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.

Successful Fertility Treatment; it’s about much more than what happens in the office

Whenever someone asks me “what else can we do to boost our chances?” it represents one of the most exciting and challenging moments of our interaction. It’s exciting because it shows a willingness to make changes in their current diet and/or lifestyle. It’s challenging because there are no simple answers and most of the data is rather loosely supportive of the recommendations. Fortunately better studies are coming out all the time.

The January 2015 Issue of the journal Fertility & Sterility put this topic front and center. The journal opened with a commentary  that pointed out the fact that each egg–even those from fertile egg donors–has no more than a 40% chance of becoming a successful pregnancy. Therefore, we need to look beyond what we do with the sperm and eggs and also direct our attention toward what else can impact their quality. A “global medicine approach” proposes  that we look at the nutritional status, environment and lifestyle for additional answers and better outcomes. The journal went on to present three papers to bring us closer to that goal.

The first study  looked at infant birthweight and the risk–several decades later–of male factor infertility. Specifically, they were looking at the theory that some male infertility begins in the womb prior to birth. Other studies have found results suggesting this happens for women; that low birthweight may increase the risk of longer time to conception and a higher risk of diminished ovarian reserve. That prompted this research to determine if the same might be true in men. It was. They found that men that were born with a birthweight less than 2,500 gm (normal is 2,500 to 3,500 gm at term) were at a higher risk of having a low sperm count and their sperm was more likely to have damaged DNA. They also tended to be overweight or obese which is also associated with male factor infertility. So nutrition during pregnancy can have lasting implications for the children that are born.

A second article  summarized the concept of “ecofertlility;” environmental toxins that may alter fertility. The examples that they focused on were those that were most common and most easily controlled, tobacco and marijuana since there is typically a choice to use or not use these substances. The authors reviewed a variety of studies that consistently demonstrate that women that are cigarette smokers tend to take about a year longer to conceive, have a higher rate of infertility and are more likely to have a diminished ovarian reserve than nonsmokers. Men were impacted similarly. Male smokers had a higher risk of abnormal semen analysis as well as a higher rate of erectile dysfunction. The authors also presented evidence that various substances produced by tobacco smoke appear in the fluid that surrounds the eggs and then have a very toxic impact. These substances may actually result in a higher rate of failed fertilization. This may explain why smokers have about a 40% lower pregnancy rate when undergoing IVF than nonsmokers. Even with sperm injection (ICSI) directly into the egg; the rate of “fertilization failure” is about three times higher in smokers. The impact of marijuana was more difficult to quantify. In men it has been linked to a higher risk of sperm abnormalities, as well as various hormonal dysfunctions including gynecomastia (increase in breast size), low libido and problems with erectile dysfunction. There is less data on women as exposure is difficult to accurately assess and monitor and correlate with egg function since exposure now may impact an egg many months (or even years) later.

Finally, in a third paper  they reviewed the potential impact of one of the most widely studied chemicals that we’re all exposed to called bisphenol-A (BPA). This chemical was first produced in 1891. It was identified to have estrogen-like activity as far back as 1936. Unfortunately, that did not stop its production and distribution. Today it is recognized as one of the most ubiquitous hormone disrupting chemicals. About 20% of the BPA produced—nearly 3.4 million tons per year—is used to line various food containers. From there, it has clearly been shown to leech into the food that we eat and then contribute to various health problems like diabetes, obesity, heart disease, lung problems, kidney disorders as well as various reproductive problems. The data on its toxicity has been alarming enough to prompt Canada from banning its use in baby bottles (2008). More recently the European Union went a step further and banned its use entirely in 2011. Here in the US, there is just now legislation  proposed to require clear labeling on food containers that contain BPA.  The study authors went on to provide a further note of caution by providing evidence that two chemicals that have been proposed to replace it—BPS and BPF—may have similar negative effects based upon animal data. Human studies are pending. The bottom line is that we need to pay more attention to the chemicals that we use to package our food in as they may actually taint our food supply as well as reduce our health and fertility.

As a reproductive health specialist, I don’t want to alarm my patients but I also don’t want to marginalize the potential impact of our choices upon our ability to initiate a healthy pregnancy. Although walking the line between concern and unnecessarily upsetting people may be a delicate one; I do feel compelled to empower those that are willing to listen. Success is not just about what happens in the clinic—it begins at home.

[r1]Link to http://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(14)02274-2/abstract

[r2]Link to http://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(14)02383-8/abstract

[r3]Link to http://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(14)02354-1/abstract

[r4]http://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(14)02351-6/abstract

[r5]Link to http://www.endocrine.org/membership/email-newsletters/endocrine-insider/2015/march-19-2015/endocrine-society-endorses-bpa-in-food-packaging-right-to-know-act

Lead in Lipstick!?! Whose idea was that?

