6 Environmental Toxins to Avoid

by T'Keyah Royal

Women’s Health Expert

It was previously thought that environmental toxins were only a problem when they are present in a high dose. We now know that’s not the case. Environmental toxins can be a problem at a very low, persistent dose. And the effect comes down to the fact that environmental toxins affect the endocrine system. They are termed endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). 

EDCs are a broad category of non-natural compounds used in consumer products, electronics and agriculture. These EDCs either mimic, block or interfere with the body’s hormones and are associated with a diverse array of health issues. I’m talking–poor sperm quality, difficulty conceiving, miscarriage, abnormalities in sex organs, endometriosis, early puberty, obesity, insulin resistance, neurological and learning difficulties. [1-2]

EDCs are present in the air we breathe, food we eat, water we drink and products we put on our bodies.

You can make a difference and decrease your exposure by making some swaps in your daily products and practices.

Here are 6 environmental toxins to avoid as best we can.

1. Bisphenols (BPA and ‘BPA-Free’ plastic products)

Bisphenols are used to make plastics. The problem with bisphenols is that they can mimic oestrogens and disrupt oestrogen metabolism. Not only can this negatively affect egg and sperm quality, it can also impact weight and contribute to obesity.  [3-4] 

Daily tips: 

  • Purchase food free of packaging.
  • Use a stainless steel or glass water bottle.
  • Replace canned foods for glass (at minimum look for ‘BPA-free’ cans). 
  • Use stainless steel, non treated wood utensils to cook with.
  • Store food in glass, beeswax, paper, or stainless steel.
  • Do not heat food in plastic containers. Rather heat in pots over the stove or oven proof glass or ceramic.

2. Pesticides

Are sprayed over our fruits, vegetables and crops. The health effects of pesticides depend on the type of pesticide used. Some, such as the organophosphates and carbamates, affect the nervous system. Others may irritate the skin or eyes. Some pesticides may be carcinogens. Others may affect the hormone or endocrine system in the body. [5-8]

Daily tips: 

  • Choose organic as much as possible. A great place to start is by following the ‘Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen’ guide which dictates those fruits and vegetables with the lowest and highest pesticide residue. [9]

  • Wash conventional fruit and vegetables before use and peel or remove the outer layer of leaves.

  • Shop from your local farmers market. This not only allows you to purchase organic and ‘spray-free’ produce, but also ensures variety in your diet as you eat seasonally.

3. Phthalates

These are commonly used in manufacturing of personal care products, cosmetics, plastics, and cleaning products including vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, automotive plastics, plastic clothes (rain coats), soaps, shampoos, hair sprays, nail polishes, plastic packaging film, garden hoses, inflatable toys and some childrens toys. Phthalates are linked with increased risk of thyroid dysfunction, endometriosis, PCOS, early puberty, early menopause, and fertility concerns. [10-13]


Daily tips: 

  • Read the labels on your personal care and cleaning products. Most products will say they are ‘phthalate-free’ though always check the ingredients list. Phthalates may be hard to detect as they are commonly listed as acronyms so see here for a list of commonly used phthalates
  • There are a couple of great resources that provide information on the health risks of chemicals – such as the Skin Deep website and Chemical Maze app.
  • Avoid plastic products and toys as much as possible. Wooden toys are a great alternative for our children.

4. Parabens

Like phthalates, parabens are widely used as a preservative in personal care products and processed foods. These chemicals are linked with diminished ovarian reserve, reduced testosterone, sperm motility, abnormal sperm morphology and increased DNA fragmentation. (Therefore deleterious to fertility). [14]


Daily tips:

  • Read the labels of your personal care products and use paraben-free alternatives. Particularly look at toothpaste, sunscreen, body lotion, facial lotion, hand soap, hair products and cosmetics.

Some brands we love include Imbibe, Edible Beauty, JSHealth, Ayu, Tom Organic, Studium Essentials, Abode, Kin Kin.

5. Heavy metals

Heavy metals including aluminium, lead, copper, and mercury are commonly found in soil, food, and water, and can have deleterious effects on egg quality, sperm quality, and hormonal balance. The problem with heavy metals is that they stick around for a long time and are difficult for the body to eliminate. [15-16]


Daily tips:

  • You can avoid heavy metals and help reduce your toxic load by investing in a water filter. There are two key criteria to follow when choosing a water filter–
    1. The filter must be between 0.5-1 micron (0.5 micron or below is best)
    2. It must filter out fluoride
  • Consult one of our expert naturopaths to review any dietary ingestion of heavy metals. For example, large intake of seafood can increase mercury ingestion. There is heavy metal testing we can undergo if this is something of concern.

