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The Impact of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals on Male and Female Reproductive Health


It's estimated that on average a woman is exposed to 114 chemicals each day and men are exposed to 85 chemicals each day. Men's product usage has almost doubled since 2004.



The Impact of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals on Reproductive Health

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are compounds that can interfere with the body's endocrine system, leading to adverse effects on reproductive health. These chemicals are found in everyday products and can affect both male and female reproductive systems, influencing sperm and egg quality, hormone levels, and overall fertility.


man and woman looking at water

Impact on Sperm and Egg Quality

EDCs can affect sperm quality in men by disrupting hormone signaling pathways that regulate sperm production and maturation. Studies have shown a 50% reduction in sperm concentration and a decline in sperm motility among men in Western countries since the 1970s. This is a crisis for male fertility. Not only can this impact fertility, but can lead to a greater risk of miscarriage or pregnancy loss.


In women, these chemicals can impact egg quality by interfering with hormone levels necessary for ovulation and proper egg development. This may also contribute to low levels of AMH, which can be used to assess ovarian reserve. Both scenarios can lead to difficulties in conceiving and may increase the risk of pregnancy complications including pregnancy loss.


Effects on Hormones in Men and Women

EDCs can disrupt the balance of hormones in both men and women. For men, exposure to these chemicals can lead to decreased testosterone levels, which can affect sperm production and sexual function. In women, EDCs can interfere with estrogen and progesterone levels, potentially disrupting menstrual cycles and ovulation.


The average adult uses around 12 personal care products each day. This doesn't include exposures from other things in the environment.



Common Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals


man washing his face with personal care products
  1. Bisphenol A (BPA): Found in plastic products, including food and drink containers, packaging, toys, lining of cans and more. BPA can mimic estrogen in the body, leading to hormonal imbalances. It has been linked to reproductive issues in both men and women, including decreased sperm quality and infertility.

  2. Phthalates: These chemicals are often used as plasticizers in a variety of products, including vinyl flooring, adhesives, and personal care products. Phthalates can disrupt hormone levels, potentially affecting reproductive health and development, particularly in males.

  3. Parabens: Commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and food products, parabens can mimic estrogen in the body. Prolonged exposure to parabens has been associated with hormone disruption and adverse effects on reproductive health.

  4. Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS): Found in non-stick cookware, waterproof clothing, and firefighting foam, PFAS have been linked to hormonal disruptions, including changes in reproductive hormones. Exposure to PFAS has been associated with reduced fertility and pregnancy complications.

  5. Organophosphate Pesticides: Widely used in agriculture, organophosphate pesticides can disrupt the endocrine system by interfering with hormone signaling. Prolonged exposure to these chemicals has been linked to reproductive issues, including reduced sperm quality and fertility in men.

  6. Glycol Ethers: Found in cleaning products, paints, and cosmetics, glycol ethers can disrupt hormone function and have been associated with adverse effects on reproductive health, including reduced fertility and developmental abnormalities.

  7. Heavy Metals: Metals such as lead, mercury, and cadmium can act as endocrine disruptors. Exposure to these metals, often through contaminated food or water, can interfere with hormone function and lead to reproductive issues in both men and women.

  8. Phytoestrogens: Although naturally occurring in certain foods, such as soybeans and flaxseeds, phytoestrogens can act as endocrine disruptors when consumed in high amounts. These compounds can mimic estrogen in the body, potentially affecting reproductive health.

  9. Fragrance: An ingredient that can oftentimes be used as a 'loophole'. Ingredients within 'fragrance' aren't always disclosed and can contain parabens, phthalates, and other ingredients even if the product claims to be free of those things.

Sources of Exposure

Exposure to EDCs can occur through various routes, including ingestion, inhalation, and skin contact. Common sources of exposure include contaminated food and water, household products, cosmetics, and industrial chemicals.


Everyone is potentially at risk of exposure to EDCs, but certain groups may be more vulnerable. Pregnant women, infants, and young children are particularly susceptible due to their developing endocrine systems and higher exposure levels per unit of body weight.


