1. Cash register receipts
About 40 percent of receipts are coated with bisphenol-A (BPA), which has been linked to fertility problems and low sperm count and quality.
2. Canned food
The biggest source of BPA contamination is food packaging; almost all metal cans are coated with a BPA resin.
3. Sex toys
Sex toys made of out vinyl contain phthalates, which are linked to cancer, allergies, birth defects, and infertility.
4. Your shower
Phthalates are also found in scented soaps, shampoos, and cleaners -- and in vinyl shower curtains.
5. Chemical-laced produce
Pesticides are meant to kill insect, but they can also affect your sperm.
6. Heated car seats
Heated car seats and heating pads increase testicular temperatures enough to decrease sperm production.
7. Contaminated fish
PCBs are a type of banned chemical, but enough remain in the environment to accumulate in fish.
Infertility is more common than you might think these days. An estimated 1 in 6 American couples struggle with getting pregnant each year and there's compelling evidence that lifestyle is in large part to blame.
Not only are you exposed to hundreds (if not thousands) of toxins each and every day, but some of the most commonly-prescribed drugs, poor diet, and common vitamin deficiencies have also been linked to reduced fertility, just to name a few.
The MSN article above primarily focuses on endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which affect your hormones and have been shown to cause reproductive problems in both men and women. I will review these below, and then expand on several other commonly-ignored factors that contribute to rising infertility rates.
Two of the Most Common Chemicals Linked to Reproductive Problems
Hormone-disrupting chemicals are profoundly pervasive in today's modern world. They lurk in personal care products, food containers, medical tubing, toys and more. Bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates are two of the most well known culprits.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
BPA is a common ingredient in many plastics, including those in water bottles and children's toys, as well as the lining of most canned goods. It was recently discovered that even many cash register receipts contain this chemical.
BPA is so pervasive it has been detected in the umbilical cord blood of 90 percent of newborn infants tested!
Recent studies have confirmed suspicions that BPA is affecting male fertility, primarily by reducing semen quality. One such study, which provides the first epidemiological evidence of an adverse effect on semen quality, was published in the journal Fertility and Sterility. The study included 218 men with and without BPA exposure in the workplace, in four regions of China.
The researchers found that higher urine levels of BPA were significantly associated with:
- Decreased sperm concentration
- Decreased total sperm count
- Decreased sperm vitality
- Decreased sperm motility
Compared with those who did not have detectable levels, the men with detectable levels of BPA had more than:
- three times the risk of lowered sperm concentration and lower sperm vitality
- four times the risk of lower sperm count
- twice the risk of lower sperm motility
According to the authors:
"Similar dose-response associations were observed among men with environmental BPA exposure at levels comparable with those in the U.S population."
In women, BPA can also reduce your chances of successful in vitro fertilization (IVF) by interfering with ococyte (immature egg cell) quality. Two recent studies attest to this. One, published last December, found an inverse association between BPA concentration and normal fertilization, and the other, published earlier last year found that "BPA was detected in the urine of the majority of women undergoing IVF, and was inversely associated with number of oocytes retrieved and peak estradiol levels."
Phthalates are another group of chemicals that wreak havoc with your reproductive health. Exposure to phthalates can lead to incomplete testicular descent in fetuses, reduced sperm counts, testicular atrophy or structural abnormality and inflammation in newborns.
Phthalates are commonly found in vinyl flooring, detergents, automotive plastics, soap, shampoo, deodorants, fragrances, hair spray, nail polish, plastic bags, food packaging, garden hoses, inflatable toys, blood-storage bags, intravenous medical tubing, and yes, even sex toys, as pointed out by MSN.
Other Common Chemicals Linked to Fertility Problems
While BPA and phthalates have gotten most of the media attention, there are a number of chemicals that fall into this harmful category. Others to look out for include:
- Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) -- Found in grease- and water-resistant coatings like Teflon and Gore-Tex, is a likely carcinogen.
- Methoxychlor and Vinclozin-- An insecticide and a fungicide respectively, have been found to cause changes to male mice born for as many as four subsequent generations after the initial exposure.
- Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) -- Known to be potent endocrine disrupters, these chemicals affect gene expression by turning on or off certain genes, and interfere with the way your glandular system works. They mimic the female hormone estrogen, and have been implicated as one reason behind some marine species switching from male to female.
- Bovine growth hormones commonly added to commercial dairy have been implicated as a contributor to premature adolescence.
- Non-fermented soy products, which are loaded with hormone-like substances.
- MSG -- A food additive that's been linked to reduced fertility.
- Fluoride -- This chemical in the U.S. water supply has been linked to lower fertility rates, hormone disruption and low sperm counts.
Vitamin D Deficiency Linked to Infertility
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, toxic chemicals are not the only factors that play a part in rising infertility rates. In recent years, researchers have also identified vitamin D as an integral part of men's reproductive health.
You may have heard that pregnant women are advised to get more vitamin D to promote fertility and ensure a healthy baby, but vitamin D is equally important for the father-to-be!
One 2008 infertility study revealed that vitamin D deficiency is common among men who are unable to impregnate their partners—almost a third of the 800 infertile men included in the study had lower than normal levels of vitamin D.
(Bear in mind here that "normal" does not equal "optimal." So, by optimal standards, the rate of vitamin D deficiency was likely far higher than one-third.)
According to lead researcher Dr. Anne Clark, a fertility specialist:
"Vitamin D and folate deficiency are known to be associated with infertility in women, but the outcomes of the screening among men in our study group came as a complete surprise. Men in the study group who agreed to make lifestyle changes and take dietary supplements had surprisingly good fertility outcomes."
In fact, of the 100 men who agreed to make and maintain certain lifestyle changes for three months prior to fertility treatment, 11 of them went on to achieve pregnancy naturally, without IVF treatment.
Lifestyle changes included quitting smoking, minimizing intake of caffeine and alcohol, weight reduction, along with a course of vitamins and antioxidants.
"The results clearly show that lifestyle changes and dietary supplements can be beneficial for the conception of a healthy on-going pregnancy," Dr Clark said.
Another study published in November 2009 confirms these results as researchers discovered that human sperm does in fact have a vitamin D receptor.
Analysis also indicated that vitamin D is produced locally in the sperm, which suggests that vitamin D may be involved in the signaling between cells in the reproductive system. According to the authors, the study revealed "an unexpected significance of this hormone [vitamin D] in the acquisition of fertilizing ability," and the results imply that vitamin D is involved in a variety of sperm signaling pathways.
Fertility – What Does Vitamins Have to Do With It?
So, it now seems quite clear you can add infertility to the list of health ailments that are made worse by too little sun exposure. But other vitamins and minerals can also be helpful in this area.
For example, did you know that vitamin C increases sperm quality and mobility?
Vitamin C -- In one study, infertile men who were given 1,000 mg of vitamin C twice daily improved their sperm count, sperm motility, and sperm morphology.
The researchers stated vitamin C could be important as an additional supplement to improve semen quality and increase chances of a natural conception. Vitamin C is abundant in oranges, strawberries and sweet potatoes.
Vitamin E & Selenium -- Vitamin E and selenium can also improve sperm motility. One study published in the Archives of Andrology confirmed the protective and beneficial effects of vitamin E and selenium on semen quality, and supported their use in male infertility treatment.
Men who are deficient in vitamin B12 can also suffer from poor motility (where the sperm don't swim very well) so it is thought that taking this vitamin may be helpful as well.
Zinc -- If low testosterone is the cause, zinc may help. In one study, 37 infertile men were given 60mgs of zinc a day for six weeks. 22 of the men with low testosterone dramatically increased their sperm counts and their testosterone, and 9 out of the 22 spouses became pregnant during the study. Good sources of zinc include nuts and seeds.
Antioxidants—In addition to Dr. Clark's study above, other studies have confirmed the benefits of antioxidants for male reproductive health. According to researchers at the University of Portsmouth, one bowl of tomato soup—which is high in lycopene—per day can boost a man's fertility up to 12 percent. It's believed that antioxidants may remove free radicals that have a negative impact on sperm.
As usual, if you want to try the vitamin therapy approach, I recommend you try to get most of your vitamins naturally, from the food you eat. A whole food diet based on your nutritional type, and avoiding processed foods, is the best way to ensure you're getting sufficient amounts of essential vitamins and minerals.
