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Plastics and Fertility

By Francis Polansky, M.D.

Exposure to environmental hazards can have a significant impact on one’s fertility potential. Studies presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine conference in Boston last month (October 2013) suggest that high levels of common chemicals BPA and phthalates may increase the risk of infertility and miscarriage.

BPA (Bisphenol A) is a chemical found in plastics and resins that are used in many food containers. BPA is also used in the coating of metal products, such as food cans, bottle tops, and water supply lines.

Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. They are used in products such as detergents, beauty products, and children's toys. People are commonly exposed to phthalates by eating and drinking from plastic containers.

BPA and phthalates are estrogenic/anti-androgenic compounds and can have a significant negative impact on reproductive health.

One study presented at the conference looked at 501 couples who were trying to conceive. The couples provided urine samples to measure their BPA and phthalate levels. Researchers found that the men, but not women, with high phthalate concentrations experienced a 20% decline in fertility and took longer to get their partners pregnant than men with lower concentrations.

In another study presented at the conference, 114 women were asked to give blood samples four or five weeks into their pregnancies. Sixty-eight of the pregnancies ended in miscarriages. Women who had high levels of BPA in their blood were at a significantly increased risk of miscarriage compared to women with the lowest levels.

Couples trying to conceive should minimize their exposure to BPA and phthalates by avoiding the following:

  1. Microwaving foods in plastic containers.

  2. Consuming ready-made meals in plastic trays or trays covered with plastic film.

  3. Consuming boil-in-bag foods.

  4. Bottled water:
    Drink only filtered water or water sold in glass or metal containers. For instance, levels of BPA increase by about 1000-fold in the water of a bottle that has been sitting in the sun.

  5. Putting very hot or boiling liquid in plastic containers if you plan to consume the liquid.

  6. Canned foods:
    Cans are lined with plastic lacquer containing BPA.

  7. Wrapping food in stretch wrap.

  8. Cooking with Teflon cookware.

  9. Handling cash register receipts which are often coated with resins that contain BPA.

  10. Exposure to phthalates released from plastic car interiors i.e., "new car smell".

November 2013

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