When you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, you study every food, drink, and supplement before putting it in your body. But do you consider the potential dangers of the window cleaner you use? What about your shampoo? Or the container you use to take your lunch to work?
The truth is, we’re all exposed to chemicals and metals through the air, water, soil, food, and consumer products we come in contact with every day. It’s been reported that virtually every pregnant woman in the U.S. is exposed to at least 43 different chemicals, and scientists estimate that every person alive today carries at least 700 contaminants within his or her body.
While exposure to toxic chemicals and metals has become commonplace, it’s not something you should ignore. Toxins are harmful to your body and can have negative effects on your fertility. Although exposure to toxins isn’t wholly avoidable, you can educate yourself on the biggest offenders and take steps to lessen your exposure.
The Top 6 Offenders
Chemicals and metals are so much a part of our food, drinks, products, and environments that many of us aren’t even aware of their presence or threats. Toxins can have negative health effects for everyone, but pregnant women and those trying to conceive should be especially wary.
Many toxins, known as endocrine disruptors (natural or synthetic chemicals that alter the body’s normal hormonal activities), make it difficult for women to conceive and men to produce healthy semen. Additionally, chemicals in pregnant women can cross the placenta, in some cases harming the fetus or leading to health problems later in life.
Here are six of the most common (and dangerous) toxins you need to know about and avoid:
1. Bisphenol-A (BPA): BPA is commonly used to make plastics for food and drink containers, but it’s also found in the lining of tin cans, dental sealants, and thermal cash register receipts. Exposure to BPA can lead to heart disease, diabetes, reproductive issues, and birth defects. While the FDA has expressed concern about the health effects of BPA, it has only been banned from children’s bottles and cups.
2. Parabens: Parabens are primarily used as preservatives in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Some researchers believe parabens affect estrogen production and mimic estrogen in the body.
3. Phthalates: Phthalates – added to plastics to make them more flexible and resilient – are found in many products in our homes, including soaps, detergents, plastic bags, children’s toys, food packaging, shampoos, shower curtains, and hairspray. Phthalates have been found to lower sperm count and mobility, and they play a role in other hormonal and reproductive changes.
4. Dioxins: Dioxins are a group of hundreds of chemicals formed during industrial processes such as waste incineration, chemical and pesticide manufacturing, and pulp and paper bleaching. After being released into the air, dioxin settles on the ground, where it contaminates soil and food supplies and leads to health, reproductive, and developmental problems.
5. Organophosphates: These compounds are commonly used in the manufacturing of pesticides and herbicides. They’ve been shown to negatively affect fertility, brain development, and hormone signaling.
6. Heavy Metals: Dangerous heavy metals include cadmium, mercury, and lead, and they commonly pervade our food, water supply, and environment. The result of industrial processing, their pollutants come from automobiles, cigarette smoke, and heavy pesticide use. Most people are exposed to these metals on a daily basis, where they can accumulate in their organs and impair reproductive health over time.
How to Decrease Exposure
Toxins are everywhere, but here are eight steps you can take to minimize your exposure to these chemicals and metals, especially while pregnant or trying to conceive:
1. Eat organic foods. Buy organic produce, dairy products, and meats whenever possible. If you eat conventionally grown fruits and vegetables, make sure you wash and peel them first.
2. Quit smoking. Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke.
3. Drink filtered water. Think about bathing in filtered water, too.
4. Avoid eating fish contaminated with mercury. Consider taking a high-quality fish oil supplement to ensure you’re getting enough omega-3 fatty acids.
5. Use only nontoxic cleaning supplies. You can find these at many organic grocery stores, or you can make them yourself.
6. Buy nontoxic personal care products. Specifically look for parabens and phthalates in these kinds of products.
7. Avoid plastics containing BPA. Food and drinks are often packaged in such containers, but you should never microwave food in a plastic container.
8. Choose nontoxic pesticides and herbicides. There are plenty of alternatives to use for your lawn and garden care needs.
The truth is, you can’t escape toxins completely. But if you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, you should be especially cautious of the toxins that might be entering your body. Being aware of toxins and knowing how to avoid them can significantly limit your risk of being affected by these threats.
In addition to avoiding these toxins, many couples trying to get pregnant opt to detoxify prior to ramping up their preconception efforts in an effort to rid their bodies of environmental contaminants. There are numerous detoxification regimens or cleanses available at your local health food store, some of which are even formulated with the trying-to-conceive couple in mind.
Image: Bridget Coila
Ethan Lynette is Partner for Fairhaven Health, a company that manufactures products that help couples conceive naturally and provides support to women throughout pregnancy and nursing. Fairhaven believes it’s crucial to get to know its customers well and provide support and education to couples desiring to start a family.