Toxins and Women’s Health: The Impact of Environmental Toxins on Fertility, Pregnancy, and Breastfeeding
- September 1, 2023
The risks of environmental toxins have become a well-known crisis in the medical community. According to the New York Health Foundation, the average American can expect to be exposed to as many as 80,000 chemicals in the course of a single day. With poor regulations and lack of adequate testing, any number of these chemicals could negatively affect your patients’ health.
Unsurprisingly, reproductive health and fertility is a significant concern when it comes to managing environmental toxins. The incidence of environmental toxicity has been linked to the rising rate of infertility. Contemporary research shows that these toxins can drastically affect women’s reproductive health, as well as the natal and perinatal health of her children.
Common Environmental Toxins
Identifying every environmental toxin affecting your patients is a time-consuming task. However, there are several common toxins to watch out for.
The family of chemical compounds known as phthalates act as a common plasticizer in products like vinyl flooring, shower curtains, and plastic toys. However, the most common exposure to phthalates comes through ingestion. Many of your patients have consumed food or drinks that have contacted phthalate products. Phthalates are considered to be endocrine disruptors, which can have drastic effects on female fertility and pregnancy.
Bisephenol A (BPA)
One of the most common phthalates is Bisephenol A (BPA). BPA is a chemical that has been used in the production of plastics and resins for over 50 years. Many of these plastics are used in products like water bottles and food containers, and many food cans are covered with epoxy resins.
The ubiquitous nature of BPA makes its toxicity doubly alarming. As a xenoestrogen, BPA is able to trigger estrogenic pathways in the body. According to one comprehensive review, BPAs enter the body through the skin, inhalation, or digestive system—and it can even accumulate in different tissues, despite a rapid rate of metabolism.
The toxicity of certain metals is well-documented. Toxic metals are pervasive, from cigarettes and certain medicines to common foods. Mercury is a common component in certain foods, and cadmium, another toxic metal, is commonly found in color pigments and preservatives. Metal toxicity has a wide variety of presentations, which complicates diagnosis; your patients could be affected by toxic metals without being aware of it. Particularly in tandem with other immune stressors or genetic components, toxic metals can have widespread effects on women’s health, including fertility and pregnancy.
Worldwide, around 17.5% of adults—which equals about 1 in 6—experience infertility. While infertility is a complex issue, affected by age and genetics, environmental toxins undoubtedly contribute to the condition. Several environmental toxins have been linked to dysregulation of female sex hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, and phthalates like BPA and phthalates have been shown to affect the number and health of ovarian follicles. One study showed that bisphenol AF (BPAF), a common substitute for BPA, significantly affected oocyte maturation in mice. BPAF exposure induced oxidative stress and contributed to DNA damage. Another study involving 171 women showed that those with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) had significantly higher BPA levels than those without.
Additionally, exposure to several other phthalates can cause POF (premature ovarian failure), symptomized by a lack of ovulation and decreased estradiol. These symptoms can be directly tied to the ability of phthalates to disrupt the endocrine system. By targeting ovarian follicles at different stages of folliculogenesis, phthalates can deplete follicles or promote accelerated development. As a result, phthalate exposure can have detrimental and occasionally permanent effects on fertility.
Likewise, toxic metals can significantly impair fertility. In rats, cadmium has been linked to several sexual irregularities, including early vaginal opening, increased uterine weight, and increased mammary gland development. In humans, cadmium exposure contributes to irregular menstrual cycles and endometriosis in women.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
As well as affecting fertility, environmental toxins can cause difficulties during pregnancy, both to the mother and to the fetus. Many toxins, including BPA and several toxic metals, can be transferred through the placenta to the fetus. High levels of BPA have even been associated with recurrent miscarriages. Similarly, premature births and stillbirths were significantly higher for those in areas with high levels of toxic metal contamination.
Since many environmental toxins are transferable through the placenta, they often begin affecting the fetus as early as conception. In a study involving 304 pregnant women, those with a greater exposure to certain phthalates were more likely to suffer fetal malformation. Environmental exposure through the mother doesn’t stop at childbirth. Diet accounts for a significant portion of toxic exposure; as a result, young children are often exposed to environmental toxins through breastmilk. Phthalates are commonly found in breast milk, and significant cadmium levels were found in 92.6% of breast milk samples. These toxins steadily build up in an infant’s body, and are typically slow to leave.
Treatment, Detoxification, and Testing
For patients that are struggling to conceive, pregnant patients, and mothers, addressing environmental toxicity could be a central step to enhancing their reproductive and overall health. To begin detoxifying, start by developing a plan to limit or eliminate common environmental toxins. Then, select additional detoxifying treatments, such as chelation, to match your patient’s needs.
To ensure that your patient is receiving the best care, it’s vital to track the efficacy of treatment during detoxification. Access Medical Labs offers several panels that can help you monitor and manage your patients’ reproductive health. Our Advanced Hormone testing includes comprehensive female panels that measure FSH, DHT, estradiol, and more. With 11 estradiol and progesterone readings over 28 days, our Female EvaluatoR panel is designed to provide the most comprehensive data of your patients’ ovulation cycle. With test results within 24 to 48 hours, these customizable panels are ideal for tracking the effects of detoxification on reproductive health. Learn more about our hormone panels and explore other tests from Access Medical Labs.
More About Dr. Ghen
Mitchell Ghen, DO, Ph.D. has 33 years of experience in Anti-Aging and holistic and integrative medicine. Along with his work in nutritional medicine, “Dr. Mitch” has a remarkable amount of experience as an expert clinician and researcher in the field of stem cell transplantation.
In addition to being a physician, Dr. Mitch holds a Master’s Degree in Biomechanical Trauma and has a Ph.D. in nutrition and psychoneuroimmunology. He is an international lecturer on oral and IV nutrition and stem cell transplantation and is recognized as one of the premier teachers at conferences and seminars on integrative medicine. His private practice is in Boca Raton, Florida.
Dr. Mitch’s vast academic knowledge, coupled with his entertaining delivery, makes him one of the most sought after personalities in his field. Currently, he is a medical director for several Natural Medicine companies and a consultant for physicians worldwide, teaching them how to implement integrative medicine into their practices.
He is the co-author of four textbooks including the “Advance Guide to Longevity Medicine,” “The Ghen and Raine’s Guide to Compounding Pharmaceuticals,” “The Anti-Aging Physicians’ Handbook for Compounding Pharmaceuticals,” and “The Essentials and Science of IV Parenteral Medicine.”