Making the decision to grow your family and plan for a baby is no doubt an incredibly exciting season of life. But there’s a sneaky, often-overlooked factor that can make trying to conceive an uphill battle and even have potentially harmful effects on your growing baby. This stealthy, often-overlooked factor I’m referring to is a class of harmful compounds known as environmental toxins.
Today we’re going to explore exactly what environmental toxins are, where these sneaky substances are coming from, how they can negatively impact your health, fertility, and the development of your baby, and most importantly – what you can do to protect yourself and maximize your chances of welcoming a healthy, happy, sweet bundle of joy into the world. Let’s dive in.
Environmental Toxins Defined: What Exactly Are Environmental Toxins?
Environmental toxin is a term used to label any compound that can have a potentially harmful or toxic impact on your health. There are literally thousands of different compounds that can technically be classified as an environmental toxin – some completely natural, some entirely man-made, and some a mix of both. And as the name implies, we encounter these health-disrupting compounds throughout our day-to-day environment.
In fact, the amount of environmental toxins each of us is exposed to on a daily basis is mind-boggling.
Sources of Environmental Toxins
The amount of substances that qualify as environmental toxins is astounding. But some of the most commonly encountered environmental toxins that have a proven track record of harming human health include:1,2,3
- Air pollution: This can encompass any airborne toxic particles including secondhand cigarette smoke, smoke and ash from wildfires, emissions from vehicles, off-gassing from chemical-laden products, or pollution from industrial operations.
- Bisphenol A (BPA): BPA is an industrial chemical typically used in plastics like those found in food containers and water supply lines.
- Heavy metals: Heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium, and lead can be found both naturally occurring in the environment as well as in many modern products.
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs): This class of chemicals is a type of flame retardant added to many products (like furniture, carpets, building materials, and electronics) to minimize the chances of them catching on fire.
- Pesticides and herbicides: There are a wide variety of different chemicals used in agricultural operations to maximize crop production that have been found to have negative health effects.
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): While this class of chemicals hasn’t been actively produced in the U.S. since the 70s, these toxic compounds are incredibly persistent and are still regularly found in the environment as well as in older buildings and equipment.
And exposure to these harmful compounds is rampant – with many of these environmental toxins regularly being found in the air we breathe, the food, water, and beverages we consume, and the products we use on our bodies and in our homes every single day. So how exactly do these widely-used chemicals exert their damaging effects?
How Do Environmental Toxins Affect Health
While environmental toxins are indeed harmful, your body is actually quite well-equipped to handle exposure to low levels of toxins. You see, your body has a number of built-in, all-natural detoxification pathways to safely process, neutralize, and eliminate toxins coming in. But the problem arises when your exposure to environmental toxins exceeds your body’s ability to properly detox.
As your body struggles with the influx of environmental toxins, your detox pathways become burnt-out and clogged up – allowing toxins to essentially accumulate within your body. As these accumulated toxins float around your body, they begin:4,5,6
- Activating your immune system and triggering inflammation
- Disrupting your endocrine system by mimicking, blocking, or hindering your hormones
- Interfering with important cellular functions and even damaging DNA
And these damaging effects can have particularly profound impacts on your fertility and ability to conceive.
Do Toxins Affect Fertility?
Environmental toxins can absolutely interfere with your fertility. Some of the ways these toxic compounds can impact your ability to conceive include:7
- Anovulation: Environmental toxins can block your ability to ovulate and prevent your body from releasing an egg to be fertilized during your menstrual cycle
- Impaired implantation: Environmental toxins can interfere with the process of the embryo being able to successfully attach to the wall of your uterus
- Loss of fetal viability: These toxic substances can also negatively impact the embryo’s ability to survive – sometimes leading to miscarriage or problems with embryo development
- Decreased sperm count and impaired sperm motility: Environmental toxins can lower the amount of sperm you’re able to produce while negatively impair their ability to function – meaning sperm may be abnormally shaped or be unable effectively migrate to or penetrate the egg
Elevated exposure to environmental toxins can make trying to conceive an uphill battle. But the negative consequences of these pernicious compounds don’t end there. These environmental toxins can also have some concerning effects on your growing baby as they develop within your womb.
Chemical Exposure During Pregnancy: Do Toxins Affect A Fetus?
Because it is a period of intense growth and development, and their fragile detoxification pathways are not fully formed, developing fetuses are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of environmental toxins. Just some of the negative outcomes that have been linked to toxic environmental compounds during pregnancy include:8,9
- Increased risk of preterm birth and/or low birth weight
- Problems with nervous system development
- Neurodevelopmental delays such as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
- Increased risk of childhood and adult cancer
- Dysregulation of immune system development
- Disruption of future reproductive health and fertility
What’s worse, is that the risks associated with exposure to these toxins don’t end after delivery. Babies and young children remain particularly susceptible to the effects of environmental toxins that they come into contact with via breastmilk, formula, and the day-to-day compounds in their external environment.
So what can you do to protect yourself from the harmful effects of environmental toxins, enhance your fertility, and shield your baby from these toxic substances?
How to Avoid Environmental Toxins When Pregnant or Trying to Conceive
While the effects of environmental toxins can certainly be frightening – especially when trying to conceive or grow a baby – the good news is, you’re not simply at the mercy of your environment. There are some simple and highly effective steps you can take to drastically reduce your exposure to environmental toxins. Here’s what I recommend:
- Opt for organic: Consuming organic food as often as possible is one of the most potent ways to reduce the amount of environmental toxins coming in.
- Prioritize whole foods: Highly processed and refined foods often contain chemicals or have been exposed to a variety of chemicals during processing and packaging. So try building most of your meals around real, whole foods like fresh fruits and veggies, high-quality protein, and healthy fats. If you need some recipe ideas to spice it up in the kitchen, be sure to check out my recipe library.
- Avoid high-mercury fish: Certain species of fish – like larger species of tuna, swordfish, and marlin – can contain particularly high levels of harmful heavy metals like mercury.
- Take high-quality prenatal supplements: Nutrients like methylated vitamin B, choline, and Omega-3 fatty acids can help your body better process the unavoidable environmental toxins coming in.
- Avoid plastic: While plastic certainly is convenient, using plastic dishes, bottles, or food storage containers can increase your intake of microplastics and the nasty chemicals found within them. When possible, switch to less toxic materials like glass, wood, or metal containers.
- Purify your water: Because tap water can be chock-full of countless environmental toxins, investing in a quality water filtration system is a must. Click here to learn more about the toxins that are tainting our tap water and then head here to learn how to choose the best water purification system for your family.
- Filter your air: Indoor air can be incredibly polluted – oftentimes containing anywhere from 2 to a whopping 5 times more pollution than outdoor air. So investing in an air purification system is foundational when it comes to lowering exposure to environmental toxins. Click here to learn more about indoor air pollution and what you can do about it.
- Swap out toxic products for low-tox alternatives: Conventional household cleaning products, beauty products, and personal care products can contain a laundry list of highly toxic substances. And slathering these products on your body and using them throughout your home can lead to a massive influx of toxins. Swapping conventional products for healthier, less toxic products can have a remarkable impact on your overall toxin exposure.
- Work with a Functional Medicine Practitioner: A functional medicine doctor can help you best support your fertility and your growing baby by assessing and addressing things like your gut health, your total toxic burden, your hormone levels, your inflammation levels, and more.
- Detox BEFORE getting pregnant: If you’re planning on trying for a baby, it’s best to complete a detoxification protocol at least 6 months before trying to conceive, as toxins being released can be passed to baby through cord blood and breast milk. If you’re currently trying to conceive or are pregnant, it’s best to hold off on detoxing and instead just focus on avoiding toxins.
The best part about these lifestyle tweaks is that they only take a small amount of effort to put in place. But these minor shifts can have far-reaching effects that drastically improve your health, fertility, and the well-being of your developing baby.
Looking to Conceive and Give Baby a Clean Start?
If you’re trying to conceive and want to give your baby a clean start, environmental toxins are a crucial piece of the puzzle you simply cannot ignore. Being intentional about your exposure to these toxic compounds is one of the best ways you can give your bundle of joy a clean start – setting the stage for healthy growth and development while modeling healthy self-care.
The impact of environmental toxins is something I had to learn the hard way. I grew up in an environment and with a lifestyle that left my teacup-sized “toxin bucket” overflowing – leaving me with a barrage of unpleasant symptoms and health challenges. And I can’t help but wonder if these challenges were, at least in part, passed onto me from my mother who also struggled with many symptoms associated with toxic overload.
These health challenges I’ve faced and life lessons I’ve had to overcome are what drive me to show up for you – my patients and readers. I know what it’s like to feel defeated, frustrated, and alone while navigating health obstacles that others just don’t seem to understand. And this understanding is why I poured my heart and soul into my upcoming book Unexpected: Finding Resilience Through Functional Medicine, Science, and Faith.
This book details my own personal journey of resilience, healing, and overcoming through the power of functional medicine, science, and a whole lot of faith. I wanted to write this book to empower you with practical, science-based knowledge you can apply to your own well-being. But I didn’t want it to just be boring medical advice – I also hope it helps you feel connected and less alone in this journey while serving as a source of inspiration and hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. If I can heal my body, mind, and soul and create vibrant health and happiness, I know that the same is possible for you – and my hope is that this book can serve as a guide to help you create your own extraordinary life full of love and resilience.
Click here to learn more about my upcoming book and get your exclusive bonuses when you order today!
Has there ever been a time in your life when you’ve felt alone or unsure where to turn for answers?
In Unexpected: Finding Resilience through Functional Medicine, Science, and Faith, Dr. Jill Carnahan shares her story of facing life-altering illness, fighting for her health, and overcoming sickness using both science and faith so that others can learn to live their own transformative stories.
Dr. Jill’s riveting and compassionate exploration of healing through functional medicine demonstrates how to replace darkness and fear with hope and find profound healing, unconditional love, and unexpected miracles in the process.
- Environmental Toxins and Infertility – PMC (nih.gov)
- Before the beginning: environmental exposures and reproductive and obstetrical outcomes – Fertility and Sterility (fertstert.org)
- Impact of environmental toxin exposure on male fertility potential – Krzastek – Translational Andrology and Urology (amegroups.com)
- Endocrine Disruptors (nih.gov)
- Environmental immune disruptors, inflammation and cancer risk (nih.gov)
- Establishing a role for environmental toxicant exposure induced epigenetic remodeling in malignant transformation. (nih.gov)
- Environmental Toxins and Infertility (nih.gov)
- Reducing Prenatal Exposure to Toxic Environmental Agents | ACOG
- Fetal growth in environmental epidemiology: mechanisms, limitations, and a review of associations with biomarkers of non-persistent chemical exposures during pregnancy | Environmental Health | Full Text (biomedcentral.com)
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.