Keeping plastics out of your kitchen

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We have previously reviewed the negative impact that chemicals in plastics may be having on our health and fertility. One of the best ways that we can reduce this exposure is in our kitchen. When food is stored or heated up in plastic, the dangerous chemicals can leach into the food that we ingest. These chemicals can then interact with our endocrine system and cause disease.

When I first started considering my exposure to plastics, it felt like an impossible uphill battle. By starting in my kitchen, the task of reducing plastic exposure felt more manageable. I started by removing all plastic storage containers and making sure that we do not heat up food in plastic.

Here is a quick article that I thought I would share to help reduce your plastic exposures at home in the kitchen. I hope this helps you find reasonable solutions for limiting your plastic exposure in your home.

Are hand sterilizers making you “sterile?” The impact of triclosan on ovarian health

At a recent trip to Target, I realized just how many things are labeled as “antibacterial.” But what is antibacterial, anyways? And why do we need it?

“Somehow, through marketing or misinformation, we’ve been led to believe that if we get rid of bacteria, we’ll improve our lives and our health. In fact, the opposite is probably true” –Dr. Martin Blaser  In fact, to date, there is no evidence that washing your body and home with antibacterial products does any good compared to old fashioned soap, water, and scrubbing!

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Triclosan is an anti-bacterial compound added to personal care products like soaps but it is also added to plastics found in toys and medical devices. Triclosan is so common that the majority of people in the US population are exposed to this chemical; triclosan exposure is real and widespread.

Breaking news this week reveals that triclosan may target the ovary and make it harder for a woman to conceive.  This group investigated whether ovarian reserve, a marker of how many eggs a woman has and how she might respond to fertility treatment, was different in women with high levels of exposure compared to those with lower levels of exposure. They found that antral follicle count, a marker of ovarian reserve, decreased as the triclosan levels increased. Perhaps even more concerning was that this relationship became even stronger in lean and young women, suggesting that this may contribute to reduced natural fertility and could lead to a need for fertility treatment at a younger age.

Other studies have found similar concerning results: women with higher levels of triclosan exposure take longer to conceive when compared to women with lower levels of this chemical. Triclosan is also associated with lower oocyte yield in couples undergoing IVF. Similarly, triclosan has been found to disrupt implantation of a pregnancy and alter placental function, leading to pregnancy complications in animal models.

The good news is that the FDA is banning the use of triclosan in antibacterial soaps, effective next month (September 2017). Way to go FDA! Thank you! Unfortunately, manufacturers can still add this chemical to dish soaps and toothpaste.

What you can do:

  • Reduce your exposure. Avoid purchasing anything labeled “antibacterial”.
  • Use bar soap and water, instead of hand-sanitizers.
  • Avoid toothpastes that include triclosan, such as Colgate Toothpaste
  • Read here if you want to learn more about triclosan and how to reduce your exposure

 

 

Summer is here and mosquitos are back

My neighborhood pools opened this week for summer and my family couldn’t be more excited. Unfortunately, mosquitos are popping up again and reminding me of the importance of discussing insect repellants with my friends, families, and patients.

 

Many women who never wear insect repellants have recently become interested in these products because of the news coverage of the Zika virus. The Zika virus was introduced to the world during the most recent Olympic games in Brazil. Mosquito bites were linked to severe birth defects and the Zika virus was identified.

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The number of pregnant women with laboratory evidence of possible recent Zika virus infection and the number of fetuses/infants with Zika virus–associated birth defects continues to increase in the United States. About 1000 pregnant women in the US were diagnosed with Zika virus infection last year. Of these pregnancies, birth defects were reported in 15%. Congenital microcephaly, or severely small head in the affected child, has been a hallmark of intrauterine infection with Zika virus. However, the full clinical spectrum and severity of Zika remains unknown. Others have recently reported much lower rates of confirmed Zika virus in other parts of the US and no confirmed fetal or neonatal infections, which puts some doubt on the true prevalence of this widely publicized virus. The field of perinatal Zika virus infection is evolving and we continue to learn more about the virus as well as the risk of disease.
Insect repellants can be a good option for reducing your exposure to mosquitos and tics. The EWG has published excellent resources for consumers to learn about what is in their bug repellent.

