Chemicals and the environment

In the western world we are exposed to over 40,000 artificial chemicals in our homes and workplaces, in our air, from our clothes, from
our food, our soaps and cosmetics.

Most won't affect fertility, but there is increasing evidence that some do, and we should try to reduce exposure to these chemicals. Some chemicals reduce the chance of becoming pregnant, others can have adverse effects on the baby’s development in the uterus which may last for the rest of his or her life.

  • Pesticides and herbicides
    These are potent chemicals that are designed to kill insects and plants. If you do gardening or work on a farm, follow the instructions carefully, wear gloves and wash gardening clothes often. One study in the USA showed lower pregnancy rates in people who ate more fruit and vegetables, all because of toxic residues.
  • Going organic will bypass these chemicals, but washing fruit and vegetables is equally effective and cheaper. 
  • Environmental estrogens
    Estrogen is one of the most potent hormones around – active at about one tenth to one hundredth the concentration of other types of hormones such as progesterone or androgen.
  • Many natural and artificial chemicals, such as parabens, phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA) andpolychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) have weak estrogenic activity.
  • These chemicals are added to many plastics to improve their physical properties such as flexibility – think drink bottles, plastic food wrap, till receipts. They can end up in food, and their presence in men and women has been correlated to sperm quality, embryo development and the chance of pregnancy in IVF.
  • Animal studies suggest some of these chemicals have epigenetic effects, which means the changes they induce in the parents can also be seen in their children.
  • Environmental estrogens may be one of the causes why sperm concentration appears to have fallen in many countries over the last 70 years - not through an effect on adult men, but on the male fetus when its testes are developing before birth.
  • Cosmetics and toiletries
    Much less studied but potentially important are chemicals in cosmetics, toiletries and hair care products (including dyes) because of the length of time of the body is exposed to them, and ease with which some chemicals are absorbed through skin.


Extract from Pathways to a Child Nov 2019, page 30 - 31.