If your family is anything like ours, sunscreen is a routine part of our daily lives. Sunscreens protect our skin from sunlight using mineral or chemical filters. Mineral sunscreens use zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Most sunscreens use chemical filters that contain active ingredients such as oxybenzone. Studies have demonstrated that these chemical filters mimic hormones and can act as endocrine disrupting chemicals.
Sunscreen exposure increases our exposure to chemical filters, such as oxybenzone. Oxybenzone use is widespread throughout the US. It is detected in nearly every American.
The reproductive system is sensitive to environmental factors. Early pregnancy is a particularly vulnerable time for endocrine disruption. Exposures when trying to conceive can impact the likelihood of conceiving as well as the health of the pregnancy.
Oxybenzone exposure and exposure to related compounds is associated with male infertility and poorer reproductive success in men undergoing fertility treatments. Similarly, men with greater exposure to a similar compound found in sunscreen had poorer sperm quality and took longer to conceive. Female exposures to oxybenzone and related chemicals have been linked to increased risk of endometriosis and problems with ovulation. These chemicals have also been associated with oxidative stress and inflammation in pregnancy.
The good news is that we can be informed consumers and change our exposure.
This is a great resource of safer sunscreen alternatives.
Take home points
- Avoid sunscreens with chemical filters, particularly oxybenzone
- Use mineral sunscreens when possible when trying to conceive
Phthalates are a group of chemicals found in many types of plastics in a variety of consumer products. We have previously discussed the negative impact of phthalates on fertility. A recent study adds to this: phthalates negatively impact an IVF cycle. Women are disproportionally impacted by phthalate exposure.
In this study, women with high levels of phthalates had fewer eggs at the time of egg retrieval, fewer fertilized eggs, and fewer top quality embryos. This group suggests that DEHP, a specific type of phthalate, may impair early IVF outcomes, specifically targeting the oocyte. If you are thinking of undergoing IVF this year, I encourage you to investigate what you can do to optimize your IVF cycle by limited your exposure to phthalates!
What you can do:
I am incredibly proud to work at a REI clinic that has the highest live birth rate in the country. A recent study, however, suggests that IVF may not be enough. Lifestyle and the environment can impact your IVF success rates, even at a top notch REI clinic.
In this study, levels of pesticides and common pollutants were measured in the fluid that was obtained from the ovary during an egg retrieval. They found that higher levels of Pretilachlor, β-cyfluthrin, PCB 28 and 180 was associated with fewer eggs at retrieval, lower fertilization rates, and impaired embryo development. They also found that high PCB and pesticide concentrations negatively affected embryological outcomes. This study provides evidence that these harmful chemicals are found in the fluid surrounding individual eggs and are associated with decreased success with IVF. This suggests that if you want the very best chances of success with IVF, you should consider optimizing your lifestyle to minimize exposure to these harmful chemicals.
What you can do:
- Learn how to minimize your exposure to PCBs and pesticides
- Make a plan to optimize your health before you invest in an IVF cycle
- Talk to your doctor about a timeline for implementing these changes
I spend a considerable amount of time working with my patients to prepare them for a healthy pregnancy. Lifestyle modifications like small changes to your diet and environment can absolutely optimize your chances of conceiving, regardless of what kind of treatment you are undergoing. This blog is dedicated to exploring the research behind our recommendations to couples.
I want to share an additional helpful resource to those of you who are trying to initiate these lifestyle changes. This group helps you tackle lifestyle changes, one room at a time in a user friendly and interactive manner. Check them out!
Common air pollutants include ozone and fine particles. Exposure to air pollution may increase the risk of problems with fertility and pregnancy complications like pregnancy loss.
A recent study conducted in Michigan and Texas found that ozone, commonly found in urban smog, was associated with early pregnancy loss. These researchers found that couples that had higher exposures to ozone were more likely to experience and early pregnancy loss than couples who had lower levels of exposure to air pollution. We do not know why exposure to air pollutants might cause pregnancy loss, but it could be related to inflammation and oxidative stress.
This is not the first time we have seen that air pollution can negatively impact fertility. Researchers in Salt Lake City found that sperm parameters like sperm motility were decreased for two to three months after exposure to higher air pollution. In a study done in Korea, researchers found that exposure to air pollution resulted in pregnancies rates through IVF.
These findings suggest that women who are trying to conceive and pregnant women may want to consider avoiding outdoor activity during air quality alerts, but more research is needed to confirm this association.
What you can do:
- Click here to learn more about air pollution and how you can reduce your exposure
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.
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.
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: