I specialized in women’s health and fertility during graduate school, and as part of my research I looked into endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and their effects on fertility, a topic relevant to anyone interested in getting pregnant or those who simply want to limit exposure to harmful chemicals. EDCs are chemicals found in everyday products that resemble the hormones in your body. This allows them to mimic those hormones and sometimes cause harm to your reproductive system at high levels of exposure. Here’s a primer on some of the top EDCs found in food packaging and everyday products and how to avoid them.
Found in: Personal care products, plastic packaging, synthetic fragrance, home products and detergents (2).
How to Avoid: Limit use of plastic packaging for food & avoid heating or freezing plastic. Limit scented personal care and home care products. Avoid synthetic air fresheners and candles. Check personal care products at www.ewg.org (2)
Why: Shown to be associated with abnormal sperm and lower sperm concentration (3,4,5). High exposure is linked to poorer IVF outcomes, lower ovarian reserve & increased time to pregnancy (6-9).
Found in: Plastic water bottles and containers, lining of aluminum cans, food packaging, receipt paper (10).
How to Avoid: Use fresh or frozen foods instead of canned. Rinse canned foods. Limit use of plastic food packaging and water bottles (don’t heat or freeze). Try stainless steel or glass instead. Avoid plastic labeled with #7 and avoid thermal paper receipts (10).
Why: Linked to longer time to pregnancy and higher risk of infertility. May be detrimental to sperm, oocytes and may lower testosterone (11,12).
Tip: Whole foods sources of soy (tempeh, tofu, soy milk) may actually lessen the effects of BPA exposure, so feel free to load up on these goodies (13).
Found in: Pesticides used on commercial fruit & vegetables, in flame retardants & polyurethane plastics (14).
How to Avoid: Buy organic, avoid buying furniture with lots of flame retardants and limit plastic use.
Why: Linked to longer time to pregnancy, greater risk of infertility, poor sperm quality and less successful IVF (15-17).
This article isn’t to scare you away from using any plastic ever. It’s to let you know these products aren’t without their consequences. In general, you can limit exposure by doing the following:
- Avoid single use plastic water bottles whenever possible – use a stainless steel or glass bottle instead.
- Don’t microwave or place plastic in the dishwasher.
- Avoid synthetic fragrances in personal care and home products. Opt for essential oil-based products instead.
- Limit use of canned goods – buy frozen, in bulk, glass jars or tetra packs.
- Check safety of furniture and home products and avoid those with chemical flame retardants.
- Check safety of personal care products at ewg.org.
Zamkowska, D., Karwacka, A., Jurewicz, J., & Radwan, M. (2018). Environmental exposure to non-persistent endocrine disrupting chemicals and semen quality: An overview of the current epidemiological evidence. International Journal of Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health, 31(4), 377–414. https://doi.org/10.13075/ijomeh.1896.01195
Messerlian, C., Souter, I., Gaskins, A. J., Williams, P. L., Ford, J. B., Chiu, Y.-H., … Earth Study Team. (2016). Urinary phthalate metabolites and ovarian reserve among women seeking infertility care. Human Reproduction (Oxford, England), 31(1), 75–83. https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dev292
Wang, C., Yang, L., Wang, S., Zhang, Z., Yu, Y., Wang, M., … Wang, S.-L. (2016). The classic EDCs, phthalate esters and organochlorines, in relation to abnormal sperm quality: a systematic review with meta-analysis. Scientific Reports, 6, 19982. https://doi.org/10.1038/srep19982
Cai, H., Zheng, W., Zheng, P., Wang, S., Tan, H., He, G., & Qu, W. (2015). Human urinary/seminal phthalates or their metabolite levels and semen quality: A meta-analysis. Environmental Research, 142, 486–494. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2015.07.008