 

My family uses DEET. It protects you against tics and mosquitos. DEET is the only insect repellant that has been tested on pregnancy women. The children of mothers who used DEET in their second and third trimesters showed no birth defects, changes in body size or developmental problems. No studies have examined the children of women who applied DEET during their first trimester. However, at toxic doses, DEET has been associated with seizures and neurological damage. Although this risk is scary, The EPA reports that this risk is very low- 1 per every 100 million persons. As with medications, I tend to recommend limiting the use of multiple products in order to limit exposure to multiple chemicals. Choose one insect repellant and stick with it.

 

A more natural alternative is also available as oil of lemon eucalyptus. The tree extract is refined to intensify the concentration of the naturally occurring substance para-menthane-3,8-diol (PMD) from 1 to 65 percent. The resulting oil is very different from unprocessed tree oil. Some testing shows that concentrations of 20 to 26 percent PMD may perform as well as 15 to 20 percent DEET against both mosquitoes and ticks (Barnard 2004, Consumer Reports 2010). I think it is important for us to recognize the limited safety data available on essential oils in pregnancy and in children. Refined oil of lemon is classified as a possible biochemical pesticide. Oil of lemon eucalyptus and essential oils have disadvantages but is a good choice for people who want a botanically based bug repellant. EWG recommends that consumers who are in high-risk areas for bug-borne disease or need long-lasting, effective bug protection avoid botanically-based bug repellents, aside from Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus. In other cases, you may find it worth your while to try botanical repellents to identify one that works well for you.

 

What you can do:

  • Avoid exposure to mosquitos: use insect repellants with <50% DEET when trying to conceive and during pregnancy. More is not better. My family uses 30%.
  • Wash your hands well after applying insect repellant. Wash repellant-coated skin at the end of each day.
  • You and your partner should avoid travel to areas with Zika virus when trying to conceive and during pregnancy. Discuss your travel plans with a physician if there is any question about the safety of travel. Talk to your physician if you or your partner are concerned that you have been exposed to the Zika virus.

 

For more information:

 

 

“Just the Tip of the Toxic Iceberg”

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The terrifying association between consumer products and health problems is described in this recent article found in Time Magazine. Wow. What a headline. This article was written as a result of a large lawsuit for baby powder being associated with ovarian cancer. Yep, you read that right.

 

I’ll leave the rest of the reading up to you if you are interested but just had to share one more quote from the article:

 

“But it’s actually not surprising. The fact is, many personal care products on store shelves—products we lather in our hair, rub on our skin, and put in our babies’ bathtubs—contain chemicals with known links to health problems, with no warnings at all to consumers.

Many of us assume the companies are using the latest science as a guide to choose the safest ingredients, especially for products used on babies.

 

We should be able to expect that.

 

Unfortunately, nobody is watching the store. Companies in the U.S. are allowed to put ingredients into personal care products with no required safety testing, and without disclosing all the ingredients.”

 

What you can do:

  • Keep reading our blog to stay current .
  • Be an informed consumer
  • Check out the Environmental Working Group to check the safety of the products you already use.
    • I use this website every time I need to buy a new product so that eventually I will only have the safest products in my house and in my life. For example, I needed to re-stock on hand soap this week and used the EWG app to ensure I purchased the best rated kind.

Dads- pay attention too!

In my fertility clinic, much of the discussion about pre-conception counseling, or what should be done to prepare for a healthy pregnancy, focuses on the female. We discuss a woman’s diet, vitamins, immunization status, supplements, exercise habits and more. New research is suggesting that dad needs to be involved in this health optimization before starting a family.

Epigenetics is a new hot term in science. We all have DNA, which is a roadmap of genes that encode the proteins that are expressed that make our bodies work. To describe it simply, epigenetics is the field that ensures that these genes are expressed at the right time, the right place, and the right amount. My research over the past three years has focused on epigenetics.

I am passionate about learning how our environment impacts our fertility. Epigenetics is an emerging link  to learning about your environment and how it may impact your genetic health: most toxins in our environment are not strong enough to cause DNA damage and mutations, but are able to impact gene expression, and ultimately the health of an individual, by altering epigenetic profiles. Exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in our environment, like those commonly found in plastics, induce epigenetic changes in sperm. Worse yet, these changes can be transmitted to future generations.

