In our modern everyday life we come into contact with many different chemicals. Studies show that a particular group of chemicals called endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can have negative effects on female and male reproductive health. If you are planning a pregnancy, here is what you need to know about EDCs and how to reduce exposure to them.
EDCs are everywhere - they are substances that can be found in the air, soil, water, food, and manufactured products. Around 800 artificial EDCs have been found in everyday items, such as plastic food containers, toiletries, and food products. Fragrances found in everyday household products are common sources of endocrine disruptors and up to 300 chemicals can be used to make each synthetic perfume.
Studies have found that EDCs can have negative effects on male and female reproductive health by either mimicking or blocking the male and female sex hormones (the endocrine system). This can cause changes in hormone levels, decreased sperm and egg quality, damage to the DNA in sperm, longer menstrual cycles, a longer time to achieve a pregnancy, increased risk of miscarriage, and earlier menopause. EDCs have also been found to cause:
Research shows that EDCs are present in 95% of people tested, and that people who are infertile have higher levels of some EDCs.
Skin contact Touching products made with endocrine disruptors
Plastic products, lining of cans and sales receipts printed on paper with a glossy sheen.
Added to plastics to increase flexibility and durability and found in toys, footwear, food packaging, and personal care products.
Used as a preservative, in antibacterial products, and found in food, cosmetics and personal care products.
Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
By-products of industrial processes such as metal and paper production, wood incineration or heating plastics. Used in electrical devices and industrial lubricants and found in flame retardants in furniture.
Pesticides, herbicides and insecticides
Found in most people's garden sheds and sprayed on many food products and crops sold commercially.
Heavy metals (e.g. aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury)
Smoke, air pollution, dental fillings, contaminated food and drink, and contact with petrol, industrial and household products.
Due to their many sources, we are all exposed to EDCs, but the individual degree of exposure will vary depending on your lifestyle, job, and location. While we cannot totally avoid exposure to EDCs, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce exposure to them:
Read the labels on all personal care products such as cosmetics, shampoos, conditioners, hair colour and body washes and choose those that are free of parabens. Try to avoid using heavily perfumed/ scented products where possible.
Carefully wash fruit and vegetables to reduce your intake of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and chemicals that may have been sprayed on the plants.
Eat fewer processed, canned and pre-packaged foods to reduce your intake of BPA, phthalates and plasticisers that coat the inside of cans or those absorbed from plastic wrappings or cling wrap.
Limit your intake of oily fish (such as salmon, tuna and sardines) and fatty meats to reduce your consumption of POPs, pesticides, heavy metals and fat-soluble chemicals that can accumulate in animals.
Avoid household products like detergents, hand sanitisers*, cleaning agents, and carpet cleaners or strong chemicals like glues, paints, and varnishes which have numerous chemicals classes in them. Use 'green products' which use alternative non-toxic agents.
Read the labels on all food products and avoid those with additives, preservatives and anti-bacterial agents. Better still, eat fresh food and if you can afford it, organic is always better.
Be aware of marketing ploys - some products that are advertised as 'BPA free' often have replacement chemicals such BPS which can be just as harmful as BPA.
Avoid handling sales receipts or storing them in your purse. The shiny texture comes from a thermal coating that contains BPA
Only drink out of glass bottles, not soft plastic bottles.
Never heat food in soft plastic takeaway containers or those covered with cling wrap. Instead, place food in a china or glass bowl and cover it with a paper towel or a china plate before heating. When they are heated, phthalates and bisphenols in plastic can easily be absorbed into the food, especially if it is fatty.
Avoid using pesticides and herbicides in the garden, at work or in the home. Instead, try using 'green chemicals', which use non-toxic agents to reduce pests and weeds.
If you are having trouble falling pregnant, then talk one of our doctors about what precautions you can take to limit the risks of EDCs.
*During the COVID-19 pandemic you are probably going to have some exposure to hand sanitisers. While it’s best to avoid these as much as possible (and regularly clean your hands with soap and water instead which is more effective), the risk of a COVID-19 related illness outweighs the danger of occasional use of hand sanitiser. While we normally advocate for natural non-toxic antibacterial ingredients, so far there is no evidence that these are effective against the COVID-19 virus.