Using sites like EWG or Think Dirty, you can check personal care and home products for a rating on level of toxicity including what makes a product 'toxic'.



pregnant woman holding belly

Early pregnancy exposure to EDCs are associated with inflammatory changes in both mother and baby

Exposure to EDCs during pregnancy and infancy can have significant implications for both the developing fetus and the newborn. These vulnerable stages of life are particularly sensitive to the effects of EDCs, which can lead to long-lasting impacts on reproductive health and overall development. Impacts on the offspring may include low birth weight which increases risk for later in life diseases like diabetes and obesity. Exposures may also increase risk for developmental disorders like ADHD and thyroid problems.



Reducing Exposures

  • Dietary Choices: Opting for organic produce and reducing consumption of processed foods can help minimize exposure to pesticides and other contaminants. If eating all organic is too costly, check out the dirty dozen and clean fifteen.

  • Breastfeeding: While breastfeeding is beneficial for infant health, mothers should be mindful of their own exposure to EDCs and take steps to reduce it.

  • Avoiding Plastics: Using glass or stainless-steel containers for food and drinks can help reduce exposure to EDCs found in plastic products. As you update items in your house, watch for sales on things like pyrex or check out a thrift store for more affordable options!

  • Choosing Clean Products: Selecting personal care products that are free from EDCs, such as phthalate-free lotions and shampoos, can help minimize exposure. Use sites like EWG or Think Dirty, you can check personal care and home products for a rating on level of toxicity including what makes a product 'toxic'.

  • Don't Overcomplicate It: You don't need 'special' produce spray or cleaning products. Things like baking soda, lemon, and vinegar can be used to soak produce and vinegar and essential oils can be used as cleaning products around your home.


The impact of EDCs on reproductive health is a significant concern. Understanding the sources of these chemicals and taking steps to minimize exposure can help protect reproductive health in both men and women.


 

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dr. katie zaremba hormones, fertility, preconception care

Dr. Zaremba received her bachelor's degree from Western Michigan University in Biomedical Sciences and minored in Chemistry and Psychology. She completed her doctoral training at Palmer College of Chiropractic. During her time in school, she took post-doctoral training through The Clinic on Disease and Internal Disorders (CDID) earning her a Diplomate from the American Board of Chiropractic Internists (DABCI).



 

References:

  • https://www.ewg.org/research/survey-finds-use-personal-care-products-2004-what-means-your-health#:~:text=On%20average%2C%20men%20use%2011,women%20and%20105%20for%20men.

  • Levine, H., Jørgensen, N., Martino-Andrade, A., Mendiola, J., Weksler-Derri, D., Mindlis, I., ... & Swan, S. H. (2017). Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. Human Reproduction Update, 23(6), 646-659.

  • https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/index.cfm

  • Kelley, A.S., Banker, M., Goodrich, J.M. et al. Early pregnancy exposure to endocrine disrupting chemical mixtures are associated with inflammatory changes in maternal and neonatal circulation. Sci Rep 9, 5422 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-41134-z

  • Rolfo A, Nuzzo AM, De Amicis R, Moretti L, Bertoli S, Leone A. Fetal-Maternal Exposure to Endocrine Disruptors: Correlation with Diet Intake and Pregnancy Outcomes. Nutrients. 2020 Jun 11;12(6):1744. doi: 10.3390/nu12061744. PMID: 32545151

  • Gore, A. C., et al. (2015). EDC-2: The Endocrine Society's Second Scientific Statement on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals. Endocrine Reviews, 36(6), E1-E150.

  • Machtinger, R., et al. (2018). Environmental exposure and lifestyle habits influence the occurrence of reproductive disorders. Fertility and Sterility, 110(1), 49-58.

  • Woodruff, T. J., et al. (2010). Environmental chemicals in pregnant women in the US: NHANES 2003-2004. Environmental Health Perspectives, 119(6), 878-885.


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