9 Everyday Chemicals That Could Be Screwing with Your Fertility

Causes of infertility could be found under your own roof. Here's how to avoid them.

September 20, 2011
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Everyday Chemicals Linked to Infertility
Infertility is far more common than most people think. According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, approximately 6.1 million couples in the U.S.--about 10 percent of the reproductive-age population--experience fertility problems. For these couples, becoming pregnant is far from easy. Ovulation and sperm deficiencies are the most common infertility problems, accounting for two-thirds of all cases. And as scientists are starting to discover, even tiny exposures to certain chemicals could throw reproductive systems into a tizzy.

Although we encounter many of these hormone-disrupting chemicals unknowingly every day, there is some great news: Once you ID these infertility infiltrators, you can make smart, easy choices to cut them out of your life for good.
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Nonstick Chemicals
Sure, nonstick pots, pans, and baking gear are convenient and easy to clean. But the problem is, nonstick chemicals start leaching into your food once chips and scratches start showing up in the enamel. That chemical migration is problematic, since there's a long rap sheet of health problems associated with nonstick chemicals, including baby-making problems for both men and women. Danish researchers found that men with higher levels of a common nonstick chemicals, perfluoroalkyl acids, had half the amount of healthy sperm of men with the lowest levels. Scientists have found it takes women who have higher levels of nonstick chemicals in the body longer to become pregnant.

Found in: Nonstick cookware; used as a grease barrier in some takeout containers and in microwavable popcorn bags.

Protect yourself: Stay away from drive-thru fast food joints, cook with untreated stainless steel, cast iron, glass, or stoneware, and make safer popcorn.
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Glymes
Most of the population has never heard of "glymes," solvent chemicals in the glycol ether family used in the manufacturing of microchips, circuit boards, and prescription drugs. In 2011, however, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the agency might start taking a stronger stance against the compounds, possibly banning them for new uses. Studies looking at workers in factories where glymes are commonly used have higher rates of miscarriage, and the EPA also warned consumers of the chemicals' dangers.

Found in: Carpet cleaners, inkjet cartridges, paints, and lithium batteries.

Protect yourself: Steer clear of carpet cleaning products, and instead use nontoxic stain remedies like white vinegar and baking soda. Use your printer only when it's necessary.
BPA
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BPA
Bisphenol A, or BPA, is used in so many products that it's now detected in sand, household dust, and water. Studies have found that men with high BPA levels in their urine produce lower-quality sperm, making it more difficult to reproduce.

Ladies aren't immune from BPA's ill effects, either. A 2010 University of California San Francisco study found that in women undergoing in vitro fertilization, those with the highest levels of BPA in the body produced less-viable eggs.

Found in: Most canned food, some No. 7 plastic, receipts (receipts with the red flecks on the underside are said to be BPA free).

Protect yourself: Opt for fresh or frozen food instead of canned, drink from a food-grade stainless steel or glass bottle, and say no to receipts for minor purchases.
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Flame Retardants
Used in everything from car seats and carpet padding to electronics, a common class of flame retardants could be delaying pregnancies. In 2010, researchers published a study releasing some pretty alarming facts. For each tenfold increase of polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) levels in the blood, women were likely to experience a 30 percent increase in the time it took to become pregnant.

Found in: Carpet padding, electronics, furniture foam, dust.

Protect yourself: Opt for natural surfaces, such as hardwood or bamboo, rather than carpet, and look for furniture WITHOUT tags that say "complies with California Technical Bulletin 117; use a daybed or futon in place of a couch, vacuum often, wipe electronics down with a damp cloth to prevent dust buildup, and buy new electronics from one of these companies vowing to phase out these flame retardants.

Read More: 7 Household Toxins You Should Banish from Your Home
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Phthalates
Perhaps one of the most ubiquitous household toxic compounds, phthalates are plasticizing chemicals found in vinyl products and products containing artificial fragrances (there are thousands).

