The Impacts of Illegal Drugs
Dr. Christina E. Sebestyen, an OB-GYN and board member of Greater Boston Physicians for Social Responsibility, believes that drug use is one of the toxins men and women have the most control over. "Women should avoid cigarettes, cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, and caffeine, which are each clearly documented risk factors for infertility," says Dr. Sebestyen. "THC, the major psychoactive constituent of marijuana, decreases the fertilizing potential of human sperm. This effect is likely confined to the period around his marijuana use and not throughout his life unless the marijuana use is persistent."
THC, the ingredient that affects your brain in marijuana, interferes with the way that a sperm is able to penetrate and fertilize an egg, and this decreases the chances of pregnancy. In a report released by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, a study done by the State University of New York at Buffalo examined the semen samples from men who reported smoking marijuana for an average of five years. The study found that the marijuana smokers had reduced semen volume and sperm number.
Tipping the Scales
No look at how toxic lifestyles affect fertility would be complete without taking a hard look at obesity. The impact of our country's obesity problems are just now being understood—and the results may take years to calculate.
When Jennifer Key of Montevallo, Alabama, went to her doctor with concerns about her inability to conceive naturally, one of the first things her doctor suggested was to lose weight. "My OB-GYN knew me pretty well and really didn't have to ask too many questions about our lifestyle, but she did tell me to lose some weight," says Key. "I did a little research on my own and found out that overweight women have an overabundant amount of estrogen that causes problems in conception."
Key's research was right on the money. Obesity changes the way hormones behave and often causes unreliable ovulation. "Given the current epidemic of obesity, it is important to note that obesity is the most serious risk factor for primary ovulatory infertility, or not releasing an egg each month," says Dr. Sebestyen. "Maintaining a normal body weight will help both women and men to conceive."
Toxins Around the House
Studies are showing that the toxins we don't even think about can be just as dangerous as the more obvious ones. One study reported in Epidemiology, the official journal of the International Society for Environmental Epidemiology, shows a strong connection between the use of herbicides and fungicides and infertility. The study indicates that infertile women were almost 27 times more likely to have mixed or applied herbicides than fertile women and 3.3 times more likely to have used fungicides.
Lindsey Berkson, consulting scholar for the Center for Bioenvironmental Research at Tulane and Xavier Universities and the author of Hormone Deception: How Everyday Foods and Products Are Disrupting Your Hormones, believes that substances in the environment, called hormone disruptors, are gaining entrance into our bodies through the food we eat, the water we drink, and even the air we breathe.
"My book is about pollutants—the thousands of them that have been introduced into the environment since the Second World War and look molecularly similar enough to our own hormones that they can deceive the proteins that read the messages from these hormones," says Berkson. "Many pollutants can cross talk with these receptors and affect the way cellular and genetic communication occurs within our bodies. This does not adversely affect everyone, but just who, how and what is happening is the area of active research and, of course, debate."
Though these endocrine disrupters cause hormonal havoc in animals, making it difficult to impossible for the animals to reproduce, their effect on humans has been more difficult to pinpoint. Many scientists believe that the weight of evidence is showing a similar effect in humans.
What to Avoid
Almost anything that disrupts our endocrine system can have an adverse affect on our ability to conceive. The following chemicals have been known to disrupt the endocrine system in animals and should be avoided by humans as well:
- Alkylphenol ethoxylates: Found in some laundry detergents, disinfecting cleaners, all-purpose cleaners, spot removers, hair colors, and other hair-care products, these alkylphenol ethoxylates form alkylphenols during their environmental breakdown and have been shown to disrupt the endocrine systems of animals.
- Chlorine (sodium hypochlorite): Found in paper products like toilet paper and paper towels, chlorine bleach causes the formation of dioxin, an extremely toxic chemical known to cause cancer and disrupt the endocrine system. Dioxins have also been associated with endometriosis, but this has not yet been proven.
- Some solvents: Solvents containing hexane, toluene, xylene, trichloroethane, trichloroethylene, and methylene chloride can cause cancers, brain damage, nervous disorders, and liver and kidney damage, and they can affect one's ability to bear healthy children.
Though the best way to avoid hormone disrupters is to learn to read labels on the products you buy, this can be confusing, as chemical names are often shortened or changed slightly if the makeup is slightly different. The best way to avoid chemicals is to cut down on the amount you bring into your home. Many can be substituted by natural products that you know are safe.
4 Tips to Help Reduce Toxins
The following tips will help you lower the amount of toxins you bring in your home:
- Avoid pesticide use.
- Use organically grown produce.
- Peel non-organic fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid cleansers touted as super strength. (Try using homemade cleaners like baking soda, vinegar, borax, and lemons.)