SuMa Medicine

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Pittsburgh, PA 15206

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Toxins and Infertility

May 25, 2021 | Fertility

by: Dr Mary Davis

Infertility impacts 1 in 7 couples in North America. Male factors contribute to 30-40% of infertility cases, the other 40% is female factors or a combination of both. In the past 60 years, there has been a 50% decrease in number of children born per woman. Some of this is due to choice, as women and couples are deciding to have fewer children and the of use birth control, but infertility is also playing a critical role in this decline.  Sperm counts have decreased by 57% from 1980-2015.  At this alarming rate, it has been predicted that sperm counts will reach zero by 2045! 

In addition to fertility challenges we face, there are rising rates of numerous childhood illnesses.  These include asthma, allergies, autism, autoimmune diseases, brain cancers, leukemia, birth defects and life threatening food allergies, to name a few.  Autism has an alarming trend. In the 1970-80s, autism rates ranged from 1/5000-10,000 children, but it is now impacting approximately 1/40 children!  The most likely reasons for declining  fertility rates and rising childhood diseases are multifactorial, but the biggest player seems to be environmental toxins exposure. 

Numerous environmental toxins have been correlated with infertility and a higher chance of miscarriage. What is even more frightening is the detection of environmental toxins in chord blood once a baby is born.  A study spearheaded by the EWG and Commonweal detected an average of 200 chemicals and industrial pollutants in chord blood from 10 babies born between August-Sept 2004. There were a total of 287 total chemicals detected. These included pesticides, consumer product ingredients and waste from burning coal, gasoline and garbage.  The once held belief that the human placenta protected the developing fetus was proven not to be true at all. 

  • Of the 287 chemicals detected:
  • 180 are known to cause cancer in humans
  • 217 are toxic to the brain and nervous system 
  • 208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animals

Numerous chemicals have been implicated in infertility and other diseases.  Chemicals like phthalates, which can be found in products such as  medical tubing, food/beverage packaging, body care products, nail polish, hair spray and fragrances negatively impact hormonal health. Polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs have been associated with a 50% less likely chance of conceiving and more likely to miscarry. PCBs are no longer commercially available, but products made prior to 1979 may contain them. Unfortunately, this chemical is hard to break down, so it persists in the environment and bio-accumulates in plants, foods, organisms and fish.  Chemicals like PCB that persist in the environment are referred to as POPS or persistent organic pollutants. Other POPS, like DDT, have been associated with infertility  Bisphenol A or BPA, which is found in many food and beverage containers, linings of cans, dental sealants and water bottles, is a xenoestrogen (chemical that acts like estrogen in the body). One of the biggest challenges we face in the effort to maintain hormonal balance is lowering the xenoestrogen load in our bodies.  Heavy metals, like mercury, are also associated with infertility and have been implicated in autism.  The toxin list goes on and it is evident we are dealing with an environmental health crisis that is impacting our fertility and the vitality of our children. 

As a functional medicine practitioner, I work with patients to improve their overall health and vitality, to enhance fertility and optimize healthier outcomes.  Some of the methods employed by my practice include testing for environmental toxins/heavy metals, identifying detoxification issues via genetic testing, supporting detoxification pathways and optimizing nutritional health of both parents.  This is part of my preconception power plan to help couples conceive and support healthier outcomes for both parents and future children.   

And as always, be well.

Dr. Mary

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Environmental Toxins and Infertility. Integr Med (Encinitas). 2018;17(2):8-11.

The Disappearing Sperms: Analysis of Reports Published Between 1980 and 2015. Am J MensHealth. 2017;11(4):1279-1304.

PCB and other organochlorine compounds in blood of women with or without miscarriage: a hypothesis of correlation. EcotoxicolEnviron Saf. 1989;17(1):1-11.

Urinary bisphenol A concentrations and early reproductive health outcomes among women undergoing IVF. Hum Reprod. 2012;27(12):3583-3592.

Urinary triclosan concentrations and semen quality among men from a fertility clinic. Environ Res. 2019;177:108633.

Quality of community drinking water and the occurrence of late adverse pregnancy outcomes. Arch Environ Health. 1993;48(2):105-113.

Association between drinking water disinfection and somatic parameters at birth. Environ Health Perspect. 1996;104(5):516-520.

Radiofrequency radiation: A possible threat to male fertility. ReprodToxicol. 2021;100:90-100.

Association between reproductive health and nonionizing radiation exposure. ElectromagnBiol Med. 2021:1-10.

Association Between Pesticide Residue Intake From Consumption of Fruits and Vegetables and Pregnancy Outcomes Among Women Undergoing Infertility Treatment With Assisted Reproductive Technology. JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(1):17-26

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