6. Fire retardants

Fire retardants such as polybrominated dipheyl ethers (PBDEs) are used to reduce flammability of computers, carpet, furniture fabrics and mattresses. They were banned in Australia in 2005 however, within imported products or old furniture it may still be present. They can also persist in household dust. Fire retardants have been shown to affect thyroid function. [17-20]

Daily tips:

  • Use of vacuum with a HEPA filter. (This will be one of the best investments alongside a water filter for you and your family).
  • Damp dusting and wiping surfaces of equipment.
  • Allow adequate ventilation and good air flow particularly in rooms with computers.
  • Regularly clean air conditioners, heater inlets and vents.
  • Check with the manufacturer or retailer if PBDEs are used in their products.

[1] Cho, Y.J., et al. Nonpersistent endocrine disrupting chemicals and reproductive health of women. Obstetrics & Gynecology Science, 2020. 63(1). PMID: 31970122.

[2] Segal TR, Giudice LC. Before the beginning: environmental exposures and reproductive and obstetrical outcomes. Fertil Steril. 2019;112(4). PMID: 31561863

[3]Poormoosavi, S.M, et al. Level of Bisphenol A in Follicular Fluid and Serum and Oocyte Morphology in Patients Undergoing IVF Treatment. J Fam Reprod Heal. 2019;13(3). PMID: 32201490

[4]Wazir U, Mokbel K. Bisphenol A: A concise review of literature and a discussion of health and regulatory implications. In Vivo (Brooklyn). 2019;33(5). PMID: 31471387

[5] Chevrie, C., et al. Urinary Biomarkers of Prenatal Atrazine Exposure and Adverse Birth Outcomes in the PELAGIE Birth Cohort. Environmental Health Perspectives, 2011. 119(7). PMID: 21367690

[6] Wang, Y., et al. Association Between Organophosphate Pesticide Exposure and Thyroid Hormones in Pregnant Women. Epidemiology, 2017. PMID: 29028673.

[7] Zhang, Y., et al. Exposure to Organophosphate Pesticides and Menstrual Cycle Characteristics in Chinese Preconceptional Women. American Journal of Epidemiology, 2020. 189(5). PMID: 31845721.

[8] Melgarejo, M., et al. Associations between urinary organophosphate pesticide metabolite levels and reproductive parameters in men from an infertility clinic. Environmental Research, 2015. PMID: 25601731.

[9] Environmental Working Group. Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals. Retrieved from https://www.ewg.org/research/dirty-dozen-list-endocrine-disruptors.

[10] Kim, M.J., et al. Association Between Diethylhexyl Phthalate Exposure and Thyroid Function: A Meta-Analysis. Thyroid, 2019. 29(2). PMID: 30588877.

[11] Cai, W., et al. Association between Phthalate Metabolites and Risk of Endometriosis: A Meta-Analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2019. 16(19). PMID: 31574938.

[12] Jin, Y., et al. The effects of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate exposure in women with polycystic ovary syndrome undergoing in vitro fertilization. Journal of International Medical Research, 2019. 47(12). PMID: 31709857.

[13] Poursafa, P., et al. A Systematic Review on the Effects of Environmental Exposure to Some Organohalogens and Phthalates on Early Puberty. Journal of Research in Medical Sciences, 2015. 20(6). PMID: 26600838.

[14]Jurewicz J, Radwan M, Wielgomas B, et al. Human Semen Quality, Sperm DNA Damage, and the Level of Reproductive Hormones in Relation to Urinary Concentrations of Parabens. J Occup Environ Med. 2017;59(11). PMID: 28692609

[15] Kumar, S., et al. Occupational and Environmental Exposure to Lead and Reproductive Health Impairment: An Overview. Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2018. 22(3). PMID: 30647514

[16] Sanders, T., et al. Neurotoxic Effects and Biomarkers of Lead Exposure: A Review. Reviews on Environmental Health, 2009.24(1). PMID: 19476290.

[17] Hoffman, K., et al. Do Flame Retardant Chemicals Increase the Risk for Thyroid Dysregulation and Cancer?. Current Opinion in Oncology, 2017. 29(1). PMID: 27755165.

[18] Terrell, M.L., et al. Breast Cancer Among Women in Michigan Following Exposure to Brominated Flame Retardants. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 2016. 78(3). PMID: 27312402.

[19] Messerlian, C., et al. Organophosphate flame retardant metabolite concentrations and pregnancy loss among women conceiving with assisted reproductive technology. Fertility and Sterility, 2018. 110(6). PMID: 30396558.

[20] Greeson, K.W., et al. Detrimental Effects of Flame Retardant, PBB153, Exposure on Sperm and Future Generations. Scientific Reports, 2020. 10(1). PMID: 32444626.

by T'keyah Royal

Women’s Health Expert

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