Does Toxin Exposure Affect Fertility?

Most of us know that the word “toxin” refers to unhealthy substances. Things like insecticides and gas fumes come to mind. Unfortunately, many toxins are not so easily detectable. Some toxin exposure can have an impact on a person’s fertility.

While more research has been done on the effects of toxins on sperm, the same or similar effects can be sometimes be assumed in the female gamete cells (eggs). In general, it is wise to remember that sperm and eggs are cells, and like all cells, they are subject to “wear and tear” from a number of factors which may render them either dysfunctional or completely non-functioning.

The following may negatively impact fertility and increase incidence of miscarriage or stillbirth by affecting sperm count and morphology and/or quality and quantity of egg production, or by affecting (primarily early) pregnancy:

Brief List of Toxins Impacting Fertility

Chemicals in tobacco and marijuana

Prescription and recreational drugs

  • Examples of substances known to have impact include sulfasalazine,anabolic steroids, cancer chemotherapy drugs.
  • Examples of substances suspected to have impact include anesthesia agents, antibiotics, marijuana, cocaine.

Workplace and home environment substances

  • pesticides e.g. DDT, dibromochloropropane, chlordecone, ethylenedibromide, chlorpyrifos (Dursban)
  • herbicides e.g. Dioxin
  • fungicides
  • hydrocarbons e.g. vehicle emissions, benzopyrene, PCB
  • chemical solvents e.g. xylene, acetone, trichlorethylene, petroleum distillates, paint thinners and strippers, glycol ethers found in paint, solder vapors
  • toxic smoke from burning synthetic and plastic based compounds
  • textile dyes
  • dry cleaning chemicals
  • lead, mercury, cadmium
  • gasoline, oil-based paints, cleaning solvents, adhesives
  • radiation and radioactive fallout

Foods, beverages, and other ingestibles

  • monosodium glutamate (MSG), a commonly used flavor enhancer
  • common detergents found in drinking water
  • alcoholic beverages
  • contaminated meat, seafood, vegetables, and fruit

Environmental estrogens

Substances which can behave like the hormone estrogen in a person’s body. Existence of these substances in large quantities over a long period of time can, in effect, confuse the body’s estrogen receptors, disrupting the hormonal balance required for average fertility.

  • some pesticides, herbicides
  • food additives e.g. butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)
  • PVC plastics

Some Fertility-Impacting Industries

The following are workplaces in which studies have indicated potential for concern where fertility is at stake:

  • rubber, plastics, or synthetics manufacturing or handling
  • textiles (use of chemical dyes, plastics, formaldehyde, etc.)
  • anesthesiology
  • agriculture (related to pesticide use)
  • microelectronics assembly
  • painting
  • dentistry
  • aircraft industry
  • firefighting
  • garment work
  • dry cleaning
  • metal working
  • welding
  • antibiotics handling/packing
  • occupations involving long-term exposure to cold temperatures (women) or heat (men)

The list above can seem overwhelming. How does one avoid all of these substances in today’s world? You can’t, not completely. However, it’s important to be aware of the chemicals that surround your daily existence, and know that even the most seemingly harmless substances (for example, the acetone in your nail polish remover) may impact your efforts to conceive and maintain a successful pregnancy.

The risk for all of the above can only be accurately measured for each individual, based on their unique situation. If you are concerned that you may be having regular contact with any of the toxins listed, or if you work in any of the above industries, ask your fertility specialist about your own risk and what you can do to minimize potential negative effects.