How to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals to help boost fertility
Can chemicals cause infertility?
"What's wrong with chemicals in small doses? They make your hair clean and shiny and surely we need them in cleaning products to kill bacteria, no? Also, I'm sure that the Government wouldn't allow these products to be sold if they were having a negative impact on our health, right? So really it is all OK." - (Me, prior to reading up on the issue of chemicals.)
Unfortunately it only takes a brief look at the research from a few reputable sources to conclude that the above view is wrong on every level. Chemicals do make my hair clean and shiny, but what I hadn't bargained for was my shampoo and conditioner (combined with other personal products, cleaning products and food storage that I use on a daily basis) potentially interfering in my body’s ability to make a baby. Damn you, chemicals.
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a research institute that is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Sciences, explains that endocrine/hormone disruptors, which are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system, can produce adverse reproductive effects in humans. These disruptors can scramble messages that natural hormones transfer between cells. That doesn’t sound good does it?
One hormone that is very relevant to reproductive health is estrogen and some chemicals (xenoestrogens), or foods and plants (phytoestrogens), mimic the action of estrogen produced in cells and can alter hormonal activity.
Surely if we are only exposed to a tiny weeny doses of chemicals in our products it will be OK? Wrong.
The body’s own normal endocrine signalling involves very small changes in hormone levels, yet we know these changes can have significant biological effects. This leads scientists to think that chemical exposures, even at low doses, can disrupt the body’s delicate endocrine system and lead to disease. (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences - Endocrine Disruptors)
Hormone disruptors get into our bodies when we breathe, eat, drink and have skin contact with them. That is pretty scary as it appears that there is no way to avoid them entirely, but reducing your exposure to them to the extent that it is within your control should help. Some of the worst offenders when it comes to hormone disruption are:
BPA Plastics- Bisphenol A (BPA) is commonly used in some plastic products such a food storage containers, plastic drinks bottles and linings of canned food, and
Phthalates - used in cosmetics, fragrances and other personal products.
If you want to scare the bejesus out of yourself with how harmful chemicals can be for your fertility, check out the excellent book It Starts With The Egg by Rebecca Fett (book review here). It provides plentiful details on toxins and fertility and given that it is fully researched (and referenced) it is no word of a lie.
So, once I realised that my precious little eggs had been stewing in 30 years worth of chemicals, I needed to make a drastic change. I popped my first hope (to eliminate ALL exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals) into a metaphorical box and stuffed it under the bed of broken dreams, and instead replaced it with an intention to dramatically reduce my exposure wherever I could. Now, where on earth to begin?
How can I reduce chemicals in my life? The 5 (easy but expensive and time consuming) steps that I took to create my toxin free household.
How to reduce harmful chemicals in your BATHROOM
A good place for me to begin was with a stocktake, and like an undignified end to a good night out it all started in the bathroom.
I began by downloading a free app that provides independent information on the potential dangerous chemicals in your personal products. Using the app you can enter the name of the products used in your bathroom and it gives you a score from 0-9 as to the toxicity of that product. It is also possible to scan the bar code of your bathroom products. This function is terrible for UK products, just terrible. I’m guessing that the App was developed in the US. Don’t bother being all whizzy with the barcode if you are in the UK, you’ll have more luck putting the product name into the search bar instead.
It gives an overall rating for your bathroom shelf, and the aim if so this number to be as low as possible. If you have the same experience as me, whereby you pop in all your carefully selected non-fragranced and environmentally friendly products, only to be told that collectively your bathroom goodies are just short of radioactive (my bathroom shelf was a 7. Absolute shocker! The 3 eyed fish in the Simpsons bathes in a 6….) then you’ll love the Think Dirty App suggestions for cleaner products under 'Our Picks'.
2. Swap your old toxic products for new chemical free substitutes
A staged approach for the sake of your wallet - For financial reasons I didn't replace all my products in one go but waited until my existing ones were at the end of their life, drawing their last toxic breath before swapping in new fertility friendly non-chemical versions. This included restocking the bathroom with cleaning and personal care products before focusing on products for the kitchen (see below).
