In our recent blog post, we outlined how everyday environmental chemicals, such as phthalates, BPA, parabens, and pesticides, to which we are exposed can negatively impact female and male fertility. Because these chemicals are quite literally everywhere in our environment and our homes, reducing and avoiding exposure can seem like an impossible task. But it is possible to significantly reduce your exposure to these chemicals. Here’s how!
Start in the kitchen
By far the most significant exposure to hormone-disrupting environmental chemicals is through the food we eat. So much of the food we buy is packaged in plastic packaging, and we then store our food in plastic containers and cling film in the home. When food is stored in these containers, BPA and phthalates can leach into the food stored in them, and we then consume these chemicals in our meals.
A recent study found that avoiding packaged food for 3 days resulted in a 66% drop in BPA levels detected in the urine. While another study found that people who ate one serving of canned soup for five days had BPA levels 12 times higher than those who had eaten fresh homemade soup. So simply by cooking fresh food more and reducing our reliance on food from plastic packaging, we can significantly reduce our exposure to BPA. Purchase loose vegetables and fruit where possible in the supermarket or greengrocers, or consider ordering a vegetable box direct from a local farm.
Pesticides on non-organic fruit and vegetables and other foods are capable of disrupting our hormones. Buying organic when possible and washing fruit and vegetables thoroughly can help reduce exposure to pesticides. Washing vegetables with bicarbonate of soda solution or a pre-made vegetables wash (we really like Bentley Organic Salad, Fruit, and Veg Wash) has been shown to remove over 90% of pesticide residues.
In your kitchen get rid of all plastic containers and replace them will glass, stainless steel, ceramic, or silicone containers, and avoid wrapping your food in cling film. Plastic containers that claim to be BPA-free can still contain other harmful plastics so it’s best to give those a miss too and never microwave or reheat food in plastic containers. Plastic containers that have the recycling codes 3,6 and 7 on the bottom are the most harmful so it’s worth checking the codes on the products you buy most often and seeking out alternatives where necessary.
Cooking with Teflon and non-stick cookware is another way that these plastics can make their way into our food, especially when these pans are heated to high temperatures. It’s best to use stainless steel or cast iron pans. A company called Green Pan makes high-quality plastic-free non-stick cookware.
Check your water, coffee, and chewing gum?
We all know that drinking plenty of water is essential to our health, but plastic bottled water and tap water can also be a source of these hormone-disrupting environmental chemicals. Using a charcoal filter has been shown to remove BPA from tap water so filtering tap water and storing it in a glass or stainless steel container is an ideal way to ensure the water you drink is free of environmental chemicals. If you like to drink mineral water try to buy it in a glass bottle.
Coffee sold in plastic capsules and then processed through a machine with plastic tubing exposes the body to significant amounts of BPA and phthalates, especially if you’re having 2-3 coffees every day. Swapping to a French press coffee maker is an easy change to help reduce exposure.
Lastly, did you know that chewing gum contains a form of vinyl that contains phthalates? So give up on this habit or source plastic-free plant-based chewing gums.
Detox your bathroom cabinet
Even though phthalates are a form of plastic they are commonly added to cosmetics, hair dyes, body creams, nail varnish, and fragranced products as they act to fix dyes and fragrances in these products. Parabens are a preservative commonly used in cosmetics and skincare which can also act to mimic hormones and disturb reproductive health. So the numerous skincare products we store in our bathroom and the makeup in our make-up bag are major sources of hormone-disrupting chemicals that can potentially interfere with our reproductive health. We apply these products to our skin every day and can absorb these chemicals through our skin or even breathe them in.
Detoxing your bathroom by swapping your cosmetics and toiletries with products that are formulated without parabens and phthalates is an important step in reducing your exposure to environmental chemicals. Avoiding perfumed products and nail varnish (especially long-lasting gel nail polish) is a great first step, which will significantly reduce exposure to phthalates very quickly.