Men with higher levels of phthalates pay for it in the sperm quality department: In studies, their sperm tested as abnormal or showed signs of suffering DNA damage. Phthalates act as a man-made estrogen in the body, which could be messing with a guy's manhood.

Found in: Vinyl products, including shower curtains and faux leather; scented products like cologne, perfume, candles, air fresheners, laundry detergent, dryer sheets, and fabric softeners; shampoo, soap, hairspray, body spray, lotion, deodorant, and other personal care items.

Protect yourself: Avoid vinyl products (try a hemp shower curtain), opt for beeswax candles when you need ambiance--they actually help clean your indoor air, not pollute it; choose unscented, plant-based laundry products, and use white vinegar as a fabric softener; read personal-care product labels and bypass ones that label "fragrance" or "parfum" as an ingredient. It's a catch-all term for thousands of chemicals, including phthalates.

Safe Home Alert! What's Wafting from Your Dryer?
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Pesticides
Pesticides have a bad habit of not staying put. In fact, atrazine, a common chemical weed killer used heavily in the Midwest, on Southern sugar cane farms, and on golf courses, has been detected in tap water. Its widespread use is not good news for couples trying to conceive, since it and other pesticides have been linked to miscarriage and infertility.

Found in: Residential and farming pest-killing products.

Protect yourself: Buy and grow organic and use organic lawn-care tips. If you live near a nonorganic golf course, orchard, or farm, consider installing water filters certified to remove pesticides.

Read More: What Biotech Pesticides Are Doing to Our Bodies
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PCBs
PCBs were used decades ago in the electric industry and are now banned, but they don't break down easily and have built up in our waterways--and in the fish that swim in them.

Previous research linked PCBs to poorer sperm quality. In 2011, a National Institutes of Health--funded study found that concentrations found among the general U.S. population were associated with failed embryo implantations in women undergoing in vitro fertilization.

Found in: Certain types of fish, including farmed salmon (often found in grocery stores).

Protect yourself: Getting enough beneficial omega-3s is important when trying to conceive. To make sure you're making sound seafood selections, read Want Health, Safe Seafood? Consult the Superfish List. Check local advisories if you fish and eat what you catch, so you know which to stay away from to avoid exposure to harmful contaminants like PCBs.
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GMOs
Genetically engineered, or GMO, food has never been proven safe, although it's infiltrated most of the U.S. food supply. GMO crops, particularly corn, soy, and canola, are genetically manipulated to withstand heavy dousings of toxic pesticides. (So much so that those pesticides often wind up inside of the food we eat.) A 2008 Austrian study found GMOs damaged lab animals' ability to reproduce. The effects grew stronger in the third and fourth generations, possibly indicating that the great-granddaughter of a women who eats GMOs could suffer infertility.

Found in: Most nonorganic processed foods containing corn or soy; nonorganic canola oil

Protect yourself: Eat organic. Get your friends and family to eat organic. It's that simple.

Read More: 5 Ways Organic Can Save Your Life & Bank Account
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Nitrates
Pollution of drinking water supplies from the nitrogen and nitrates that seep out of fertilizers has been linked to reproductive problems, cancers, and spontaneous abortion. Based on the Rodale Institute's Farming System Trial data, water leaching from chemical farms was more likely to exceed the legal limit for nitrate-nitrogen concentrations in drinking water compared to the organic systems.

Found in: Drinking water supplies in areas where chemical fertilizers are used heavily

Protect yourself: Check Environmental Working Group's What's in your water? tool if you drink municipal water. If you're on well water, have an EPA-approved water-testing facility check for common well contaminants...nitrates is one of them.

To remove the nitrates in drinking water, you'll need a home water-filter system that is certified to NSF 53, 58 or 62. For long-term protection, support organic farmers in your area to reduce the amount of chemical fertilizer and other toxic compounds washing away into streams and water supplies.

Read More: 11 Surprising Sperm Killers That Could Leave Men Shooting Blanks
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