In the latest 'Talking Women' article for Medical Observer, Dr Karin Hammarberg discusses why patients wanting to conceive should avoid endocrine disrupters.
Jean Hailes is proud to provide a monthly column in the medical newspaper, Medical Observer. Designed to give GPs and health professionals a short informative summary of important women's health topics and conditions, these articles provide practical information to inform and enhance clinical practice.
Every day we are exposed to many different chemicals through the products we use, the food we eat and the air we breathe. Mounting evidence suggests that a particular group, endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), can affect reproductive health.
Research shows that 95% of tested people have EDCs in their bodies. Although the effects are subtle, it is important to be aware of EDCs, what they do and how exposure to them can be reduced when planning a pregnancy.
These chemicals are present in the air, soil, water, food and in many products. They can interfere with the body's normal functioning, including male and female reproductive systems.
Some EDCs occur naturally in food. Soy beans and flax seeds, for example, are high in phytoestrogen, which mimics the effects of oestrogen. However, one would need to consume a large amount of these for the reproductive system to be affected. Of more concern are the 800 or so artificial EDCs in items most people have in their homes and use daily, such as plastic food containers, personal-care items and processed foods. EDCs are present in many manufacturing, industrial and agricultural processes.
Because we are exposed to combinations of so many different types of chemicals, it is not always possible to know whether individual chemicals affect our health. In the case of EDCs, studies have found that they can affect reproductive health by mimicking or blocking oestrogen and testosterone. This can cause:
People who struggle to conceive often have higher levels of some EDCs and people who are exposed to high levels of some EDCs through their work have more fertility difficulties. Among couples who use assisted reproductive technology to conceive, higher levels of some EDCs have been shown to decrease the chance of pregnancy.
|EDC||Where it is found|
|Bisphenols (BPA/BPS/BPF)||Widely used in plastic products, lining of tin cans and thermal cash register receipts. Leaches from many products into food.|
|Phthalates||Added to plastics to increase flexibility and durability and found in toys, footwear, food packaging, medical devices, and personal care products.|
|Parabens||Used as a preservative and in anti-bacterial products, and found in food, cosmetics and personal care products.|
|Persistent organic pollutants (POPs)||Used in electrical devices and industrial lubricants and found in flame retardants in furniture. POPs are by-products of processes such as metal and paper production, wood incineration or heating plastics.|
|Pesticides, herbicides and insecticides||Found in most people's garden sheds and sprayed on many food products and crops sold commercially.|
|Heavy metals (eg, aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury)||Exposure occurs through smoking, air pollution, dental fillings, consumption of contaminated food and drink, and contact with petrol, industrial and household products.|
It is not possible to completely avoid EDCs, but some simple steps can be taken to limit exposure. This is especially important for women and men who plan to have children.
Practical tips for patients who might want to minimise exposure include:
For more information about the impact of environmental chemicals on reproductive health, including fact sheets for health professionals and the general public, as well as other fertility-related topics, visit www.yourfertility.org.au.