Many companies are now producing ‘clean’ and ‘green’ cosmetics free of chemicals so it’s worth doing your research and looking into what is in your favourite toiletries. The Environmental Working Group website https://www.ewg.org/ provides a lot of reliable consumer advice on how to decide which products to use. Be aware of products that sound like they may be natural with claims such as ‘fragrance-free’ or ‘contains plant extracts’ but contain a lot of potentially harmful chemicals.
Do female personal care products contain chemicals?
Yes, they do. In fact, tampons and sanitary towels contain a lot of chemicals. These products often contain bleaches and dyes and fragrances which are then absorbed into the body and bloodstream. In one study a group of women swapped their standard sanitary protection for natural brands and in 3 days their exposure to phthalates dropped by 27% and the levels of parabens in their urine dropped by 45%.
Chemical-free alternatives to tampons and sanitary towels include menstrual cups, period pants, and organic and chemical-free products.
The chemicals typically used in dry cleaning are known hormone disruptors. Avoid dry cleaning your clothes as much as possible and always air clothes that have been dry cleaned before hanging them in your wardrobe. Many eco dry cleaners, that dry clean without harmful chemicals, are now available so it’s worth checking if there is one near you.
You might be exposed to some of these chemicals in your professional life. If this is the case try to reduce exposure when possible by wearing gloves and face masks and ensuring good ventilation of the professional space. If you have the option you may want to investigate if chemical-free alternatives are available for your business, for example, the company OWAY produces reduced chemical hair dyes.
How Diet & Lifestyle choices can protect us from these chemicals
Several diet and lifestyle practices have been found to protect our bodies and our reproductive health from the damaging impact of these chemicals. So, together with reducing exposure, following these dietary and lifestyle practices will really help to reduce the negative impact of BPA, parabens, phthalates, and pesticides.
Eat kimchi and take a probiotic
The spicy fermented cabbage dish kimchi contains a type of bacteria that has been shown to break down the plastic BPA so that it is no longer harmful. So incorporating kimchi into your diet regularly is a tasty way to protect against exposure to BPA.
Having a healthy gut microbiome (the population of good bacteria in our gut) has also been shown to protect our bodies against the negative impact of BPA, so a high-quality probiotic supplement that looks after our gut microbiome (such as NuaBiome Women & NuaBiome Men) is a great addition to any supplement programme designed to boost fertility.
Take a supplement that contains folate and Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
Women who consumed at least 400µg of folate every day were less likely to be affected by exposure to BPA than those who consumed less than 400µg of folate every day. Those women consuming enough folate did not experience any reduction in chances of conception and achieving pregnancy with BPA exposure, so taking a quality multivitamin that provides 400µg of folate and consuming foods rich in folate such as beans and lentils and leafy green vegetables is an important way to protect reproductive health and chances of conceiving against hormone-disrupting chemicals.
The antioxidant Coenzyme Q10 can potentially reverse the damage to egg cells caused by the plastic BPA. So taking a fertility-boosting supplement that contains Coenzyme Q10 (such as NuaBiome Women) can help look after our reproductive health in the face of chemical exposure.
Sweat it out
Sweating can help to eliminate phthalates from the body. When researchers examined the concentration of phthalates in sweat and urine, they found that sweat contained twice the concentration of phthalates that urine did. So sweating regularly through aerobic exercise is a good way of helping to reduce our body’s exposure to phthalates.
Sweating in steam rooms and saunas could also potentially help the body detox phthalates, however, using steam rooms and saunas is not safe during pregnancy. Hence, women trying to conceive who could be in the early stages of pregnancy should not use saunas or steam rooms.
Drink Green Tea & Supplement chlorella
Compounds present in green tea have been shown to protect cells from damage by BPA, whereas the algae chlorella was shown to remove 90% of BPA from a cell culture in a laboratory experiment. Drinking around 3 cups of green tea daily is recommended, and you could consider a chlorella supplement, especially if you are exposed to endocrine-disrupting chemicals professionally. Chlorella is known to be safe to supplement during pregnancy. However, always check with your GP or healthcare provider before introducing chlorella into your supplement programme.
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