A key area I consider when my pre-conceptual clients are looking to optimise their fertility, is how much exposure they may have to chemicals or ‘xenoestrogens’. The modern environment can bring us into contact with many different chemicals, both industrially, in the home, through our beauty products and through our diet. We inhale them, ingest and absorb them, with implications for our health and reproductive ability.
We do have a sophisticated, in built system of detoxifying enzymes, that work to eliminate our waste, through the liver, kidneys and intestines. But everyone’s level of exposure, accumulation and efficiency of elimination will differ. The word ‘detoxification’ has been hijacked and exploited by many marketeers, selling all sorts of products and drinks that promise to cleanse us from ‘toxins’. In truth, dietary nutrients, or their lack of, can determine the effectiveness of an individual’s ability to detoxify and eliminate waste, as these nutrients are cofactors necessary to liver and kidney function.
So what is the impact of environmental chemicals on fertility? Evidence shows that many chemicals interfere with the action of our hormones which is why they are known as ‘endocrine-disruptors’. The balance or function of our hormones can be disrupted by long-term or chronic exposure, thereby affecting key body mechanisms in the process.1 The evidence for adverse reproductive outcomes and miscarriage from chronic exposure is also strong.2 Pthalates for example are now proven to disrupt oestrogen metabolism, reduce sperm counts and sperm motility, and affect reproductive development in males.
Common inhaled sources are from garden products, perfumes or soft furnishing flame retardants. Absorption through the skin occurs from toiletries, and mercury absorption can occur from dental amalgam removal. Ingested food sources can be in the form of pesticides on fruit and vegetables, or as BPAs via plastic food containers – especially if they are heated/microwaved. Another source is via cardboard or tin packaging lined with plastic, especially if the food contained within is acidic, which can contribute to the inadvertent leaching of hormone-disrupting chemicals into consumer’s food. Even if the concentrations are low, repeated daily exposure can make these substances toxicologically relevant.3
Some common examples;
- Aluminium chlorohydrate – used in deodorants.
- Artificial Musks – cosmetics, perfumes, air-fresheners and fabric conditioner.
- Bisphenol A – found in tin cans, water bottles, baby bottles and plastic containers.
- Dioxins – by-products of industrial bleaching processes – possibly linked to endometriosis.
- Pthalates –in PVC products and many cosmetics/ toiletries; disrupts oestrogen metabolism.
- Organochlorines – found in pesticides like DDT.
- PAH’s (polycyclic aromatic biphenyls) – products of burnt/charred foodstuffs.
- PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls) – mostly used as cooling and insulating fluids.
- Toxic minerals – mercury (amalgam fillings), cadmium, arsenic, lead.
Where exposure to any of these chemicals is considered to be a factor in an individual’s symptoms, it is worth considering testing. However, methodologies that simply measure levels of chemicals in stool, urine or hair, while providing evidence of exposure, fail in determining a person’s actual health risk. Two people may have the same exposure to a particular chemical, but one remain blissfully unaffected while the other can have significant health consequences.
Looking at the humoral immune response tells us more than just levels do, it tells us how the person is reacting to the given exposure. Humoral immunity, the system in which antibodies are produced to fight/recognize invading elements, is used for a variety of clinical purposes from allergies to viral infections. This same testing methodology can now be used to detect antibodies to chemicals bound to human tissue.
Cyrex Laboratories’ Chemical Immune Reactivity screen, (array 11),4 will identify an individual’s loss of immune tolerance associated with xenbiotic exposure, which may lead to autoimmune reactivity. In identifying the specific chemicals producing such a reaction, it can assist the individual in determining guidelines for their future avoidance.
How does NUTRITION help?
Our detoxifying enzymes operate primarily within the liver, kidneys and intestines and require various cofactor nutrients, found mainly in good quality protein, and colourful vegetables. Think GREEN! The molecule that gives green vegetables their colour acts as a blood cleanser and powerful detoxifying agent, so include broccoli, kale, spinach, watercress, beet greens etc. Other key vegetables that supply detoxifying nutrients are asparagus, beetroot, cabbage, celery, fennel, onions/leeks, herbs and spices, especially turmeric and cumin. Staying well hydrated and minimising caffeine intake can also help.
Complete chemical avoidance is unrealistic, but being aware and minimising exposure makes sense. Supporting your innate detoxifying, excretory pathways is also sensible but especially for those individuals seeking to optimise their reproductive potential. Avoid cooking in plastic packaging, or transfer food to be heated/microwaved to a non-plastic utensil, to avoid xenoestrogens leaching into food. Avoid storing food in plastic or plastic wraps, use glass and china containers. Minimise pesticides by eating primarily organic, taking care to wash fruit & veg’ very thoroughly. Drink clean, filtered water. In the home; wood veneers and glue used in carpet laying release chemicals, so keep fresh air circulating. Garden fertilisers, pet flea products, solvents in nail polish and home detergents all release inhalable chemicals. Parabens found in many body-care products are now known to mimic oestrogens and are fully absorbed into the skin intact,5 they bind with oestrogen receptors, excluding and replacing your natural hormones, so reducing their effect. Read the small print on packaging.
For paraben-free products, see: (http://www.greenpeople.co.uk/parabenfreeproducts.aspx)
1 Nicholle L, Woodriffe beirne A, (2010) Biochemical Imbalances in Disease. London, Singing Dragon.
2 Diamanti-Kandarakas E et al., (2009) Endocrine-disrupting Chemicals: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement. Endocrine Reviews, 30(4):293-342
3 Muncke J. (2009) Exposure to endocrine disrupting compounds via the food chain: Is packaging a relevant source? Science of the Total Environment 407(16):4549-4559
4 Cyrex laboratories array 11
5 Darbre P.D, Harvey P.W, (2008) Paraben esters: review of recent studies of endocrine toxicity, absorption, esterase and human exposure, and discussion of potential human health risks. Journal Applied Toxicology 28(5):561-78