The journey of infertility is paved with many stones that lead to a sense of loss of control – and the anxiety, sadness, helplessness and shame that accompany it can be overwhelming at times. When I work with couples who are navigating this process, along with having them mourn the losses, we focus on what they can control along the way! One of those areas is what they are putting in and on their bodies, and how certain environmental toxins, particularly those chemicals that are endocrine disruptors, negatively affect male and female fertility, fetal development and infant/child development.
I think it is safe to say that there is no place left in the world untouched by environmental toxins at this point. They have been found on the top of the Himalayan Mountains thanks to acid rain and in the pristine islands of the South Pacific thanks to the garbage dump in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Studies of American women living in urban environments have found an average of over 200 chemicals in cord blood. So the bad news is that we cannot avoid all chemicals/toxins; the good news is that we can make better choices in many areas.
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that mimic or block hormones that regulate many of the body’s functions. In addition to disruption of hormones, these chemicals can also lead to gene mutations or alter gene expression. While infertility rates have increased in part due to couples putting off childbearing, it is also very likely that our environments have played a contributory role.
Here are four of the top endocrine disruptors known at this time:
Bisphenol-A (BPA) – is a component used in many plastics. It is found in items such as plastic water bottles, the lining of steel food cans, dental sealants/fillings, food and milk carton linings, plastic cups and plates and containers used to store and reheat foods in microwaves. It was also used in many baby and toddler products, many of which were recreated to be “BPA-free”. However, new research has shown that Bisphenol-S (BPS), the chemical substituted for BPA in these products, is just as strong an endocrine disruptor as BPA!
Phthalates (pronounced thalates) – are found in many beauty products, often under the “guise” of fragrance (the FDA does not require companies to specifically list phthalates on labels). This includes things such as cosmetics, shampoos, lotions, nail polish, pill coatings, vinyl flooring, and plastic shower curtains.
Parabens: are used as a preservative and are found in shampoos, shaving gels, personal lubricants, spray tanning solution, cosmetics and toothpaste. Look on the label for words such as methylparaben, propylparaben, etc.
Pesticides – used in conventional agriculture.
So what can you do to make yourself as healthy as possible?
Eat organic!! Organic fruits and vegetables will be labeled with a five-digit number that starts with nine. Conventional produce is usually labeled with a four-digit number that starts with four or five. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has an app you can download called “The Dirty Dozen”. It gives you a list of the fruits and vegetables that are most susceptible to pesticide absorption as well as a list of “The Clean 15” – those items which are “safer” to consume if you can’t find the organic version.
Replace your body/beauty products and household cleaning products with non-toxic versions. When I first learned about all of these chemicals I threw pretty much everything away and started from scratch. If that’s too drastic for you, replace one item at a time as you finish the old bottle. Once again, the Environmental Working Group is a very helpful resource. If you go to their website, www.cosmeticsdatabase.org, you can check the toxicity rating on the products you are currently using and search for non-toxic replacement items. They also note for each product if it has any ingredients specifically known to have the potential for reproductive toxicity.
Replace your plastic kitchen items (e.g., storage containers, cooking spoons, etc.) with glass or wood versions.
Cook with glass, cast iron or good quality stainless steel pans. Some of the newer non-stick pans are claiming to be non-toxic as well, but do your research to feel good about it.
If you use a microwave, heat food in glass or porcelain containers only. Even better, stop using the microwave altogether.
Use baby and toddler products that are green! Conventional cribs, bedding and paint off-gas toxic chemicals. As noted above, even BPA-free plastic items are probably not safe because of the BPS, so choose glass, wood, etc. Conventional diapers typically contain a number of chemicals that wick away moisture or serve other purposes but are toxic to babies.
Consider working with a holistic practitioner to do a pre-pregnancy detoxification program to make your body as healthy as possible to carry a baby.
Brenda Strong, one of my yoga teachers and the creator of Strong Yoga4Fertility, said something that always comes to my mind – “We vote with our dollars.” The more we become aware of and choose to buy non-toxic products, the more the demand grows for such products. The European Union has more protective and stringent laws about cosmetics and agriculture than we do in the United States. So at least for now, we have to be our own best advocates. For those of you in other countries, you may want to check and see what laws are in place (or not) to protect your health and well-being.
True words of wisdom have survived the test of time, including the idea of learning to control what you can and letting go of things you cannot (surrender, acceptance) – because they do lead to inner peace. So take control where you can – make the best choices you can with the information you have right now. You cannot change what has already happened in the past, and there is no way to know what new information will come to us in the future, so let all of that go. Making small changes in what you put in and on your body right now will help you, and the world around you, to be healthier.
Deborah E. Anderson, PhD, RYT is a Licensed Psychologist and Neuropsychologist, and a Registered Yoga Teacher. She holds a doctorate in Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine from the University of North Texas and completed a two-year post-doctoral Fellowship in Neuropsychology at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute in Los Angeles.
Her therapy practice includes individual and couples therapy with mostly an adult population. She draws upon her training in cognitive-behavioral therapy, neuroscience and other therapeutic modalities including mind-body medicine (such as relaxation, guided imagery, and hypnosis) to treat a variety of general psychiatric and medical disorders. Her goal is to help clients understand the underlying thoughts and emotions that create distress and dis-ease and to help them build a “tool kit for life” from which to reduce symptoms of stress and other physical/emotional pain. She also has specialized training in Neuropsychology, which involves the assessment of brain-behavior relationships. She works with children (ages 6+) and adults to diagnose conditions such as learning disabilities, ADHD and dementias, or to evaluate cognitive functioning associated with acquired injuries such as head trauma or strokes, or other medical conditions.
Dr. Anderson is an Associate Clinical Professor in the UCLA Department of Psychology where she supervises doctoral level students in assessment. She also acts as a forensic consultant for neuropsychological and psychological injury cases. Dr. Anderson was a columnist for Inside Weddings magazine for five years and she writes a wellness blog.
For more information about her practice, or to access archives of her articles and blogs, please visit her website: www.drdeborahanderson.com.