And what you can do about it.
Fertility issues are on the rise, and new literature points to ways that your environment may be part of the problem. We've rounded up some changes you can make in your life to promote a healthy reproductive system.
Infertility and environmental health: the facts
- Sperm count is declining steeply, significantly, and continuously in Western countries, with no signs of tapering off. Erectile dysfunction is on the rise, and women are facing increasing rates of miscarriage and difficulty conceiving.
- Why? A huge factor is our environmental health. Hormones (particularly testosterone and estrogen) are what make reproductive function possible, and our hormones are increasingly being negatively affected by harmful, endocrine-disrupting chemicals commonplace in the modern world—in our homes, foods, and lifestyles.
What you can do about it
It should be noted that infertility can be caused by any number of factors, including medical conditions that cannot be solved with a simple change at home.
If you or a loved one are struggling with infertility, our hearts and sympathies are with you. Your pain is validated and we hope you receive answers to your struggles.
Read on to discover our tips to restore or improve reproductive health by removing harmful habits and chemicals from your environment.
Infertility: Edit your health
Practices like yoga or stretching are great ways to reduce stress and move your body. (Credit: distelfliege/flickr)
- If you smoke, quit! Smoking is toxic, period. If someone in your household smokes, urge them to quit or institute a no-smoking ban in the house. It is just as important to avoid secondhand smoke.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Make sure your caloric intake is right for your body and strive for moderate exercise.
- Eat cleanly! Focus on whole foods and less processed meals and snacks. Studies have found that eating a Mediterranean-style diet is linked to increased fertility.
- Minimize negative/constant stress—or find ways to manage it. Hobbies such as meditation or yoga that encourage practiced breathing are great options to reduce the physical toll of stress.
Infertility: Edit your home
We spend a lot of time in our homes—and care that what we bring into them will not harm us. You may not be aware that many commonly found household items are sources of harmful, endocrine-disrupting compounds. Read on to find steps you can take—and replacements you should make—in your home.
In the kitchen
Cast iron pans are safe cookware that actually add iron into your diet! (Credit: Mark Bonica/flickr)
- Buy organic, fresh, unprocessed foods whenever possible. Read our grocery shopping guide for more tips about food.
- Switch to glass, ceramics, or stainless steel for food storage: plastics often contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals that affect fertility. Learn more about the dangers of plastic here.
- Ban plastic from the microwave. If you have a plastic splatter cover, use paper towel, parchment paper, or an upside-down plate instead.
- Upgrade your cookware: non-stick may make life easier, but it is made with unsafe chemical compounds that seep into your food. Cast-iron and stainless steel are great alternatives.
- Filter tap water. Glass filter pitchers are an inexpensive solution; if you want to invest you may opt for an under-the-sink filter.
- Check your cleaning products—many mainstream products are full of unsafe chemicals. Check out our guide to safe cleaning products for more info.
In the bathroom
Make sure you're using products free from harmful chemicals on your body. (Credit: Mathilde Langevin/Unsplash)
- Check the labels on your bathroom products: fragrance-free, paraben-free, phthalate-free and organic labels are all great signs. You can also scan the ingredients lists for red-flag chemicals such as: triclosan, parabens, and dibutyl phthalate. Use the EWG Skin Deep database to vet your personal products.
- Ditch the vinyl shower curtain—that new shower curtain smell is chemical-off gassing. Choose a cotton or linen based curtain instead.
- Banish air fresheners—use natural fresheners (an open window, baking soda, essential oils) instead.
Opening a window is a simple way to provide fresh air and allow dust and smells to escape. (Credit: glasseyes view/flickr)
- Remove wall-to-wall carpet. If you've been considering wood or tile, here's your sign: many synthetic carpets can emit harmful chemicals for years. If you want a rug, choose wool or plant materials such as jute or sisal.
- Prevent dust build-up. Dust can absorb chemicals in the air and keep them lingering in your home. Vacuum rugs and wipe furniture, trim, windowsills, fans, TVs, etc. Make sure to have a window open while you're cleaning!
- Leave shoes at the door! When you wear your shoes throughout the house, you're tracking in all kinds of chemicals. If you like wearing shoes inside, consider a dedicated pair of "indoor shoes" or slippers.
- Clean out your closet—use cedar chips or lavender sachets instead of mothballs, and use "green" dry-cleaning services over traditional methods. If that isn't possible, let the clothes air out outside or in your garage for a day before putting them back in your closet.
- Say no to plastic bags!
- We asked 22 endocrinologists what products they use - and steer clear of—in their homes. Check out their responses here.
Learn more about environmental influences on infertility
- For more information and action steps, be sure to check out Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race by EHS adjunct scientist Shanna Swan, PhD: available for purchase here.
- Sign up for our Above the Fold Newsletter to stay up to date about impacts on the environment and your health.