Chemical Interference and Conception

Many couples today find it difficult to conceive. With roughly 10 percent of couples in the U.S. affected by infertility, it seems that this problem is only going to get worse. Various studies have presented evidence that all manner of chemicals in our environment are interfering with our ability to have children. Most of the hormone disrupting chemicals, which act like sex hormones and interfere with the body’s levels of estrogen and testosterone, have been found. These chemicals are everywhere, from nonstick pans to pesticides and other common household goods. The newly added culprit to the ever growing list is Phthalates, chemicals that are used in plastics, synthetic fragrances, and building materials.

In a new study published in the journal, Toxicology Letters, researchers focused on the most commonly used phthalate, DEHP. This chemical is used in plastics to keep them soft and flexible. The study also focused on DEP, which is used to keep fragrances from dissipating from personal care products, scented candles, laundry detergents, to name a few. Two other phthalates, DBP (which keeps nail polishes and paints pliable) and BBzP (a phthalate used in vinyl floor tiles), were also tested.

Urine samples were collected, and tested, from 56 couples were who were seeking fertility treatments as well as an equal number of couples who had effectively had children. Interestingly, the men and women in the couples seeking fertility treatments appeared to have higher levels of phthalates in their urine than the couples with children.

A number of previous studies have linked phthalates to infertility in men and women separately; however, this is the first study of its kind showing that that the combined levels in both men and women could be to blame. In women, phthalates can trigger endometriosis, a condition common in women who can’t get pregnant. In men, phthalates lower testosterone levels, which impairs sperm quality.

Phthalates are everywhere in the environment, and can be difficult to avoid, but here are some of the most common sources. Avoid as many as you can to improve your chances of conceiving:

  • Vinyl products, including shower curtains and faux leather
  • Certain plastic food containers and cling wraps
  • Coatings on medications and supplements
  • 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 that have a fragrance
  • Nail polish
  • Paints and other furniture finishes
  • Nonorganic foods grown with sewage sludge and pesticides