Take Inventory of Chemicals Lurking in Your Home

Fertility problems are on the rise. Could chemical toxins be to blame? Since infertility has both genetic and environmental causes, researchers question whether substances in our environment trigger reproductive health difficulties. In the U.S., only about 5% of commonly used chemicals have been analyzed for their effect on our health. Until we know more, consider limiting your exposure to chemicals and toxins. Here are some attainable ways to take action.

Foods and supplements
Even with strict regulations in place, you can still be exposed to harmful chemicals in your food. Take polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), for example. PCBs are a group of chemicals linked to endometriosis, lower IVF success rates, and other fertility problems. The U.S. outlawed PCBs in 1979, but traces of the chemical still linger in the soil and water. This means that you are at risk for consuming PCBs if you eat contaminated meat, fish, or dairy products. To lower your risk:

  • Avoid eating large amounts of fish, especially those caught in PCB-contaminated water.
  • Try organic dairy products, fruits and vegetables. If you can't find affordable options, peel conventional produce before eating.
  • If you take fish oil supplements, look for pills certified to be free of toxins like PCBs and mercury.

Ask a doctor about infertility problems

Health and beauty products
Visit your neighborhood drugstore and you are instantly bombarded with enough skin, hair, and makeup products to beautify an army. Should you be more careful about what you buy? Environmental health scientists say yes. Here is the rundown on toxins disguised in pretty packages:

  • Some jewelry, hair dye, and makeup may contain lead, which is associated with fertility problems.
  • Toluene and benzene, chemicals found in nail polish and hair coloring agents, could affect your menstrual cycle and increase your miscarriage risk.
  • Air fresheners and other scented items could contain phthalates, a chemical that could alter your hormones and increase your risk of infertility.
  • Formaldehyde, found in some beauty items, may increase the risk of miscarriage and infertility.
  • Check your partner's products too; some chemicals could affect his sperm count.

Reduce your use of products containing toxins by switching to natural versions that are low in phthalates and artificial chemicals.

Plastics
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical found in plastics, water bottles, food storage containers, canned foods, and other common items. Watch out for these. Some studies associate BPA toxins and fertility-related problems like genital deformities, early puberty, and hormonal changes. Even the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is concerned about the increase in fertility problems when people are exposed to BPA. 

Pesticides and herbicides
This one may not be much of a surprise. The health hazards associated with chemical pesticides are widely publicized. While no one wants weeds or creepy crawlies in our homes, these products could affect your hormones, cause infertility, or affect your partner's sperm health. Protect your health and use pesticides with caution, or opt for chemical-free alternatives.

Cigarette smoke
This may also seem like a no-brainer, but if you are a smoker, here's another reason to quit: smoking increases infertility rates. Smokers also:

  • Take longer to get pregnant
  • Often hit menopause at an earlier age
  • Are more likely to miscarry than non-smokers

In addition, male smokers are in jeopardy of having low sperm counts. To improve your health and fertility, quit smoking now! The sooner you quit, the faster your fertility might return. And if you don't smoke, congratulations! You are protecting your reproductive health as well as the health of your offspring. Still, even if you don't smoke, be cautious around others that do smoke. Harmful poisons are found in secondhand smoke, so make sure you avoid restaurants and bars that allow smoking inside.

Everything in moderation
If you are trying to get pregnant and are now concerned that your home and garden are laden with harmful chemicals, take it easy. Worrying will not do you any good, and infertility is certainly stressful enough as it is. Just pay more attention to the products you use, and try to purchase new items that do not contain the chemicals mentioned above. To learn more about your personal health risks regarding toxins and infertility, see a fertility specialist.

Reviewed May 2011 by Dr. Kristen Wright from Reproductive Science Center of New England.

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