It’s widely known that the toxins and chemicals in cigarette smoke can affect your fertility, and that if you want to become pregnant, it’s best to stop smoking.

Is your home environment affecting your fertility?

It’s widely known that the toxins and chemicals in cigarette smoke can affect your fertility, and that if you want to become pregnant, it’s best to stop smoking.

But cigarette smoke isn’t the only source of harmful chemicals that can make it hard for couples to conceive and give birth to a healthy baby. As science advances, scientists learn more about the ways that regular products that you use at home every day can interact with your reproductive health.

There are 3 main ways that environmental toxins can harm your fertility, but bear in mind that some products can affect you in more ways than one:

  • Endocrine disruption (EDCs): These chemicals disrupt the release of sex hormones which control the menstrual and ovulation cycle in women, and sperm production in men.
  • Damage to the female or male reproductive system: chemicals which affect the lining of the uterus or the function of the testes
  • Reduced fetal viability: Some toxins harm fetal development so much that the embryo is no longer viable, causing miscarriage and stillbirth.

Each one of us is exposed to millions of chemicals every day, and no one is certain just how many of them could impact on fertility. It’s estimated that each pregnant woman in the US is exposed to over 43 different chemicals on a regular basis.

Here are some of the most common products that you’re likely to have at home and could contain chemicals that can make it harder for you to conceive.

Paint and pipes

Old pipe networks and paint compounds used to contain high levels of lead, which can damage the reproductive system. For example, the headline-grabbing health crisis in Flint, MI, in 2015 was caused by lead leaching out of old pipes and into the water supply.

If you live in an old house which hasn’t had the paint replaced since the 1970s, the chances are high that it’s lead-based. Oil-based paints, paint thinner, and painting supplies can contain lead and mercury, but newer paints aren’t 100% safe, either. Latex-based paints can be made with ethylene glycol ethers and biocides, which can disrupt the menstrual cycle, decrease sperm quality, and increase the risk of miscarriage.

The chemicals in paint don’t have much impact on your health if they are already on the walls, but they can affect you if you start scraping them off or putting on a fresh coat of paint. That’s when you’ll either create fine particles of dried paint or release paint fumes into the air, which can be easily breathed in.

Household cleaning products

Many household cleaning products and detergents contain:

  • Heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, and aluminum
  • Triclosan
  • Chlorinated hydrocarbons such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

Heavy metals have been linked to increased incidence of miscarriage, uterine fibroids, and hormonal disorders which affect fertility.

Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor which raises thyroid hormone levels, affecting fertility in men and women, and can also increase breast cancer. It’s found in many antibacterial soaps as well as household cleaners.

Chlorinated hydrocarbons are used in cleaning agents, pesticides, and the manufacture of PVC items. Women with the highest levels of PCBs have a 50% decrease in their ability to get pregnant, and are far more likely to miscarry when they do become pregnant.

Traffic fumes

If you live in a busy city or close to a main road, you’re likely to be breathing in a lot of traffic fumes which contain heavy metals, particulate matter, and other harmful chemicals. There’s a slight but definite link between the distance a woman lives from a highway, and her fertility levels.

Traffic fumes affect male fertility too, with motor vehicle exhaust emissions found to affect sperm count, motility, and vitality. .

Furniture treated with fire retardant chemicals

Organic solvents like polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and organophosphate flame retardants (PFRs) are used as fire retardants. They can affect thyroid balance and sex hormone production, which in turn damages the menstrual cycle and ovulation in women.

One study of PFRs among 211 women undergoing IVF found that women with the highest concentrations saw their chances of successful fertilization drop by 10%, of embryo implantation falling by 31%, and a 38% drop in live births.

PFRs and PBDEs are used in:

  • Foam furniture
  • Mattresses
  • Foam pillows
  • TVs
  • Mobile phones
  • Other electronic devices


They are very prevalent in the US and are already in most people’s bloodstreams.

Fragrances, cosmetics, and toiletries

Phthalates and parabens, which are serious endocrine disruptors, are used in a massive number of different household and personal products.

You’ll find them in:

  • Perfumes and colognes
  • Hair products
  • Deodorants
  • Scented soaps and body washes
  • Scented candles
  • Air fresheners
  • Laundry detergents
  • Cosmetics
  • Acetone-based nail polish and nail polish remover

Phthalates and parabens are among the most harmful chemicals for reproductive health, and what’s worse is that they are truly everywhere. Over 97% of Americans have a detectable level of phthalates in their bloodstream, even though phthalates are quickly excreted from the body, because they are so prevalent that blood-chemical levels are replenished just as swiftly.

Many studies over the past several years have linked higher phthalate levels to lower chances of successful IVF outcomes, and increased miscarriage risk both for natural pregnancies and those enabled by IVF. In April 2020, researchers warned that pre-conception phthalate exposure could be a risk factor for adverse pregnancy outcomes. Men with high phthalate levels show damage to sperm.

It’s important to read the labels on cosmetics and look for items that are paraben-free and fragrance-free. It’s also a good idea to regularly air your house to get rid of any build-up of fumes, and choose nail polish brands that don’t contain acetone. Although nail polish choices will only prove problematic if you paint your nails weekly or more often.

Plastics

An astonishing number of plastic products contain BPA (Bisphenol A) or the almost equally harmful Bisphenol S (BPS). Like phthalates and parabens, these are endocrine distributors that affect male and female reproductive fertility.

In men, high BPA levels can drag down sperm count, sperm vitality and motility, and sperm concentration, while in women it can damage tissue in the uterus, ovaries, and the hypothalamus and pituitary gland which govern sex hormone production.

BPA is used in many different types of plastics, including:

  • Saran wrap
  • Plastic bottles and containers
  • VCs
  • Large electrical items like TV and computer cases
  • Mobile phone cases
  • The inside of food cans
  • Plastic takeout food packaging

BPA is also used to coat sales receipts, so it’s best not to handle them with wet hands and to throw them out ASAP. You should avoid heating up food in soft plastic containers or covering it with cling wrap, because BPA chemicals and phthalates too transfer when they are heated. Use glass or ceramic dishes to reheat food, and cover it with a paper towel instead of plastic.

Food and produce

Unless you buy organic food, all your produce, meat, and dairy is likely to contain some pesticides. If an all-organic diet is impossible, it’s still worthwhile to do what you can to cut your exposure to pesticides as much as possible.

Pesticides can damage sperm quality and quantity, act as endocrine disruptors, and affect fetal development leading to miscarriage. A study of women in Ontario, Canada, found that when pesticides use rose, fertility fell. Washing produce before eating it can help, and if you’re involved in gardening or farming you should also stay away from pesticide usage.

You can also help cut the level of phthalates in your food by avoiding processed foods and takeout food that are sold in soft plastic packaging.

Create a fertile home environment

You can’t always remove all the multiple factors that have an impact on your fertility, but the more that you can reduce them, the better.

Checking the products you bring into your home to make sure that none of them contain dangerous parabens, phthalates, BPA, or other harmful chemicals, and trying to stay away from thing that would adversely affect you, can help remove obstacles in your path to starting a family, whether you’re using IVF or hoping to get pregnant.