The sniff test - It took time, effort, trial and error to find non-toxic personal care products that were effective but didn't smell too ‘hippie’ for me. Smelling too hippie is known in our house as the ‘Aunt Sheila sniff test’. Aunt Sheila is my husband’s Aunt who is wonderfully alternative (for want of a better description). Let’s paint a picture for you, reader: she sings to the sea, plants crystals around the world, has multiple wands (actual wands, not a euphemism), was arrested for accidentally driving a bongo van into the centre of Hinkley Point during a peaceful protest, believes that mountains are sleeping dragons waiting to take back the earth and generally smells of lavender and calendula. She is a wonderful, wonderful woman but smelling like Aunt Sheila is not my desired intention, mainly because it is an anti-aphrodisiac for my husband (and we are never going to make a baby in that case…).
I have been through a LOT of products trying to find the right ones for me. Honestly, it is like dating in your early twenties - you have to go through so many duds before you find a keeper. Some of my favourite products for the bathroom that a) pass the Aunt Sheila sniff test, b) are effective and c) are easy to purchase in the UK outlined below.
What are the best natural skincare products?
Avalon conditioner - not as thick as other conditioners, this took a while to get used to but is now great.
Natracare sanitary towels - because your muff needs toxin free love too! Organic and toxin free pads.
Georganics natural toothpaste - can toothpaste be cool? Probably not, but this super trendy toothpaste gives it a good shot. A glass container that will look swanky on any shelf.
Dr Bronner’s All-One Peppermint toothpaste - tastes like ordinary toothpaste, which (trust me) for a natural toothpaste is a real accolade.
3. Make homemade toiletries
This non-toxic malarky could cost me a small fortune, a realisation that washed over me like a luxury, organic certified body wash. This was then followed by a confidence not supported by evidence that I could probably make products that are just as effective myself. Really? I can bake (well, sort of) so this should also mean that I have the skill set to make my own bathroom treats. And that is how easy it is to slip into being a rare breed of people who make their own deodorant. It is only a small slide from grace in to becoming one of those weirdos who disappoints countless relatives by gifting crude homemade toiletries at Christmas. I hope that my husband will still love me when that day comes.
As it happens, it is pretty simple and easy to make highly effective non-toxic personal care products. Who’d have thought?! All just need some time, some decent recipes and reassurance that normal people do this. The best recipe for deodorant that I’ve found is in Xochi Balfour’s book The Naturalista. It is highly effective, even when competing against commuter sweat in the summer months in London - a tough test. From this book I have also made body scrub, moisturising bars and lip balm. All very good. Finally, I’ve made my own face mask, which was a raging success. It is super simple and quick to make and visibly removed the impurities from my skin ('impurities' being a delicate word for blackheads). Recipe for the detoxifying face (and pit - let’s not forget the pits) mask is available here.
How to reduce toxins in your KITCHEN
And then I turned my attention to another problem area, my kitchen...
4. Do a stocktake of your kitchen cleaning products
Do a stocktake using the EWG's Guide to Health Cleaning - The Environmental Working Group is a US based non-profit, non-partisan organisation dedicated to protecting human health and the environment. The EWG's Guide to Healthy Cleaning works in a very similar way to the Think Dirty App (above) and allows you to enter a cleaning product and access a rating of toxicity (including developmental and reproductive toxicity), as well as recommendations for less toxic alternatives. Over time I cycled out the chemical products and cycled in the better, healthier substitutes. Slowly slowly, catchy monkey. In my view, cleaning up your kitchen chemicals is an easier job than your bathroom toxins because the substitute natural products are more readily available. I picked up all of the below during a weekly shop at Waitrose, although these products are also available on Amazon (I mean, what isn’t available on Amazon?).
What are the best all natural cleaning products?
5. Upgrade your food storage from plastic to glass and aluminium
Reading about the impact of BPA on the human body, egg quality and or a developing foetus is enough to scare the living daylights out of anyone. There is a whole section in the book It Starts With The Egg on BPA and plastic and plenty more information on line. Once plastic (even BPA equivalents) is heated the chemicals can leach into the food contained within it. I now make every effort not to eat hot food from plastic containers and I have switched all my old plastic food containers from brand spanking new glass equivalents. They are heavier, so I expect to grow some muscle lugging them around in my work bag.
This article from The Soft Landing gave me some good ideas for chemical free food storage and I ended up purchasing this lot from Amazon.