working together with people and communities focusing on their strengths, capacities and assets. With extensive senior management, project management and creative programme development experience.

How did your experience with fertility inspire you to help start Nua Fertility?

My own personal fertility journey opened my eyes to the world of fertility health. Trying for a baby is one of the most exciting yet vulnerable times in your life. It took myself and my husband over three years and the helping hand of science to become a mum.  I have always worked with people and communities and felt my vision for Nua Fertility could genuinely support others who have fertility challenges.

Share a little about yourself—the things we wouldn’t learn from simply reading your professional bio.

I'm am curious person and love all things research. My ideal evening would be reading and exploring scientific journals! I like to think I am a little bit creative and I LOVE paint by numbers! Its probably the only time I slow down, I become immersed in the painting and think of nothing else.

What do you want to tell someone trying to conceive or already pregnant?

Educate yourself! Knowledge is power. The more you inform yourself about your fertility health the more you are empowering yourself with knowledge. Own your journey and take control over your own fertility health.

What’s something you wish someone told you while trying to conceive?

Open up and talk with friends and family. I was surrounded by amazing friends and family but I never opened up. When your struggling to conceive, a non-judgemental ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on is so powerful.