There have long been rumors that lipstick contains lead and but since cosmetic producers are not mandated to release the ingredients of their products, this fact remained hidden for many years. Back in 2007 the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics [r1] sent 33 brands of lipstick to an independent lab for testing and found that 61% tested positive for up to 0.65 parts per million of lead. What’s more they found top selling brands—including one that sold for $24 each—had the highest lead content! They reported their results to FDA and were promised an investigation.

It took the FDA two years and a letter from 3 US Senators to perform a follow up study. They found lead in every brand that they tested[r2] . Some of the brands had four times more lead in them then the Campaign study results. Despite these findings, the FDA did not take any action to protect consumers. More recently, an expanded analysis found lead levels as high as 7.19ppm. Even more surprising 5 of the top 10 most heavily contaminated brands were made by a one manufacturer[r3] , Loreal USA. Why aren’t consumers being made aware that something as toxic as lead is being sold to apply to their lips? That’s a hard question to answer.

The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that there is “No safe blood level for lead.” Lead is a neurotoxin. It accumulates in the body and it can even cross the placenta to harm a developing fetus. That’s why the only effective strategy against heavy metal poisoning is to minimize your risk of lead exposure. The effects of lead are well known and include lower IQ scores, behavioral problems, aggression and learning (especially language) disabilities.

More recently, a study demonstrated that high levels of lead can also contribute to infertility. In this study[r4] —conducted by the National Institute of Health—they found that women and men with higher levels of the heavy metals lead and cadmium experienced a nearly 30% reduction in their chance of conceiving. Although their study considered cigarettes to be the primary source of exposure to these toxic metals; their study was completed before the high lead levels in lipstick were revealed. Be a smart consumer and check out your personal care products and cosmetics before you apply: http://www.ewg.org/skindeep/browse/lipstick .

Are chemicals and pollutants impacting your fertility?

Once again, hormone disrupting chemicals are in the news[G1] ; but this time it is for their confirmed link to infertility. Studies have now shown that pollutants [G2] can impact the outcome of IVF cycles and that contaminants [G3] in plastics can impact sperm quality. I’ve been trying to alert my patients to these possibilities for years. Consider the following excerpt from my book PERFECT HORMONE BALANCE FOR FERTILITY (p. 29):

We are exposed to BioMutagens on a basis through our food, water, air and household and gardening products. Currently, there are 80,000 chemicals used commerciallyin the United States and about 1,000 new ones added each year. Many of these chemicals wind up in the environment or in the products that we use despite the fact that only 5 percent have ever been tested for their impact upon reproductive function. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledges that at least 50 of the commonly used chemicals they’ve tested affect reproduction in animals, but only 4 of them—lead, radiation, ethylene oxide and dibromochloropropane—are regulated to monitor their safety and appropriate disposal. Many of these potentially hazardous chemicals are classified as endocrine or hormone disruptors. They can increase the rate of egg loss and reduce the ability of embryos to implant and develop. The list also includes weed killers, solvents, pesticides and exhaust fumes.

Most importantly, there are relatively simple steps that you can take to minimize your exposure. In fact, another study demonstrated the importance of packaging and method of food preparation[G4]  can worsen your body burden. For practical guidelines on how to improve your fertility status and potentially reduce your risk of cancer as well, check out PERFECT HORMONE BALANCE FOR FERTILITY [G5] or PERFECT HORMONE BALANCE FOR PREGNANCY[G6] .

CLEAN LIVING: AVOID HORMONE DISRUPTING CHEMICALS IN YOUR COSMETICS

Excerpt from PERFECT HORMONE BALANCE FOR PREGNANCY: http://amzn.to/bQuDJM

Among the biggest sources of BioMutagens (hormone disrupting chemicals) are cosmetics and personal care products. There are an estimated 5,000 chemical ingredients used in cosmetics alone, and some of these are known carcinogens or hormone disrupters. The most serious offenders are mercury, thimerosal, lead, formaldehyde, phthalates and parabens. One of the problems facing consumers, even the most environmentally aware, is that many of these BioMutagens are not listed on the labels. In 2005, California passed the Safe Cosmetics Act[G1] , providing the first regulation of cosmetics in the United States. The California Department of Health Services now monitors the ingredients of that have been shown to contribute to birth defects or cancer risks. There’s really no excuse to have these potentially toxic ingredients in beauty products, as these chemicals can easily be replaced by nontoxic alternatives.

Since most women don’t want to become an expert on all the potential ingredients, here are a few guidelines to help you choose products more carefully.

  • Choose organic products. They are generally safer and contain fewer BioMutagens, but still read the label for inconsistencies.
  • Keep it simple. Reduce the number of products you use to reduce your chance of being exposed to BioMutagens.
  • Go fragrance free. Many of the fragrances contain volatile chemicals that are more easily able to enter into your bloodstream.
  • Minimize use of nail polishes.  These are the most consistently linked to birth defects. If you apply color to your nails, do so in a well ventilated area or seek out one of the new nontoxic brands.
  • Create a custom shopping list. The nonprofit Environmental Working Group has a very helpful database. This will allow you to check your products as well as seek out safer alternatives (see link on blog).