How to reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals to help boost fertility
"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 - Before I looked into this and was a bit of an idiot.)
Unfortunately it only takes a small amount of 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 interferring in my ability to make a baby.
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 both humans. These disruptors can scramble messages that natural hormones transfer between cells.
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 signaling 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. The common culprits of hormone disruptors 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.
Phthalates - used in cosmetics, fragrances and other personal products.
Soy and soy products - mimic estrogen and may imbalance hormones.
I popped my first hope (to eliminate any exposure to hormone disrupting chemicals) into a metophorical box and stuffed it under the bed of broken dreams and replaced it with an intention to dramatically reduce my exposure in areas of my life where I am in control.
How can we reduce toxicity?
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....
1. Get the free Think Dirty App - 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 but I found that this didn't work well on UK products, perhaps because the App was developed in the USA. Instead I had more luck when I put the product name in the search bar. Rather helpfully, it even gives a separate rating for the developmental and reproductive toxicity of each product. 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 and are devastated to find that your bathroom shelf has a high toxicity rating (my score was 7 despite me taking care to buy non-fragranced and what I thought would be low toxin products) the Think Dirty App has suggestions for clean products under 'Our Picks'.
2. Swap your old toxic products for new chemical free substitutes - For financial reasons I didn't replace all my products in one go but waited until my existing products were at the end of their life and drew 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 cleaning products for the kitchen (see below).
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. This is known in our house as the ‘Aunt Sheila sniff test’. Aunt Sheila is my husband’s Aunt who is wonderfully bohemian, sings to the sea, believes that mountains are sleeping dragons waiting to take back the earth and generally smells of lavender and calendula. Smelling like Aunt Sheila is not my desired intention and is anti-aphrodisiac for my husband. Some of my favourite new products for the bathroom that are easy to purchase in the UK are:
Personal care products that pass the Aunt Sheila sniff test
3. Indulge in DIY bathroom treats
I can bake (well, sort of) so this should also mean that I have the skill set to make my own bathroom treats, such as bath bombs, face masks, body lotions and possibly even deodorant. I have developed into one of those people who makes their own toiletries. It is not long before I will become one of those people who gives home made toiletries as gifts at Christmas. I hope that my husband will still love me when that day comes.
So far I have made my own face mask, and it 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 face mask available here.
To 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 using the EWG's Guide to Health Cleaning - The Environmental Working Group is a US based non-profit, non-partisan organization 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.
Some of my favourite new (easy to purchase in the UK) kitchen products are:
I picked up all of the below during a weekly shop at Waitrose, but these products are also available on Amazon.
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.
Upgrading my food storage
6. Avoid chemical heavy foods and oestrogen mimicking foods
I have gone organic and only buy organic wherever possible, particularly focussing on free-range, well cared for organic meat.