Endocrine disruptors and fertility: what are they and how do they affect fertility
The functioning of our cells, tissues, organs and in general the entire physiology of our body is regulated by hormones, or the endocrine system. Hormones are one of the molecules responsible for the normal functioning of our bodies’ systems, including the reproductive system. However, in our day‑to‑day lives we are exposed, to some extent, to so‑called endocrine disruptors which affect hormone development.
Among others, FSH and LH are released into circulation by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland located in the brain. These are gonadotropic hormones which regulate the functions of the ovaries and testicles and also cause eggs and sperm to mature; they are also responsible for regulating the sex hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone in the ovaries, and testosterone in the testicles, among other functions.
These hormones that are related to fertility can also be affected by endocrine disruptors. That’s why today we want to talk to you about this topic and answer some of your questions.
What are endocrine disruptors?
In our surroundings and environment we can find different substances which may have negative effects on our health. One of these substances is called endocrine disruptors, also known as EDC (Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals).
These are chemical substances which interfere with the action of hormones that regulate the functioning of the body’s different systems, such as the reproductive system. EDC are able to “mimic or imitate” our hormones, thus blocking, inhibiting or exacerbating their effects. This leads to a disruption of the normal functioning of the body’s different systems and for that reason they also affect fertility.
Where are EDC found?
As we were saying, when discussing endocrine disruptors we are talking about certain chemical substances. And in general we can find these substances in relatively common products. These are products we use or even consume on a daily basis, so it’s important to understand what they are.
These chemicals have been synthesised in beauty and “wellness” products which make our lives easier but have this drawback. We’ll talk about some examples next:
- Pesticides, such as herbicides and insecticides.
- Phthalates, used to manufacture PVC.
- Bisphenol A, used to produce plastic containers (such as baby bottles, soft drink and water bottles, etc.).
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, used to manufacture clothing and electronics.
- Parabens, found in cosmetics.
- Triclosan, as an antiseptic and also found in cosmetics.
- Perfluorinated compounds, used to manufacture clothing, paper, pesticides, cosmetics…
How do endocrine disruptors affect us?
As you can see, the main problem is that it’s practically impossible to avoid EDC in our day‑to‑day lives. And although the use of many of these EDC is restricted in many countries, the list of substances that seem to affect our hormones is long.
Endocrine disruptors can be absorbed through inhalation, oral and even dermal exposure. Their effects on health and fertility depend on the dose/amount and exposure time. Additionally, they can accumulate in the body over time and even be passed on to offspring, as the majority of these chemicals are capable of crossing the placenta and can also be found in breast milk.
The harmful effects on health are associated with obesity, diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases, different types of cancer, Parkinson’s disease, changes to the usual age of menarche and menopause, etc. A potentially higher incidence of congenital malformations, endocrine and metabolic issues, cardiovascular problems, etc. has been observed in offspring.
Can endocrine disruptors have an impact on fertility?
As we suggested earlier, EDC have implications on both male and female fertility as they affect our hormones.
First of all, there is a relationship between EDC and testicular, ovarian, prostate and breast cancer. Additionally, however, endocrine disruptors are associated with endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, decreased sperm quality (lower sperm count and decreased motility), diminished ovarian reserve and a lower likelihood of conceiving, higher risk of miscarriage, etc. As you can see, the list is long…
Although we come into contact with these substances on a daily basis, ideally we should try to minimise their use to the extent possible. A good alternative is to switch to eco‑friendly, natural products in addition to reducing plastics consumption.
A general rule‑of‑thumb is that anything that has an artificial component or does not occur naturally, even if it offers instant gratification, could be harmful to our health. While radical changes to our consumption behaviours may be quite difficult, small changes made to our day‑to‑day lives over time may be achievable.