Wang, Y.-X., Zeng, Q., Sun, Y., Yang, P., Wang, P., Li, J., … Lu, W.-Q. (2016). Semen phthalate metabolites, semen quality parameters and serum reproductive hormones: A cross-sectional study in China. Environmental Pollution (Barking, Essex: 1987), 211, 173–182. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2015.12.052
Thomsen, A. M. L., Riis, A. H., Olsen, J., Jönsson, B. A. G., Lindh, C. H., Hjollund, N. H., … Toft, G. (2017). Female exposure to phthalates and time to pregnancy: a first pregnancy planner study. Human Reproduction (Oxford, England), 32(1), 232–238. https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dew291
Machtinger, R., Gaskins, A. J., Racowsky, C., Mansur, A., Adir, M., Baccarelli, A. A., … Hauser, R. (2018). Urinary concentrations of biomarkers of phthalates and phthalate alternatives and IVF outcomes. Environment International, 111, 23–31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2017.11.011
Al-Saleh, I., Coskun, S., Al-Doush, I., Abduljabbar, M., Al-Rouqi, R., Al-Rajudi, T., & Al-Hassan, S. (2019). Couples exposure to phthalates and its influence on in vitro fertilization outcomes. Chemosphere, 226, 597–606. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chemosphere.2019.03.146
Hauser, R., Gaskins, A. J., Souter, I., Smith, K. W., Dodge, L. E., Ehrlich, S., … EARTH Study Team. (2016). Urinary Phthalate Metabolite Concentrations and Reproductive Outcomes among Women Undergoing in Vitro Fertilization: Results from the EARTH Study. Environmental Health Perspectives, 124(6), 831–839. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1509760
Omran, G. A., Gaber, H. D., Mostafa, N. A. M., Abdel-Gaber, R. M., & Salah, E. A. (2018). Potential hazards of bisphenol A exposure to semen quality and sperm DNA integrity among infertile men. Reproductive Toxicology (Elmsford, N.Y.), 81, 188–195. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.reprotox.2018.08.010
Wang, B., Zhou, W., Zhu, W., Chen, L., Wang, W., Tian, Y., … Shanghai Birth Cohort Study. (2018). Associations of female exposure to bisphenol A with fecundability: Evidence from a preconception cohort study. Environment International, 117, 139–145. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2018.05.003
Zhou, W., Fang, F., Zhu, W., Chen, Z.-J., Du, Y., & Zhang, J. (2016). Bisphenol A and Ovarian Reserve among Infertile Women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph14010018
Chavarro, J. E., Mínguez-Alarcón, L., Chiu, Y.-H., Gaskins, A. J., Souter, I., Williams, P. L., … EARTH Study Team. (2016). Soy Intake Modifies the Relation Between Urinary Bisphenol A Concentrations and Pregnancy Outcomes Among Women Undergoing Assisted Reproduction. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 101(3), 1082–1090. https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2015-3473
EPA. Organophosphate Insecticides. Retrieved May 1, 2019 from: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/documents/rmpp_6thed_ch5_organophosphates.pdf
Hu, Y., Ji, L., Zhang, Y., Shi, R., Han, W., Tse, L. A., … Tian, Y. (2018). Organophosphate and Pyrethroid Pesticide Exposures Measured before Conception and Associations with Time to Pregnancy in Chinese Couples Enrolled in the Shanghai Birth Cohort. Environmental Health Perspectives, 126(7), 077001. https://doi.org/10.1289/EHP2987
Chiu, Y. H., Afeiche, M. C., Gaskins, A. J., Williams, P. L., Petrozza, J. C., Tanrikut, C., … Chavarro, J. E. (2015). Fruit and vegetable intake and their pesticide residues in relation to semen quality among men from a fertility clinic. Human Reproduction (Oxford, England), 30(6), 1342–1351. https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/dev064
Chiu, Y.-H., Williams, P. L., Gillman, M. W., Gaskins, A. J., Mínguez-Alarcón, L., Souter, I., … EARTH Study Team. (2018). Association Between Pesticide Residue Intake From Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables and Pregnancy Outcomes Among Women Undergoing Infertility Treatment With Assisted Reproductive Technology. JAMA Internal Medicine, 178(1), 17–26. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.5038