There’s no escaping the surrounding environment we live in, but certain chemicals and toxins present in foods, water or the workplace can affect health and increase the chances of reproductive disorders like infertility, abortions or congenital malformations. While many studies continue to look into possible environmental factors affecting fertility, here are some chemicals and factors that could negatively impact a couple’s attempt to conceive:
Direct exposure to pesticides causes infertility
Pesticides sprayed on crops and fruits can find their way into the diet through contaminated foods themselves, as also contaminated water supply. Linked to an increased risk of miscarriage, cancer, autoimmune responses (in which the body’s immune cells attack the sperm or egg), reduced sperm counts, these pesticides could be:
- DDT and chlordane (reduced sperm count; damage to seminiferous tubules)
- Chlorpyrifos (Cancer and reduced sperm count)
- Kepone (Reduced sperm count)
- Dibromochloropropane (DBCP) (Linked to reduced sperm count, ovarian problems and early menopause)
- Ethylene dibromide (Reduced sperm count)
Exposure to toxins in work and everyday environment
Depending on one’s occupation, the workplace can expose a person to contaminants that may cause reproductive problems. For example:
- Lead – Lead is a reproductive toxicant and exposure to it through household contaminants, like paints and dust, and among pottery workers is known to affect male fertility. It reduces the quality of sperm.
- Chemical solvents – Hair salons, spas and drycleaner store workers expose themselves to a large amount of harsh chemical solvents whose chemicals have shown to cause reproductive disorders in the long run in women employees. Paints, glues and varnishes used around home or by painters exposes them to the carcinogens present in these products.
- Radiation – Repeated exposure to x-rays and chemotherapy affects ovarian function and sperm production in radiation technicians.
- Medical materials – Ethylene oxide is a chemical used for sterilisation of surgical instruments. It is linked to birth defects in early pregnancy and increased risk of miscarriage.
- Personal care products – Various items used every day like shampoos and soaps can be a source of chemical contaminants. These include:
- Phthalates – These are industrial plasticizers found in cosmetics. Its usage in commercial personal care items is already banned in Europe. Phthalates are known to cause reproductive damage in men and women, though more pronouncedly in men (low sperm count, damaged or absent testicles, absent prostrate gland).
- Oestrogen compounds – Paraben is a cosmetic preservative found in many personal care items. It can imitate the effects of oestrogen when absorbed into the body and cause hormonal imbalances. PVC plastics also contain oestrogen-mimicking compounds (also known as endocrine disrupters) that interfere with body’s hormones.
Though it may not be possible to completely eliminate the exposure to chemicals and toxins present in the environment, couples trying to get pregnant can take active measures to reduce contact. Steps could include:
- Buying organic foods
- Using natural personal care products
- Reducing exposure to chemicals by staying away or wearing masks (during home repairs, painting, etc.)
- Avoiding use of pesticides in garden; washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly before use
“Exposure to lead and male fertility,” PubMed.gov, Int J Occup Med Environ Health. 2001;14(3):219-22, Sallmén M., http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11764848
“Toxic Environmental Exposures Could Cause Reproductive Harm Across Generations, Study Suggests,” HuffingtonPost.com, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/03/toxic-environmental-exposures-epigenetics-pcos-reproduction_n_1475232.html
“What Causes Female Infertility?” Stanford.edu, http://www.stanford.edu/class/siw198q/websites/reprotech/New%20Ways%20of%20Making%20Babies/Causefem.htm
Image courtesy of [renjith krishnan] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net