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Environmental Toxins and Your Fertility

One aspect of my work that I love is working with women and couples who are keen to examine their health in preparation for trying to get pregnant and grow a family. We know that being in an optimal state of health contributes to a vibrant pregnancy and a healthy baby. Beyond assessing your medical history, I always examine nutrient status, diet, body composition, and overall wellbeing when supporting women during the preconception time.

More and more studies are pointing towards the impact of environmental chemicals on fertility in men and women, pregnancy outcomes and risks of childhood diseases. The Environment and Reproductive Health (EARTH) Study is a unique ongoing study that started in 2004 that examines the impact of environmental, nutritional and lifestyle factors in both men and women who are currently affected by infertility. The participants in the study are couples who have been trying to conceive for over a year and whom are seeking the support of reproductive technology, such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).

I find this study unique in that male and female participants provided the following for data analysis:

  • Blood, urine and hair samples.
  • Physical exams.
  • Detailed questionnaires about diet and lifestyle and personal care product use.
  • Provided dust samples from their homes to assess toxin exposure.
  • Provided their home address, so that proximity to major railways, traffic density, and exposure to vehicle-related toxin exposure during their fertility treatments
  • Had their homes assessed for electromagnetic field exposure.

The results of this study point to some new areas of ones’ health that are important to attend to in the months before trying to conceive, to help support your health and fertility, which I’ll outline in this article.

Diet, Lifestyle, and Fertility: Females

In women, the EARTH study found that the following factors were associated with improved fertility, positive pregnancy and birth outcomes:

  • High dietary intake of vitamin B12 and folate. Taking a prenatal multivitamin will help achieve this. Food sources of folate include beans, legumes, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables. Vitamin B12 can be obtained from free-range and grass fed animal products such as eggs, meat, poultry, and fish; vegans should be sure to take a vitamin B12 supplement.
  • Whole grains, such as wild rice, whole grain bread, rolled oats, quinoa, buckwheat, among others. Choose these options, as opposed to white refined and processed grain products like white bread.
  • Soy products. Higher intakes of soy products in women were associated with better chances of a live birth. I recommend choosing organic soy products such as tofu, tempeh, and soy milk.
  • Vitamin D. Healthy blood levels of vitamin D were associated with better fertilization rates. You can ask your Naturopathic Doctor for a vitamin D blood test.
  • Vigorous activity levels in the preconception time period prior to Assisted Reproductive Technology treatments helped with positive outcomes. Speak to your ND about what type and how much exercise is best for you.

Diet, Lifestyle and Fertility: Males

Factors associated with improved fertility outcomes for men in the EARTH Study:

  • Higher omega 3 intake. I recommend having 2 or more servings of wild-caught fish per week or more. For some men, taking an omega 3 supplement can be beneficial; speak to your ND to see if this is appropriate for you.
  • Physical activity. Greater time spent being physically active was associated with better sperm parameters.
  • Healthy Body Mass Index (BMI). In the study, a BMI over 35 was associated with decreased total sperm count.

In men, the following dietary and lifestyle factors were associated with poorer fertility outcomes in the EARTH study:

  • Habitual caffeine intake in men was associated with lower live birth rates, in this study. Other studies have observed various findings on the topic of caffeine intake; I recommend no more than 1-2 cups per day.
  • Higher soy intake was associated with poorer sperm concentration.
  • Higher dietary intake of trans fatty acids from fast food and processed food. Both men and women should incorporate more plant-based protein into their regular dietary routines, for example, beans, legumes, vegan protein powder, and moderate amounts of organic soy products for men.
  • Higher saturated fat intake. Saturated fat is predominantly found in animal products and dairy.
  • Processed meat intake. This includes sausages, hot dogs, salami, smoked and cured meat, and canned meat.
  • Higher intake of non-organic produce containing pesticide residues were associated with lower sperm counts and more morphologically abnormal sperm. I recommend choosing organic fruits and vegetables as much as possible in the 6 months prior to trying to conceive. Visit the Environmental Working Group website to learn about the “Dirty Dozen”. The Dirty Dozen are the fruits and vegetables with the highest amounts of pesticides, therefore, best to choose organic for those items.

Fertility and Environmental Toxins

The EARTH study additionally examined blood and urine samples to determine which couples appeared to be affected by certain common environmental chemicals found in personal care products and plastics. Based on the results of the study, I highly recommend doing an “audit” of your personal care products, food storage containers, water bottles, and use of plastics in your home.

Go paraben and phthalate-free

Parabens and phthalates are chemicals commonly found in skincare products and personal care products, and appear to affect both male and female fertility. Higher blood and urine levels of these chemicals in either partner were associated with lower egg yields, lower pregnancy rates, and increased rates of pregnancy loss.

The EARTH study found the following products to be associated with paraben and phthalate load, from greatest to least amount:

  • Hand and body lotion
  • Sun block
  • Cologne/perfume
  • Deodorant
  • Hair spray/gel
  • Aftershave
  • Mouthwash and Soap bars, among others.

The amounts varied depending on the type of product used; I strongly recommend switching your personal care products to natural and paraben/phthalate-free. Visit the Environmental Working Group “Skin Deep” database for examples of safe products to use.

Go Bisphenol-A free

Bisphenol A (BPA) is commonly found in plastics, such as food storage containers and water bottles, household electronics items, canned goods, and receipt paper. Greater exposure to BPA was associated with lower pregnancy rates. Interestingly, women who had higher dietary soy and folate intake appeared to be less impacted by BPA; it appears that these nutrients may play some sort of protective role against the negative effects of BPA.

I hope this article provides you with more information to empower you in your fertility journey. If you have any questions or concerns about optimizing your health before you grow your family, book in for a consultation so we can delve into various testing options and the natural medicine available to help you on your journey.

Yours in health,
Dr. Kathleen Mahannah ND

Messerlian, C., Williams, P. L., Ford, J. B., Chavarro, J. E., Mínguez-Alarcón, L.,
Dadd, R., … Hauser, R. (2018). The Environment and Reproductive Health
(EARTH) Study: a prospective preconception cohort. Human Reproduction
Open, 2018(2). doi: 10.1093/hropen/hoy001

All content found on this website was created for informational and general educational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your primary care provider or other qualified health professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

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