Unintentional daily chemical exposures may be assaulting your fertility from multiple sources. Your diet - think farmed fish, fast food, canned foods, non-organic, pesticide-laden food - personal care products, cleaning products and even your laundry soap provide a direct route of entry for a multitude of chemical compounds which have been termed endocrine-disrupting chemicals or 'EDCs'.
The presence of EDCs within ovarian follicles may have a determining effect upon the fertilization rate of your eggs and the quality of your embryos. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals - albeit at trace levels - can have a negative impact on fertility according to a study from Belgium, published in Human Reproduction, 2012.
Taking steps to reduce your exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals could have a very positive effect upon both natural conceptions and the outcome of IVF. This eye-opening study describes the ovarian follicle as:
"...a very fragile micro-environment where interactions between hormones, growth factors, the oocyte and its surrounding somatic cells are essential to generate a fully competent oocyte."
The researchers involved in this study measured the presence of common endocrine-disrupting chemicals within ovarian follicular fluids - which are withdrawn during IVF at egg retrieval - and correlated this data with fertilization rates and embryo quality.
The study sought to explore the effects EDCs upon the finely tuned balance within ovarian fluids, and also measured levels of EDCs within serum which were found to match the levels of EDCs within ovarian follicles. The study tracked levels of EDCs such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) - derived from flame retardants - and organochlorine pesticides and discovered:
"An overall higher EDC (endocrine disrupting chemical) contamination in the follicular micro-environment was associated with a decreased fertilization rate and consequently with a lower chance of an oocyte to develop into a high-quality embryo."
"In addition, EDC (endocrine disrupting chemical) concentrations in serum were reliable predictors of the contamination status of the follicular micro-environment."
If you are trying to conceive it may be time to clean-up your act! One of the main voluntary sources of PCB ingestion is though to be certain kinds of seafood particularly farmed salmon. An independent study by the Environmental Working Group - ewg.org - in 2003 discovered that:
"These first-ever tests of farmed salmon from U.S. grocery stores show that farmed salmon are likely the most PCB-contaminated protein source in the U.S. food supply."
"On average farmed salmon have 16 times the dioxin-like PCBs found in wild salmon, 4 times the levels in beef, and 3.4 times the dioxin-like PCBs found in other seafood."
"The levels found in these tests track previous studies of farmed salmon contamination by scientists from Canada, Ireland, and the U.K. In total, these studies support the conclusion that American consumers nationwide are exposed to elevated PCB levels by eating farmed salmon."
Your body is exposed to PBDEs through other kinds of seafood too; PBDEs are derivatives of flame retardant chemicals which are used in hard plastics and fabrics. These long-lived chemical compounds tend to accumulate in the fatty tissues of seafood. The presence of PBDEs in seafood is directly linked to the PBDE levels within the waters fish live in, and Chinese waters are known to be especially highly contaminated.
PBDEs also accumulate in house dust and you can reduce your exposure level by dusting with a damp cloth to mop up dust rather than dry dusting. Using a vacuum with a HEPA filter to remove dust from carpets and furnishings can also help to keep PBDE exposure low.
Certain furnishings may have lower levels of flame retardants that others and you may want to investigate carefully when purchasing new items of furniture, bedding and carpeting.
Pesticide exposure can be reduced by switching to an organic diet; if a 100% organic diet is not practical for you, consider avoiding the ‘dirty dozen,‘ the twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables which are published yearly by the environmental working group at www.ewg.org. Switching to organic dairy foods and cheeses may help too; organic meats are produced from animals which have been fed only organic feeds which may also reduce pesticide contamination.
Wild salmon is widely regarded as being one of the cleanest forms of fish to consume if you are a fish-eater, and it may be wise to minimize consumption of fish sourced form China. Taking a carefully-processed fish oil supplement can help you to have the benefits of a high-fish intake without the risks of frequent fish meals. You should ask your physician before commencing any new nutritional supplements.
While it is near impossible to avoid all sources of environmental and dietary contaminants, you can take steps to minimize your exposure levels which could in turn help to protect your fertility and your baby-to-be.
This article is intended for purely informational purposes and is not intended to diagnose or to substitute for medical or dietetic advice for which you should consult a physician or dietitian.
Human Reproduction, Volume 27, Issue 4, (April 2012), p. 1025-1033
ISSN: 0268-1161, DOI: 10.1093/humrep/der448 Petro, et al. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals in human follicular fluid impair in vitro oocyte developmental competence