Infertility can be devastating for any couple trying to have a baby. Roughly 10 percent of couples in the U.S. are affected by it, and a growing body of evidence suggests that all manner of chemicals in our environment are interfering with both men's and women's ability to have kids. So far, most of the chemicals known as hormone disruptors, which act like s** hormones and can interfere with bodily levels of estrogen and testosterone, have been implicated. These chemicals are used to make nonstick pans, pesticides, and other common household goods. The latest culprit? Phthalates, chemicals used in plastics, synthetic fragrances, and building materials.
For a new study published in the journal Toxicology Letters, Italian researchers zeroed in on the most commonly used phthalate, DEHP, used in plastics to keep them soft and flexible, as well as the second most common, DEP, used to keep fragrances from dissipating from personal care products, scented candles, laundry detergents, and the like. Two other phthalates, DBP (which keeps nail polishes and paints pliable) and BBzP (a phthalate used in vinyl floor tiles), were also tested.
The authors measured urine samples from 56 couples who were seeking fertility treatments and an equal number of couples who had successfully had children. Both the men and the women in the couples seeking fertility treatments had higher levels of phthalates in their urine than the couples with children did.
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A number of previous studies have linked phthalates to infertility in men and women separately, but this is the first study of its kind showing that that the combined levels in both men and women could be to blame. In women, phthalates can trigger endometriosis, a condition common in women who can't get pregnant. In men, phthalates lower testosterone levels, which impairs sperm quality.
Phthalates are ubiquitous in the environment, and can be difficult to avoid, but here are the most common sources. Avoid as many as you can, and you'll improve your chances of bringing a baby into your family: