Understanding the Environmental Factors That Impact Fertility

A woman lighting a cigarette. Environmental factors and fertiltiy

Understanding the Environmental Factors That Impact Fertility

At Halo Fertility, we know that infertility is complex. Sometimes, it’s something relatively simple that can be corrected with surgery by a fertility doctor, but more often it’s a combination of factors–including certain environmental exposures. Let’s look at some of the most common environmental factors and what you can do to reduce your risk.

Pesticides are everywhere. They’re sprayed on croplands, orchards, gardens, and lawns, and they make their way into the foods we eat and the water we drink. People who use pesticides or who live near areas where large amounts of pesticides are used have the most exposure. But you’re also exposed to plenty of pesticides through food.

Unfortunately, pesticides are linked to fertility problems in both men and women. As endocrine disruptors, pesticides interfere with the hormone levels in your body that, in turn, can cause changes to your menstrual cycle, ovulation, or sperm production. Additionally, research has found that exposure to some pesticides may increase the time it takes you to become pregnant.

If you work with pesticides, be sure to wear protective clothing and a respirator to minimize your exposure. At home, consider using alternatives to pesticides on your garden and lawn. And choose organic foods to lower your exposure. If you can’t afford to eat all organic foods, our fertility doctor recommends focusing on those known to have a high concentration of pesticides, like strawberries, leafy greens, and peaches. Each year, the Environmental Working Group publishes a list of foods found to have the highest pesticide residues, a good place to start if you can only afford some organic foods.

Radiation and Chemotherapy
Radiation and chemotherapy are commonly known treatments for cancer, but you may also be exposed to radiation and chemotherapy from other sources. Chemotherapy drugs are also widely used in the treatment of autoimmune diseases, and you could be exposed to radiation from a variety of sources, including X-rays and even your cell phone.

Both radiation and chemotherapy can damage your reproductive organs, along with sperm and eggs. If you know you need to undergo radiation and/or chemotherapy, it’s wise to have a discussion with your doctor and a fertility specialist about preserving your fertility through egg freezing or sperm freezing prior to beginning treatment.

If possible, you should also minimize exposure to radiation from other sources. For example, some research has shown that men who carry their cell phones around their hips or belt lines are more likely to experience problems with sperm motility. At Halo Fertility, we recommend keeping your phone in another area or leaving it on a desk or table instead.

A variety of chemicals are known to impact fertility, and they can be found in everything from hair dyes and shampoos to cosmetics and household cleaners. You may also be exposed to industrial chemicals in your workplace. Phthalates, parabens, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are all known to impact fertility, and all may directly damage your reproductive organs, interfere with your hormone levels, and affect your baby’s development if you become pregnant.

It’s impossible to list all the chemicals that could potentially impact your fertility in one blog post, so our fertility doctor recommends reading labels on the products you use and avoiding any that contain warnings about reproductive harm. Look for household and personal care products that don’t contain harmful chemicals. And if you must work with chemicals at your job, be sure to use appropriate personal protective equipment.

Cigarette Smoke
You undoubtedly already know that you shouldn’t smoke while pregnant, and hopefully know that smoking is also harmful to your fertility. You don’t have to be a smoker to experience harm from cigarette smoke. Second-hand smoke is also one of the environmental factors that impact fertility.

In fact, cigarette smoke, whether direct or second-hand, is capable of harming every aspect of your fertility. For example, men who smoke are more likely to experience erectile dysfunction, and exposure to cigarette smoke can affect sperm count, sperm motility, and overall sperm health.

Women who are exposed to cigarette smoke may experience problems with their hormones, along with difficulty conceiving and maintaining a pregnancy due to decreased blood flow to the uterus. Cigarette smoke has also been linked to problems with implantation, embryo development, placental development, miscarriage, preterm birth, and spontaneous abortion.

The lesson here: Stop smoking right away if you’re trying to conceive. Although your body starts to become healthier as soon as you stop smoking, it can take several months to see improvement in things like sperm quality. Be sure to talk to your doctor or fertility specialist if you need help quitting.

Heavy Metals
Heavy metals, like mercury, lead, nickel, and cadmium, all have the potential to impact both your overall health and fertility. You may be exposed to heavy metals through your job, home, diet, and even some hobbies, like target shooting and glass blowing. Unfortunately, high levels of heavy metals can cause you to experience hormonal imbalances, miscarriages, stillbirths, and birth defects.

It’s also very difficult for your body to remove heavy metals, so it’s important to limit your exposure. If you work with heavy metals, be sure to use personal protective equipment, and change your clothes and shoes before entering your house or car. Have your home tested for lead paint if it was built before 1978, and replace your plumbing if you have lead pipes. Additionally, you should limit your seafood consumption to two to three servings per week, and choose low-mercury species, like salmon, whitefish, and cod.

Although completely eliminating all sources of environmental toxins is impossible, it’s important to limit your exposure as much as you can. Understanding the environmental factors that impact fertility helps you make smart choices to lower your exposure.

If you’re experiencing infertility or know you’ll be exposed to environmental factors that could impact your fertility, we encourage you to schedule a consult with a fertility specialist. At Halo Fertility, treatments are available, such as IVF treatment or egg freezing, to help you overcome infertility or preserve your future fertility.