Almost everyone knows of a couple who have struggled or are struggling with getting pregnant. In fact, infertility rates in Canada have doubled since the 1980s, and it is currently estimated that 1 in 6 Canadian couples experience infertility. Officially, infertility is defined as unsuccessful conception after a set period of time of sexual intercourse without contraception — one year in women under the age of 35 and six months in women over the age 35. Oftentimes, a couple struggling with infertility will come in with a diagnosis of unexplained infertility. This is a particularly frustrating diagnosis because it essentially tells the couple that everything appears to be functioning normally but it obviously isn’t because they haven’t been able to get pregnant on their own.
The Importance of Using Clean Products When It Comes to Fertility
There are a myriad of factors that may contribute to the increasing prevalence of infertility rates in today’s society but I’m going to focus on three of the “dirty dozen” chemicals that the David Suzuki Foundation highlights as toxic chemicals that should be avoided — particularly with respect to its impact on fertility.
Phthalates (including dibutyl phthalate DBP) are manufactured chemicals that are colourless, odourless and oily liquid. It is used as a plasticizer and added to many plastic products in order to make the plastic softer and more flexible. These products include vinyl flooring, food packaging, furniture, raincoats, and toys. Essentially, if the plastic is more flexible, chances are it contains phthalates unless it specifically states on the label that it does not contain phthalates. Phthalates are also used in personal care products in order to hold its colour and to carry fragrances. These products include deodorants, hair gel, hair spray, lotions, lubricants, nail polish, perfume, shampoo and soaps.
The eight most commonly used phthalate compounds are:
- Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP)
- di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP) The most common phthalate added to nail polish
- di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) The most common phthalate added to PVC (polyvinyl chloride) to make products more flexible
- diethyl phthalate (DEP) The most common phthalate added to personal care products to hold its fragrance
- di-isodecyl phthalate (DiDP)
- di-isononyll phthalate (DiNP) The most common phthalate added to soften toys and children’s products such as bath toys and drinking straws
- di-n-hexyl phthalate (DnHP)
- di-n-octyl phthalate (DnOP)
Biomarkers of phthalates have been found in detectable concentrations in the urine of over 90% of the population in Canada, Europe and the United States! And many phthalates have now been banned by several countries, including Australia and the European Union.
There was a study that looked into the effects of phthalates on fertility in women who were already undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF), and the researchers discovered that phthalate metabolites were detectable in both their ovaries and follicular fluid (the fluid that surrounds a developing oocyte/egg). This implies that the phthalates that these women were exposed to and absorbed through their skin was metabolized and found in their ovaries. In addition, there have been various studies that have drawn links between phthalates and its negative impact on a woman’s fertility by lowering testosterone levels, lowering the number of oocytes/eggs during IVF, lowering ovarian reserve, lowering estradiol levels, lowering ovarian hormone production, increasing follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) levels and lowering antral follicle numbers. One research study even found a link between phthalate exposure to an increased incidence of cystic ovaries in the next generation of rats.
In addition to all of its effects on women who are trying to get pregnant, there has also been research on the effect of phthalates on women who are already pregnant. Interestingly, women who have an underlying cause for infertility of conceive with medical assistance have two times the risk for gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) in comparison to women who conceive naturally. This is a particularly alarming rate because infertility only affects 1 in 6 women, equivalent to approximately 10-15% of couples. Phthalates have also been found to affect glucose metabolism, impair glucose tolerance and is associated with excessive gestational weight gain, all of which are risk factors for GDM. This isn’t to say that phthalates are the only direct cause for GDM but be aware that phthalates can contribute to your risk of GDM and just as you would with trying to eat healthy, exercise and maintain a moderate amount of weight gain during your pregnancy, it would be a very good idea to also limit your exposure to phthalates as much as possible as well.
A little bit of good news is that the Government of Canada has taken some steps to ban the use of phthalates. In December 2010, it restricted the use of six phthalates in children’s toys and child care articles such as bath toys, bibs and teethers because they concluded that these phthalates may cause reproductive or developmental abnormalities when children suck on or chew these products for extended periods of time.
The six banned phthalates from children’s products are:
Parabens are manufactured chemicals used as an anti-microbial preservatives and most products contain more than one of the following most commonly used parabens:
Parabens can be absorbed through the skin via products such as cosmetics, hair care products, moisturizers and shaving creams. Parabens can also be swallowed via products such as drinks, food and pharmaceuticals.
Research has shown that higher levels of parabens found in urine of women were associated with decreased antral follicle count, a shorter menstrual cycle and decreased pregnancy rates.
Triclosans are used as an antibacterial and antifungal in antiperspirants/deodorants, cleansers, creams, hand sanitizers, laundry detergents, soaps, tissues and toothpaste. It can also be used in household products that are “anti-bacterial” such as clothing, furniture fabric, garbage bags, linens, mattresses, paints, toilet fixtures and toys
In women who were going through fertility treatments, higher concentrations of triclosan in their urine was found to be associated with what appeared to be positive outcomes with respect to fertility: higher antral follicle counts, more oocytes retrieved, more mature oocytes and higher peak estradiol levels. However, higher concentrations of triclosan in their urine was also found to be associated with lower fertilization and implantation rates. Even more concerning, one study found that higher concentrations of triclosan in urine was associated with an increased risk of mid-gestational spontaneous abortion.
The Take-Away Message
I know that it can feel SUPER overwhelming when you realize that you need to change up all of your personal care products and just don’t know where to start. Plus there’s also the fact that ALL of those products cost a lot of money! So, my advice is to start small. Take your time to read all of the ingredients in each of your products and see which ones contain any of the above. Out of the ones that do contain the above, determine which ones you use the most frequently and replace those ones. Then over time, gradually replace the remaining products until one day you’ll only have clean products available for you.
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What’s a discovery call/meeting? It’s where we get to know each other better to ensure that I’m the right practitioner for you and that you have the opportunity to ask your questions about Naturopathic Medicine before we move forward with an initial Naturopathic consultation.
Here are a few more blog articles related to fertility that you might be also interested in:
- Fertility: How Naturopathic Medicine Can Help
- Acupuncture for Infertility
- Trying to get pregnant? Test your ferritin levels!
- CoQ10 & Fertility: What’s all the fuss about?
- Vitamin D and Fertility
- Fertility Plan During COVID-19
And if you’re interested in reading about my personal struggles with my own fertility journey:
- My Crazy IUI Story
- My IVF Story: Part 1
- My Surgery Surprise
- My IVF Story: Part 2
- TW: My Big News!
- My Fertility Journey on Facebook for #CIAW2020
- My Fertility Journey on Instagram for #CIAW2020
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