For almost twenty years, I’ve been working with women to help them become pregnant. While I’m grateful for the busy practice, I can’t help but notice that the number of young women (under age 35) with fertility issues is increasing. Often, these women seem relatively healthy; they tell me that their inability to become pregnant is the only thing “wrong” with them. My background in Chinese Medicine encourages me to always look at the body as a whole, so I recognize that infertility is just a symptom of a larger, more holistic imbalance.
I’ve written a lot of articles discussing the Chinese Medicine perspective of fertility problems, but I realize that I have failed to relate one of the most basic and obvious contributors to infertility in our country: we are living in what the World Health Organization describes as a “toxic soup.” I see women who exercise daily, practice yoga, try to eat cleanly and think they are relatively healthy. While I never want to turn my patients into fearful and neurotic health-nuts, it would be negligent for me not to inform them about the reality of our day to day lives: we are absorbing and inhaling a ridiculously exorbitant amount of toxins every day, and our bodies are simply unable to detoxify them.
The toxins to which I’m referring are environmental toxins, which include herbicides, insecticides, pesticides, plastics, detergents, preservatives, cosmetics, gasoline additives, solvents, glues, and heavy metals. Antibiotics, pharmaceuticals, radiation and electromagnetic stress are also treated by your body as toxic, and place a heavy burden on your liver as well. Over 80,000 chemicals have been developed, distributed and discarded into the environment over the past 50 years. The EPA Inventory Update Reports that 27 Trillion Pounds of chemicals are produced or imported into the US per year. That’s 250 pounds of toxins per person! Scarier still is that this report does not even include fuels, pesticides, pharmaceuticals or food products.
While I won’t go into detail about the physiology of how toxins affect your body, I will say that they do affect almost every organ and system in your body, from your liver, kidney and skin to your nervous and endocrine systems and gut lining. The Toxicant and Disease Database links chemical contaminants with 180 human diseases or conditions and WHO reports that 50% of chronic disease is due to environmental pollutants and toxins.
Not only do environmental toxins disrupt endocrine health and mitochondrial efficiency, which can lead to infertility, but many of these toxins can pass through the placenta. So even if a woman does become pregnant, she is unwittingly passing dangerous toxins to her baby. The Environmental Working Group reported that the cord blood of the average baby at birth contains over 200 chemicals (chemicals that should not be in baby’s cord blood!) While toxins affect everybody, children are especially affected because they have an inhibited and underdeveloped detoxification pathway. Because they’re not supposed to carry any toxic load, it’s harder for them to process the toxins, and they accumulate much more easily.
It is my personal belief that it is this accumulation of toxins in our children which is contributing to our country’s rapid increase in developmental delays and neurological disorders.
A patient recently told me that she would rather not be informed about the magnitude with which environmental toxins are wreaking havoc on our systems; that ignorance is bliss. I completely understand that sentiment. But ignorance, unfortunately, is not bliss. It’s chronic illness, chemical sensitivity, digestive disturbance, skin disorders, chronic allergies, endocrine disorders, emotional disorders, neurological disorders and, in her case, infertility. If there was nothing that we could do about it, then yes, I would agree that I would much rather remain uninformed and just enjoy my life.
But there is a LOT we can do.
And it’s really not that hard. While I recommend making these changes at least a month prior to becoming pregnant, three to six months prior is ideal. It is important NOT to detoxify while you are already pregnant or nursing. You can still be conscious to reduce toxin exposure, but actual detoxification will release toxins from your cells right into your bloodstream or breast-milk, and right into your baby.