Environmental Toxins to Avoid While Trying to Conceive

By Lauren Barrett, L.Ac, MSTOM

If you are trying to conceive, you most likely have heard the term ‘egg quality’ used quite a bit. “Good egg quality” refers to the chromosomal make-up inside an egg and is critical for the success of an egg to fertilize, develop into an embryo that can implant, and turn into a healthy baby. Women are born equipped with all of the eggs they will ever have, and while age is the biggest influencer on egg quality over time, research suggests that some diet and lifestyle choices as well as environmental factors can also impact the quality of eggs. Specifically, some environmental chemicals can have a negative impact on fertility and egg quality, which we will explore below. 

It takes about three months for an immature egg to go through the different stages of maturation and ovulate. Therefore, to optimize egg quality, avoiding specific toxins several months prior to trying to conceive is ideal. Whether a woman is trying to conceive naturally or preparing for Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) cycles like In Vitro Fertilization, it is never too late to improve conditions in the body that may affect egg quality. It is also important to remain aware and limit exposure to these harmful chemicals during pregnancy.

Toxins to Avoid

Bisphenol A (BPA) A major chemical used in plastics, BPA is found in plastic food storage containers, canned food and beverages, and paper receipts. BPA interferes with the hormonal system including estrogen, testosterone, and thyroid hormones and is referred to as an endocrine disruptor. [i] There is also strong evidence that BPA exposure causes chromosomal abnormalities. Even ‘BPA free’ labeled plastic/canned products can contain harmful alternative chemicals that may interfere with the endocrine system and fertility. 

Phthalates (DBP, DEP) The majority of phthalates are found in common bathroom products. These include soft plastics, vinyl/PVC, cleaning products, nail polish, air fresheners, cosmetics, personal care products, and, for the most part, anything fragranced. Phthalates are recognized as endocrine disruptors and researchers have found that phthalate exposure can interfere with ovarian follicle growth in a number of animals largely due to its ability to decrease estrogen production. [ii]

Glycol Ethers (EGBE, DEBME) Organic solvents, glass cleaners, carpet and floor cleaners, oven cleaners.

Perflourinated Chemicals (PFC’s) Includes grease resistant products such as nonstick coated pans heated to high temperatures.

Heavy Metals such as Cadmium, Lead, and Mercury. High levels of Mercury are found in fish at the top of the food chain such as king mackerel, shark, orange roughy, ahi and bigeye tuna, tilefish, and swordfish. 

Other toxins to avoid: Organophosphate Pesticides, Dioxin, Atrazine, Perchlorate, Fire Retardants, and Arsenic.

How to limit exposure

Environmental toxins are lurking everywhere in our modern-day world; the water we drink, the food we eat, the products we use, etc. Thankfully there are small and simple lifestyle changes we can make to limit exposure that can have a great impact on lessening toxicity and improving egg quality. It’s impossible to avoid them all, but taking steps to reduce exposure can be helpful for fertility and overall health.

Here are some tips:

Replace plastic with glass, especially in the kitchen. Choose fresh or frozen organic foods over canned. Avoid prepared and plastic packaged options, including take-out that comes in plastic containers. Switch to cooking in cast iron or stainless-steel cookware instead of non-stick.

Switch from skin, hair, and self-care products that contain phthalates, DBP, and DEP to products that are ‘fragrance free’ ‘phthalate free’ and are made from mostly natural ingredients. Phthalates are often used in fragranced items such as lotion, perfumes, nail polish and shampoo. Phthalates are also in soft plastics and may be in more inconspicuous items such as raincoats, shower curtains, and yoga mats.

Replace cleaning products, laundry detergents, and fabric softeners with products that are ‘phthalate free,’ plant based, and do not contain 2-butixyethanol (EGBE) or methoxydiglycol (DEBME). Use a water filter that removes arsenic, atrazine, and lead.

Get in the habit of checking labels! For consumer guides and product ratings for many brands, check out the Environmental Working Group site and their Skin Deep guide to cosmetics!




[i] Kitamaura A, Suzuki T, Sanoh A, Kohta R, Jinno N, Sugihara K, Yoshihara S, Fujimoto N, Watanabe H, Ohta S. Comparative Study of the endocrine-disrupting activity of bisphenol A and 19 related compounds. Toxicol Sci. 2005 Apr;84(2):249-59;  

Welshons WV, Nagel SC, vom Saal FS. Large effects from small exposures. III. Endocrine mechanisms mediating effects of bisphenol A at levels of exposure. Endocrinology. 2006 Jun;147(6 Suppl):S56-69. (“Welshons 2006”).

[ii] Grossman, D., Kalo, D., Gendelman, M., & Roth, Z. (2012). Effect of di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate and mono-(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate on in vitro developmental competence of bovine oocytes. Cell Biology and Toxicology, 28(6), 383-396. doi:10.1007/s10565-012-9230-1