Recent studies suggest that epigenetic changes may be the key mechanism by which paternal factors such as age and weight contribute to health outcomes in their kids. For example, dads who smoke have children that are more likely to be overweight. Similarly, dads that are obese are more likely to have obese children as a result of epigenetic changes.

Dads- don’t lose hope. There are early indications that some paternal lifestyle-associated effects on sperm can be reverse through exercise, diet, and/or surgical weight loss. In my practice, I like to focus on the couple becoming the healthiest they can be before conceiving. Because ultimately, our goal is similar: we don’t just want to help you get pregnant, we want to help you be a healthy and happy family for generations to come.

If you’d like to take some steps to reduce the impact of your environment on your fertility, consider the following:

 

More Reason to Eliminate Phthalates from your home: impaired sperm function

We’ve already provided pretty compelling reasons why it is worthwhile to avoid these chemicals with a funny name but now there is even more evidence. A new study has now found that these chemicals can reduce the chance that a man’s sperm will make a healthy embryo. Bottom line is that paying careful attention to your potential exposure risk with both your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy home to raise your child.

Here are some easy steps that you can take to begin reducing your phthalate level today:

  • Only use nail polishes that are phthalate free—most add a phthalate called DBP to reduce chipping
  • Don’t microwave or cook your food in plastic containers or use plastic utensils to eat hot foods—heat leaches this chemical out of the plastics and into food—the easiest pathway into your body
  • Avoid plastic bottles—seek out glass or metal instead. When you must use plastic seek out bottles with the #2, #4 and #5 in the recycle triangle
  • Avoid perfumes and scented products—phthalates (DEP) are used to prolong fragrances
  • Don’t use air fresheners—most contain phthalates
  • Avoid vinyl containing products—many products like lawn furniture, rain coats or shower curtains can not only release phthalates that can be inhaled but they can also be absorbed through the skin as well.

Is YOUR Makeup Speeding Our Journey Toward Menopause? The Scary Association That You Need to Know About

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One of the first research projects I did on the impact that lifestyle can have on fertility showed that women exposed to a handful of common chemicals classified as EDCs (endocrine disrupting chemicals) go through menopause earlier than women who have less exposure. It gained a lot of media attention because several of the toxic chemicals I found in my study are common in makeup products. A more recent study highlighted the continued importance of addressing this issue in women’s health and prompted this post.

This group evaluated the top beauty brands for each type of makeup and found 1322 ingredients. They then went on to summarize the evidence suggesting the association between each of these chemicals and menopause. Most of the chemicals they found are absorbed through the skin, meaning that all these chemicals are entering our bodies each day. Although the group admits there aren’t enough studies to show a direct link between cosmetics use and menopause, I think it’s enough to have me question what I’m being exposed to on a daily basis and how it’s going to impact my health.

Even though you may be far from menopause, I think it is still important for you to consider how chemicals that you’re exposed to can be impacting your ovaries. Women who go through menopause early are likely to have a shorter fertility window, meaning that they may use up their eggs at a faster rate than someone else their age. In the fertility world, this can translate to women who respond less to medications or are less successful with their use of assisted reproductive technology compared to others their age.

As a woman, as a mother, and as a fertility specialist, my first response to learning how many chemicals we are exposed to daily was disbelief: Why aren’t we protected as consumers from these potentially toxic chemicals? Why are they still exposing people to these toxic chemicals? Although the Food and Drug Administration monitors the chemicals that go into food and drugs, cosmetics are not subjected to the same regulation. Here are a few things that we can do to protect ourselves by limiting the numbers of chemicals we are exposed to daily.

 

Take home points:

  • Women are exposed to 1000s of toxic environmental chemicals each day.
  • Some of the chemicals found in makeup have been linked to health problems, including earlier menopause
  • Physicians and patients need to do a better job learning about the risks to their health so that they can make more informed choices in selecting their personal care products
  • What you can do:
    • Limit the number of personal care products you use. For example, try to limit to one type of shampoo to minimize the exposure to multiple chemicals.
    • Avoid any personal care items that have fragrances or scents.
    • Read labels and support companies that disclose what their ingredients are and support their efforts to remove those that are not necessary or are suspected to be unsafe.
    • Be an informed consumer: know what you are being exposed to. Here is a list of great resources.