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In our everyday lives we come into contact with many different chemicals - through the products we use, the food we eat, and the air we breathe.

Studies show that endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can reduce the quality of sperm and eggs and affect a person's chance of becoming pregnant.

Around 95 per cent of people have EDCs in their bodies and that people who struggle to conceive have higher levels of some EDCs.
  • The facts

  • What are endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs)?

    There are many different types of EDCs. This table shows the main EDCs that can affect fertility and where they’re found.

    Table of endocrine disrupting chemicals


  • What do EDCs do?

    EDCs can cause problems with fertility because they can mimic or block male and female sex hormones (oestrogen and testosterone).

    This interferes with the body’s normal reproductive functioning and can cause:

    • changes in hormone levels
    • decreased sperm and egg quality
    • damage to the DNA (genetic material) in sperm
    • longer menstrual cycles, taking longer to get pregnant
    • increased risk of miscarriage
    • earlier menopause.


    While everyone has EDCs in their bodies research shows that people who struggle to conceive have higher levels of some EDCs.  It is also known that higher levels of some EDCs decrease the chance of pregnancy for couples who use assisted reproductive technologies such as IVF.

    To learn more about how environmental chemicals can affect your fertility, visit the Hormone Health Network and watch this brief video.

  • What you can do

    It’s impossible to completely avoid EDCs. They are all around us.

    But the good news, especially for people who want to have children and women who are pregnant, is that you can take some simple steps to reduce your exposure.

    You can:

    • wash fruit and vegetables to remove pesticides, fungicides, herbicides and other chemicals that may have been sprayed on them
    • eat fewer processed, canned, pre-packaged foods to avoid EDC chemicals from plastic wrappings, the plastic linings inside cans or cling wrap
    • limit the amount of oily fish (salmon, tuna, sardines) and fatty meats you eat as pesticides, heavy metals and fat-soluble chemicals can accumulate in these animals
    • drink from glass or hard plastic bottles, rather than soft plastic bottles as EDC chemicals make plastics flexible and can get into your drinks
    • EDC chemicals can easily absorb into food, especially if it’s fatty, so heat food in a china or glass bowl and cover it with paper towel or a plate rather than using soft plastic takeaway containers or those covered with cling wrap or foil
    • avoid air fresheners, smoke, strong chemicals, heavily perfumed products, plastic smells and fumes that all contain EDCs
    • open windows to bring fresh air into your home
    • avoid pesticides and herbicides in the garden, at work or in the home. Instead, try using ‘green chemicals’, which use non-toxic agents to reduce pests and weeds
    • avoid detergents, hand sanitisers, cleaning products, and carpet cleaners or strong chemicals like glues, paints, and varnishes which contain all types of chemicals. If you can, replace them with ‘green products’ which have non-toxic agents
    • read the labels on cosmetics, shampoos, conditioners, hair colourings and body washes and choose products that don’t have parabens
    • try to avoid using heavily perfumed products where possible as they also contain chemicals
    • read the labels on food products and avoid those with additives, preservatives and anti-bacterial agents
    • be aware of advertising tricks. Some products advertised as ‘BPA free’ for example often have replacement chemicals such as BPS which can be just as harmful as BPA.

Chemicals in plastics

Some plastics contain chemicals that affect sperm and egg quality. Learn how to avoid them if you're trying for a baby. 

Chemicals in personal care products

Personal care products like shampoo and body wash may contain chemicals you can avoid.  

Chemicals in the house and garden

Common cleaning products and garden sprays can affect your sperm and eggs. 

  • References
    • Bonde, J. P., et al. (2016). The epidemiologic evidence linking prenatal and postnatal exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals with male reproductive disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Human Reproduction Update. doi: 10.1093/humupd/dmw036
    • Day, J., et al. (2016). Influence of paternal preconception exposures on their offspring: through epigenetics to phenotype. American Journal of Stem Cells, 5(1), 11-18
    • Hart, R. J. (2016). Physiological Aspects of Female Fertility: Role of the Environment, Modern Lifestyle, and Genetics. Physiological Reviews, 96(3), 873-909. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00023.2015
    • Homan, G. F., Davies, M. J., & Norman, R. J. (2007). The impact of lifestyle factors on reproductive performance in the general population and those undergoing infertility treatment: a review. Human Reproduction Update, 13(3), 209-223.
    • Lassi, Z., et al. (2014). Preconception care: caffeine, smoking, alcohol, drugs and other environmental chemical/radiation exposure. Reproductive Health, 11(Suppl 3), S6.
    • Mustieles, V., et al. (2018). Maternal and paternal preconception exposure to bisphenols and size at birth. Human Reproduction, 33(8), 1528-1537. doi: 10.1093/humrep/dey234
    • Sharma, R., et al. (2013). Lifestyle factors and reproductive health: taking control of your fertility. [Review]. Reprod Biol Endocrinol, 11(66), 1477-7827.

Page created on: 29/08/2018 | Last updated: 19/07/2024

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