In the case of vitamin D, your best source is sun exposure. However, during winter months you may need to take a supplement, or use a safe tanning bed to maintain optimal vitamin D levels.
You should also be aware that certain drugs can interfere with your vitamin D absorption and metabolism, including cholestyramine (Questran), Dilantin, and phenobarbital. Additionally, because vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, any drug or substance that interferes with fat absorption may cause problems, as may a low-fat diet.
Diet, Weight and Infertility
As I've mentioned before, insulin resistance is an underlying factor responsible for most chronic disease, and it should come as no surprise that it plays a role in fertility as well, for men and women alike.
One 2008 paper published in the Journal of Andrology explains how metabolic syndrome (characterized by obesity and insulin resistance) is connected with reduced fertility as follows:
"Adverse effects of obesity on male fertility are postulated to occur through several mechanisms. First, peripheral conversion of testosterone to estrogen in excess peripheral adipose tissue may lead to secondary hypogonadism through hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis inhibition. Second, oxidative stress at the level of the testicular microenvironment may result in decreased spermatogenesis and sperm damage. Lastly, the accumulation of suprapubic and inner thigh fat may result in increased scrotal temperatures in severely obese men."
Celiac disease (gluten intolerance) has also been linked to fertility problems in both sexes. In men, it's associated with abnormal sperm, such as lower sperm numbers, altered shape, and reduced function. Men with untreated celiac disease may also have lower testosterone levels.
As with any other health problem, optimizing your insulin levels is very important for fertility, as is identifying potential gluten intolerance.
The treatment strategy for both is to reduce or eliminate grains along with sugars, especially fructose.
Some Drugs Can Also Cause Infertility
Prescription drugs can also throw a wrench in the works when you're trying to conceive. While statin drugs have been shown to reduce your ability to achieve orgasm, especially in men, other drugs are known to cause infertility.
SSRI antidepressants are particularly notorious, and studies have linked SSRI's with reduced sperm count and motility. Common side effects of many antidepressants also include impotence and delayed ejaculation.
How to Protect Your Reproductive Health
As you can see, there's no shortage of assailants on your reproductive health, from diet and vitamin deficiencies to drugs, to a plethora of toxic exposures. If you're planning a pregnancy, all of these are issues you'll want to pay attention to.
And then there's the issue of electromagnetic fields (EMF), which can also harm sperm quality! I haven't even touched on that issue here, but you can read more about it in this previous article.
Optimizing your vitamin D levels, modifying your diet to normalize your insulin levels (i.e. avoid sugar/fructose/grains), and avoiding harmful drugs are a given. But how do you protect yourself from the onslaught of toxic chemicals?
It can seem like an impossible task, but there are a number of practical strategies you can implement to limit your exposure to endocrine disruptors and other common toxins. Here are one dozen practical measures you can take to protect yourself and your family from common toxic substances that may wreak havoc with your reproductive health:
- As much as possible, purchase and consume organic produce and free-range, organic foods to reduce your exposure to pesticides and fertilizers.
- Rather than eating conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with EDCs, PCBs and mercury, supplement with a high-quality purified fish or krill oil, or eat fish that is wild-caught and lab tested for purity.
- Eat mostly raw, fresh foods, steering clear of processed, prepackaged foods of all kinds. This way you automatically avoid hidden fructose and artificial food additives of all kinds, including dangerous artificial sweeteners, food coloring and MSG.
- Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap.
- Have your tap water tested and, if contaminants are found, install an appropriate water filter on all your faucets (even those in your shower or bath).
- Only use natural cleaning products in your home.
- Switch over to natural brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants and cosmetics. The Environmental Working Group has a great safety guide to help you find personal care products that are free of phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemicals. I also offer one of the highest quality organic skin care lines, shampoo and conditioner, and body butter that are completely natural and safe.
- Avoid using artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners or other synthetic fragrances.
- Replace your Teflon pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
- When redoing your home, look for "green," toxin-free alternatives in lieu of regular paint and vinyl floor coverings.
- Avoid using pesticides and herbicides around your home, and opt for organic varieties instead.
- Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric or install glass shower doors.