Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC’s) are a class of chemicals that mimic, block or interfere with our hormones, such as oestrogen. They can lead to hormone imbalances, infertility, miscarriages, preterm birth, low birth weight, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), sperm abnormalities and breast cancers.
Clearly we live in an environment where toxins and chemicals are ubiquitous. However some are more harmful than others, and EDC’s are a class which really do need to be avoided for optimal health and fertility.
Common EDC’s include:
Phthalates – a class of man-made chemicals found in many cosmetics and personal care products. Exposure to phthalates is associated with: early puberty, endometriosis, shorter menstrual cycles, fibroids, early menopause, reduced fertility, increased rates of miscarriage, and some cancers. When undergoing IVF, phthalates are associated with reduced fertilisation rates and poorer blastocyst quality, as they can disrupt follicle (egg) growth and cause follicle death. Phthalates are also known to decrease sperm counts and quality, reducing male fertility. Phthalates are found in makeup, body washes, shampoo, conditioner, lotions, moisturisers, perfumes, deodorants, hairsprays and nail polish.
Parabens – these are a group of chemicals widely used in cosmetic and body products, as preservatives. Parabens are found in make-up, lotions, hair products, sunscreens, shaving products, etc. The most commonly used types are methyl-, ethyl-, propyl-, isopropyl-, butyl- and isobutylparaben.
Studies have shown that in males, parabens decrease testosterone levels and sperm production, even at very low doses. Parabens have also been found to reduce sperm motility (movement) and morphology (create abnormally shaped sperm). In females, parabens are associated with high oestrogen levels, precocious puberty, infertility, preterm birth, low birth weight and breast cancer.
Bisphenols such as bisphenol-A (BPA), BPS, BPF, BPZ are also common EDC’s. They are commonly found in plastics (used to soften the plastic to make it more malleable), and are therefore found in plastic water bottles, Tupperware, cling wrap, etc. Bisphenols are also found in metal can linings i.e. tinned foods, and thermal receipts such as tickets and receipts from the supermarket. Aside from disrupting hormones, BPA has also been classified as an obesogen – meaning it disrupts metabolism so much that it can cause obesity.
Tips to help avoid EDC’s:
- Avoid plastics – use glass or stainless steel water bottles and food storage options
- Drink filtered water – avoid tap water
- Choose organic produce where possible. Utilise the dirty dozen and clean fifteen, which is released each year to educate about which foods have the highest pesticide/chemical load and should be purchased organically, and which foods contain naturally lower pesticide levels and can be purchased conventionally: https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/
- Avoid tinned foods – even those that state ‘BPA free’ likely contain BPS and other bisphenols which are just as damaging to human health
- Avoid fragrances – perfumes (sometimes labelled as ‘parfum’ and fragranced beauty/body/home products
- Use organic make-up, beauty and cosmetic products – check out the ‘Think Dirty‘ app to identify potentially toxic ingredients in your make-up bag
- Avoid non-stick pans – opt for cast iron or stainless steel – Teflon is a major EDC
- Wash your hands before eating – this helps to wash any chemical residue away which you could instead ingest
- Dust and vacuum often to remove EDC’s from your home environment
- Say no to shopping receipts – when the public starting gaining awareness about BPA, and manufacturers starting creating “BPA-free” plastic items (just replacing BPA with BPS, which is just as toxic…) they needed to find somewhere to put all the BPA. Guess where it went? Thermal receipt papers. Your receipts from the grocery store! Say no to receipts or opt for digital versions that can instead be emailed to you.