Asking ourselves whether the objects in our home spark joy has become a cultural phenomenon, thanks to Marie Kondo’s best selling book. But, perhaps the question we need to ask is: are our household products undermining our chances of getting pregnant?
The modern household is full of artificial chemicals, from the cleaning products we use on our ovens to the containers we use to store our food.
The chemicals we use certainly make life easier to get our surfaces shiny, but they can be doing untold harm to our fertility.
For some women and men, chemical exposures may reduce their chances of conceiving and having a healthy baby.
Some people will be more sensitive to chemical exposures than others.
Fortunately, there are lots of small changes we can make to detox our households and ourselves in the process.
Here’s what we can do:
Identify the culprits: a guide to endocrine disruptors
Chemicals that interfere with the hormones in your body are known as endocrine disruptors. These can come from natural and man-made products including some plastic bottles and containers, detergents, cosmetics, food and toys, pesticides and flame-retardants.
These molecules behave like hormones in our bodies, mimicking the actions of oestrogens (female sex hormones) and androgens (male sex hormones) and thyroid hormones.
The molecules can then affect your cells, causing the body to respond inappropriately.
The results can lead to bad outcomes for developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune systems, causing lowered fertility, endometriosis and some cancers.
Where to find them in your home?
Unfortunately, you can find endocrine-disrupting chemicals almost anywhere – especially under the kitchen sink.
The plastic bottles we drink from and the metal cans used for tinned goods can cause these chemicals to seep into food and drinks. The chemicals can also come from detergents, flame retardants, textiles, plastic or painted children’s toys, cosmetics, sunscreens and pesticides on the foods we eat.
How can I avoid these chemicals?
Here is a list of 12 helpful things you can do to minimise the impact of these chemicals on your fertility:
1. Wash your hands the old fashioned way. Avoid artificially fragranced and antibacterial soaps. Choose a natural soap bar.
2. Keep the house dust free. Household products are a source of endocrine disrupting chemicals. These chemicals escape from many sources, become airborne and settle in household dust. Dusting and vacuuming frequently reduces our exposure to chemicals like flame retardants, lead, phthalates, and fluorinated chemicals.
3. Buy fragrance free. Phthalates, chemicals found in fragrances, can disrupt hormones. In many instances, fragrance isn’t necessary for a product to function well or be effective. Wherever you can, choose fragrance-free. Around the home, rediscover natural ways to make the place smell nice like fresh flowers, citrus peels in rubbish bin, and using small shallow bowls with a few pinches of baking soda uncovered to help soak up bad odours.
4. Avoid plastics. Wrapping, packaging and boxing our food, bottling our products, encasing our phones and the pens that we write with has surrounded us with plastics. Some plastics definitely contain hormone-disrupting chemicals we already know about (bisphenol-A (BPA), poly-vinyl-chloride (PVC) containing phthalates) and many unstudied compounds may also be unsafe. Even very low-dose exposures can be significant.
It’s very difficult to eliminate all plastic, but we can take some easy steps to reduce plastic. Use glass, ceramic or stainless steel food storage containers. If you do keep plastic ones, never use them to store fatty foods and never microwave them. Replace plastic bags with reusable lunch bags. Replace cling wrap with alternatives like reusable cloth napkins. Choose wooden toys over plastic ones. If you are thinking of buying something plastic, consider whether safer alternatives exist.
5. Avoid canned food. Food cans are likely to be lined with BPA to keep them from corroding. Choosing fresh, frozen, or dried food alternatives (e.g. beans, chickpeas, lentils) is much smarter. Avoiding canned food means we also inadvertently avoid some of our consumption of imported foods that may be grown in countries with less strict pesticide exposure laws than we have in Australia.
6. Eat organic. Pesticides can cause endocrine disruption. Eat organic food as much as you can afford to. Eat foods that are in season. As Joni Mitchell said, “give me spots on my apples, leave me the birds and the bees”. If you can’t afford to go fully organic, choose a wholefoods diet and wash your produce vigorously before consumption. When you can, avoid food with packaging.
7. Consider how you prepare food. Endocrine disrupting chemicals can seep from non-stick pans for example from those lined with Teflon. Choose stainless steel or cast iron options instead.
8. Drink tap rather than bottled water. Drinking tap water out of glass cups will reduce your exposure to BPA and other chemicals.
9. Colouring your hair more naturally. Look for hair dye that’s resorcinol-free if at all possible. Never use products containing resorcinol on broken skin. If you are going to a professional, ask your hairdresser what’s in the product they are using on your hair.
10. Change how we slip/slop/slap. Skin cancer risk in Australia is real, but so are adverse exposures to chemicals in some sunscreens. Try to choose sunscreens with physical blockers, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide instead of chemical blockers. But don’t forget the merit of a big floppy hat and a cover-up which can protect you from the sun.
11. Clean your home more naturally. We may sometimes think we are “cleaning” when what we are actually doing is polluting our home with harsh and dangerous chemical products. More natural options are now available using steam, sugar scrubs, vinegar, soap and baking soda.
12. Research your cosmetics. Parabens are preservatives used in many cosmetic and personal care products that can have oestrogenic effects. Check the ingredients list on your products for propyl-, isopropyl-, butyl- and isobutyl-parabens and avoid exposure to these chemicals.
13. Vote with your dollars. Use purchasing power to tell companies and policy makers that you will not accept exposure to toxic chemicals in our daily products.
When to be especially careful around these chemicals
Endocrine disruptors may pose the greatest risk during preconception, pregnancy and early development. However, they can potentially cause harm during any life stage.
It is interesting (and very concerning) that endocrine disorders are on the rise worldwide. It is highly likely that endocrine disrupting chemicals played a role in this increase. The following conditions have been on the rise over the past few generations:
- Low sperm quality and male infertility
- Genital malformations including un-descended testes (cryptorchidism) and penile malformations (hypospadias) in baby boys
- Hormone-related cancers(breast, endometrial, ovarian, prostate, testicular and thyroid)
- Early onset of puberty in young girls, which is a risk factor for breast cancer, obesity and type-2 diabetes.
Making changes to your lifestyle can be powerful. For some women and couples, lifestyle changes will make the difference and it is an area where we can take some control.