Understanding endocrine disruptors and your fertility
Chemicals are now everywhere. They are in food as colorants, preservatives, and even traces of pesticides and heavy metals. When looking individually at these foods, they are quite safe. However, people consume many food items during the day. Thus, most are consuming massive amounts of toxic chemicals during their lifetime.
Additionally, it is worth understanding that many of these chemicals enter our bodies in the most unexpected ways. Just take an example of packed juices or a disposable cup of coffee or even using some plastic item at home. The amount that enters the human body from every exposure is minute and appears safe. However, over the years, it is a considerable amount.
Researchers have been increasingly trying to identify the reasons behind increasing cases of metabolic disorders and infertility in recent years. They know that human genetics have not changed in the last century. However, lifestyle, food habits, exposure to environmental toxins has changed considerably. These factors are now a significant cause of non-communicable diseases like heart disease, neurodegenerative disorders, endocrine issues, and infertility.
Infertility is an increasing problem
Studies show that at present, about 15% of couples have a problem conceiving a child despite regular unprotected sex for a year. It appears that male and female infertility are almost equally common. Studies show that about 9% of men and 11% of women have fertility issues.
However, that is not the only issue. In females, fertility starts declining rapidly with age, especially after the age of 37.
Additionally, what has worried researchers is the rapid decline in average sperm count in males over the last 50 years or so. As a result, experts fear that male infertility may emerge as a significant threat to the human race in the future. Studies show that there has been a 50-60% sperm count decline from 1973 to 2011.
Researchers think that such a rapid decline in male fertility and increasing problem of female sub or infertility are due to higher exposures to endocrine disruptors and resulting hormonal changes.
Understanding endocrine disruptors and their association with infertility
So, what are these endocrine disruptors? These are just any compounds of synthetic or even natural origins that may cause significant hormonal changes in the human body. In most cases, these are synthetic compounds or toxins that are a by-product of industrialization.
Hormones play a vital role in maintaining the body’s internal balance. They affect the working of almost every human organ, including the reproductive system.
Here it is vital that these toxic chemicals enter the human body through various routes, and not only through food. Thus, they are inhaled or even absorbed via the skin. They are present in cosmetics, products of personal care, cleaning products, and even medications.
Endocrine disruptors are compounds with diverse chemical structures. Once in the body, they might imitate one or another hormone or influence various endocrine organs, receptors, and so on. These endocrine disruptors work in a complex way.
Researchers say that endocrine disruptors cause at least six types of known toxicities; metabolic toxicity, immune toxicity, respiratory toxicity, carcinogenic effects (cancer-causing effect), and influence reproductive development.
Here it is vital to note that these toxins not only influence the reproductive system but are toxic for reproductive development. It means that they negatively influence male and female fertility and fetal development. Not only that, they continue to influence the early development of a child.
In men, many of these toxins act as estrogen-mimetics; thus, they affect testicular development from a young age.
In addition, these endocrine disruptors are causing unpredictable changes in puberty and menarche.
Measuring human exposure to these endocrine disruptors is quite complex. Some of them are fat-soluble and tend to accumulate in fatty tissues. In contrast, others are water-soluble and accumulate only in selected organs.
Additionally, some lifestyle changes and changes in human body composition also promote the accumulation of these toxins. For example, obesity is rising globally, and it means a greater amount of adipose tissue and thus higher chances of accumulation of lipid-soluble toxins.
Endocrine disruptors and female infertility
Generally, measuring the impact of toxins on female fertility is more complex. In men, it is visible in the form of declining sperm count and altered sperm quality. However, in females, it means subfertility, inadequate hormone production, irregular cycles, absence of ovulation, and other issues.
The challenge in studying the impact of endocrine disruptors is that there are just so many commonly used synthetic chemicals. Some of the most common endocrine disruptors are pesticides, heavy metals, plasticizers, and preservatives.
Some early studies already show the complex way these endocrine disruptors work, affecting the working of various endocrine organs. Below are some of the examples in which these toxins may lower female fertility:
- Pituitary– heavy metals reduce luteinizing hormone (LH) levels, thus disrupting ovulation.
- Ovary– pesticides reduce the level of sex steroid hormones like estrogens, heavy metals reduce ovarian yield or formation of eggs, parabens may shorten the menstrual cycle.
- Uterus– heavy metals considerably increase the risk of fibroids.
Above are just a few examples, and it is worth remembering that the human body is getting exposed to hundreds of toxins in reality. Additionally, these toxins fertility in other ways, too. Fertility is not just a function of the ovary or uterus. For example, changes in insulin levels or higher cortisol levels may also have a negative impact on female fertility.
How can we reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors?
There are a few things people can do to reduce exposure to these toxic substances. However, many things are not likely to change without significant policy changes at the national and international levels.
Of course, people can reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors by consuming organic foods, preparing foods at home, increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, avoiding overuse of plastics, not buying packed or ultra-processed foods.
Further, a higher intake of micronutrients may also help reduce the influence of endocrine disruptors on the human body. Studies show that vitamin C, folic acid, and iodine are vital among such micronutrients. These findings also underline the increasing importance of prenatal care in modern times.
What Our Patients Say
“This is my second visit to Merrion Fetal, I was very pleased on both occasions. Lovely quiet waiting room, appointment was on time. The 20-week scan is very detailed we enjoyed watching our baby on the large TV screen. We got some beautiful photos. The nurse was very pleasant and talked us through all the measurements and anatomy. I would highly recommend this scanning clinic.”
“I had the best experience at the Merrion Fetal Health clinic for my 20-week big scan. The staff were so friendly and so nice and the lovely lady who did my ultrasound scan was amazing. She was so thoroughgoing to absolutely everything and gave me such reassurance on how my baby was growing and developing. I would recommend any Mother to be to attend here if you are looking for a comfortable, reassuring and super pleasant experience.”
“Highly recommend! We had an early scan due to a little scare at the start of pregnancy and then another at 12 weeks to make sure all was good again. Helen who was scanning on both days was fantastic. We felt totally relaxed and un-rushed while she took her time finding the best angle of baby to get us the clearest pictures as keepsakes all while making sure everything was perfect with baby. She reassured us throughout and I can honestly say it was the best money we ever spent getting both scans done.
Please let Helen know we are 18 weeks now and flying along Highly recommend!
Midwife sonographer facilitated
Consultant Led, Centre of Medical Excellence
All articles on the blog and website are intended as information only. Please do not consider any of the information provided here as a substitute for medical advice. At all times seek medical advice directly with your own doctor and medical team.
This website was formerly Merrion Fetal Health. The clinic has undergone a rebrand and is now known as Merrion Ultrasound.