Your cookware and cleaning supplies could make it harder for you to have a baby.
Researchers have found that chemicals called perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) might be linked to delays in getting pregnant. PFCs are everywhere -- in non-stick cookware, shampoos, floor wax, food wrapping, carpet treatments and other cleaning products. PFCs are also present in air and water in the form of industrial waste from chemical plants.
The new study looked at more than 1,200 women when they were six to 12 weeks pregnant. If they reported that it took them longer than 12 months to get pregnant or if they used drugs designed to increase their chances of conceiving, they were considered to have infertility -- this is a generally accepted definition of infertility by experts in the field.
One kind of PFC, called PFOS, increased the odds of infertility anywhere from 70 to 134 percent. Another PFC called PFOA was linked to a 60 to 154 percent increase in the chance of infertility.
Only about 5 percent of all the chemicals used in the United States have ever been tested to see how they impact the human reproductive system. This latest study reveals the consequences of this utter lack of safety concern.
PFCs, which are extremely common chemicals used in Teflon non-stick cookware, carpet treatments, food wrappers, cleaning products, shampoo and more, may seriously impact fertility. Women with the highest levels had up to a 154 percent greater chance of being infertile!
This is an extremely concerning finding, considering that 95 percent of Americans, including children, have the perfluorinated compound PFOA in their blood. But it is not really surprising.
PFCs Have a Long History of Health Risks
In 2007, a study at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health linked PFOA to lower birth weights among newborns. Years earlier, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed that PFOA “poses developmental and reproductive risks to humans.”
Further, in animal studies PFOA has been associated with:
• Serious changes in the weight of various organs, including the brain, prostate, liver, thymus, and kidneys
• The deaths of a significant number of rat pups of mothers that had been exposed to PFOA
• Damage to the pituitary at all doses in female rat offspring (The pituitary secretes hormones that regulate growth, reproduction, and many metabolic processes. Change in pituitary size is associated with toxicity)
Other unrelated studies have also found evidence of birth defects in babies from PFOA-exposed workers. In 1981, two out of seven women who worked at a non-stick coating manufacturing plant gave birth to babies with birth defects. Management then moved 50 women workers at the plant to reduce their exposure to PFOA.
Additionally, PFOA has been associated with tumors in at least four different organs in animal tests, and has been associated with increases in prostate cancer in PFOA plant workers. The EPA has also ruled PFCs as “likely carcinogens.”
As for PFOS, the other PFC mentioned in the above study, this was the active ingredient in Scotchgard until it was removed from the market by the EPA in 2000 due to safety concerns. PFOS has similar chemical properties to PFOA, and neither product breaks down in the environment.
What is being done about all of this?
While the EPA convinced 3M, the manufacturer of PFOS, to stop producing it years ago, PFOA continues to saturate the market. A voluntary program for companies to reduce PFOA emissions and products by 2010, and eliminate them entirely by 2015, has been introduced by the EPA. But again, it is entirely voluntary.
In my opinion, this is entirely too little, too late, as babies are already being born with toxins in their bodies due to their mothers’ toxic loads. A 2004 study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) actually found blood samples from newborns contained an average of 287 toxins, including mercury, fire retardants, pesticides and Teflon chemicals.
How to Help Rid Your House of PFCs
These chemicals are so widespread that it will be difficult to eliminate them entirely, but there are some major offenders that might be in your home right now. Some of the products that contain PFCs, which I highly recommend getting rid of, include:
• Microwave popcorn bags
• Packaging for greasy foods
• Stain-proof clothing
• Carpet and fabric protectors
• Flame retardants
Avoiding these products is especially crucial for pregnant women or couples who want to have children, but really anyone who is interested in protecting their health would probably be best off avoiding them.
What ELSE Should You Avoid During Pregnancy?
Avoiding environmental chemicals as much as possible is very important for couples trying to conceive and during pregnancy, and I highly recommend reading Dr. Doris Rapp’s book Our Toxic World: A Wake Up Call for tips on how to do this. Her Web site also has a great list of what women can do prior to pregnancy to help avoid chemicals.
What are some of the most important chemicals and other substances to stay away from if you’re pregnant (and also if you’re breastfeeding)?
• Mercury: This heavy metal is toxic to the nervous system and developing brain of children and fetuses. It’s also been linked to premature delivery. Where might you be exposed to mercury? From eating contaminated seafood or getting a flu shot, for starters.
• Coffee: Caffeine in coffee and other beverages is an addictive, stimulant drug that passes easily through the placenta to the developing fetus. It is also transferred through breast milk. A developing fetus has no ability to detoxify caffeine.
Studies have shown the equivalent of just two cups of coffee during your entire pregnancy may affect your child’s heart function, and if your baby is male, could also lead to a weight problem. Caffeine during pregnancy has also been linked to miscarriages, low birth weight and birth defects, so I highly recommend pregnant women to avoid ALL caffeine.
• Soy: Soybeans contain compounds called phytoestrogens that act on hormones. These hormones affect the way your baby’s brain is organized, development of reproductive organs, and even your child’s immune system.
Infants who receive excess amounts of phytoestrogens in the womb or after birth from soy formula, risk health problems as wide ranging as early puberty, learning and behavioral problems, and severe allergies.
What to do if You’re Having Fertility Problems
If you are planning to have a baby, I also strongly suggest you get your vitamin D level optimized before and while you are pregnant. It could be one of the most important things you can possibly due in your pregnancy.
You can also read this recent article about the importance of vitamin D for fertility, and make sure you’re getting plenty of safe sun exposure to optimize your levels.
It would also be helpful to add a high-quality source of animal-based omega-3 fats to your diet and also to optimize your eating habits, get regular exercise and watch your stress levels. These are the basic ingredients that most everyone needs for good fertility.