Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pollution and Increasing Infertility

I periodically get asked why the number of people coping with fertility issues, estimated in 2002 to be at 7.3 million in the U.S., is increasing.  Of course it’s true that more women than ever are waiting until they’re older to bear children and it’s harder to do so after age 35, and especially after 40. But the reason I point to is: pollution.

By pollution, I mean the myriad of environmental contaminants in our air, water, soil, food and consumer products. According to the report of the Summit on Environmental Challenges to Reproductive Health and Fertility, which took place in 2007, “Exposures [to environmental contaminants] during critical windows of susceptibility may result in adverse effects with lifelong and even intergenerational health impacts. Effects can include impaired development and function of the reproductive tract and permanently altered gene expression, leading to metabolic and hormonal disorders, reduced fertility and fecundity, and illnesses such as testicular, prostate, uterine, and cervical cancers later in life.”

Wowa! That is really scary stuff! It’s interesting to note this report also comments on the increasing trouble wildlife is having in reproducing as well. Not just us humans! It seems to me, we have a serious and building crisis on our hands!

(See this recent article about pollution’s negative effect on IVF outcomes, by the way.)

I have written about pollution before, and the need to do the best you can to keep your body clean by watching what you consume, and eating an all-organic diet. But as a group/society, there is obviously much more to be done. According to the same report, approximately 87,000 chemical substances are registered for commercial use in the U.S., and we just can’t get away from all of them. At least, not so easily.

Take the flame-retardant chemicals, Polyprominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, which can be found in materials such as the foam in seat cushions, plastics that coat kitchen appliances and computers, and television set. In her article on PBDE’s and infertility, Dr. Jennifer Gunter explains that, “So pervasive are these chemicals in everyday life that 97% of Americans have detectable levels in their blood.”

Isn’t that just crazy?

Yet, even more frightening is that the long-term negative impact of pollutants and poor diet (with too many over-processed foods) and stressful, unhealthy lifestyles on the body has the potential to cross generations, meaning: your child may be less healthy than you, and her child even less healthy.

This idea was first introduced to me by way of a study on cats called the Pottinger’s cat study, in which Francis Pottinger, Jr., worked with 900 cats, putting them on various controlled diets and observing results over three generations. I won’t go into details; you can read up on it yourself, but basically, the ones eating the “worst” diet (for cats) grew progressively unhealthy (in all kinds of ways) with each generation and never reproduced to a fourth generation. They all died off.

I know this is scary, depressing information!

But the good news is that we CAN turn things around, we CAN make a difference in our own personal health and well-being! A huge difference, just by doing the relative equivalent of turning off our lights and changing to less-energy light bulbs. That equivalent is watching over our diets and our exposure to chemicals.

Our bodies have a truly AMAZING capacity to heal – we just need to give it the right ingredients and environment to do so. I can’t think of better motivation for changing the way we eat: to avoid or eliminate high-mercury seafood, over-processed foods, disgusting trans fat and other unhealthy choices. Choosing to eat all-organic as much as possible, especially for produce and meat, and eating more whole foods, too. It all makes a difference!

If we all ate this way, and decreased our stress, and limited our exposure to chemical-laden products, and worked to reduce pollution in our environments… who knows, maybe we can turn around those increasing rates of obesity and diabetes, cancers appearing and at younger ages, and those with fertility issues.

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