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.
9 Simple Steps You Should Take Before Becoming Pregnant:
- Do a liver detox 3 to 4 times a year. My favorite is Pure Encapsulations Detox Pure Packs. You can purchase the kit online through the link and receive 10% off all products ordered. If it feels easier for you to sip on a detox tea throughout the day, try my Detox Tea for Preconception Detoxification. If you want to blend your own detox kit, it’s important to include Reduced Glutathione, a B Complex, Cysteine, Vitamin C, Folate and Alpha Lipoic Acid. We can schedule an herbal consult to choose the best formula for you. Milk Thistle is a simple herb that can strengthen the liver. If you have unremitting skin conditions or other conditions that do not improve from liver detoxification, you may want to consider getting tested for heavy metals toxification.
- Always on my list of ways to improve health is Acupuncture! Acupuncture can help to strengthen the body’s detoxification systems, including the liver and gallbladder. This will promote your body’s ability to detoxify.
- Many women only become conscious about products once they are actually slathering something on their newborn’s skin, but now is the time to start being hyper-conscious about all products used. What goes onto your skin or into your lungs then goes into your bloodstream, which feeds your baby. From cosmetics, including perfume and nail polish to sunscreens to cleaning products and laundry detergents, look at the ingredients. If the ingredient list has a chemical you don’t recognize, the likelihood is that your body won’t recognize it and it will need to be processed by the liver. Because there are minimal requirements for labeling something as “green,” don’t rely on the product to tell you the truth about its ingredients. “Sensitive” and “All Natural” essentially mean nothing. Some of my favorite skincare products are from Poofy Organics. Favorite cleaning and laundry products are from Honest Company. You can find a great variety of clean skin products and makeup here.
- Eat clean. Take the advice from #2 and apply it to your food. I know a lot of pregnant women allow themselves to eat all the food they might not let themselves eat when they’re not pregnant, but now is not the time to hit up fast-food drive thrus on your way home from work (you know who you are). Again, if you don’t understand or know what an ingredient is, your body doesn’t either. Avoid endocrine-disrupting chemicals like trans-fats, refined sugars, or excess additives. Reduce inflammatory factors like gluten. Better still, don’t eat food that comes in packages! The cleaner and closer to whole foods, the better for your body. Increase Anti-oxidant support from fresh fruits and veggies.
- Be very careful of Pesticides and Herbicides. Try to eat organic whenever possible. While I won’t talk about every single offender, the big one that has me extremely concerned, even scared, is Glyphosate, also knowns as RoundUp. Be conscious that when your food (meat and chicken, dairy) has been fed with feed laden with pesticides, you (and your baby) are absorbing it too. For those of you who want details on on how Roundup affects human health, read below*** Bottom Line — Support GMO labeling, and when you see that something contains GMOs, avoid like the plague.
- Avoid using plastics. If you do have to use plastic, NEVER heat or freeze. Acidic conditions also accelerate the release of BPAs, so don’t store acidic foods like lemon juice, vinegar or tomato sauce in plastic containers. Choose BPA-free plastics whenever possible, but be aware that BPA is now being replaced by BPS (Bisphenol S) which has not been studied much, so just because something says BPA-free doesn’t mean it won’t leach toxins into your food. Use glass containers to store your food whenever possible. There are a ton of great to-go options now.
- Open your windows. There are tons of toxic chemicals used not only in cleaning products, but also furniture, mattresses, packaging materials, etc. Let some fresh air in. Toxins can leach out of building materials for two years, so if you live in a brand new house, get new furniture or a new car, air them out. Air fresheners often contain phthalates, so choose chemical-free air fresheners made with purifying essential oils such as lemon, citronella, tea tree, pine, peppermint, sage, and rosemary. When you do have your baby, consider diffusing purifying essential oils in the room, especially if you’ve gotten a brand new crib, glider, etc. I make an awesome Organic Essential Oil blend at the Apothecary called Purify
- Reduce exposure to EMFs. Place a barrier between yourself and your computer. Don’t put your laptop or ipad right on your lap (especially not when you’re pregnant!) Put your personal devices in a bag instead of in your pocket, and NEVER carry it in your bra (I’ve seen this a lot!). Keep your phones and electronic devices out of your bedroom at night, and unplug everything when it’s not in use.
- Don’t smoke. Are you kidding me?! Don’t smoke.
*** The use of Roundup in many GMO foods, including soy and corn, has increased 6,500% between 1991 and 2010. It is absorbed through the plant, and does not wash off. Glyphosate has serious effects on human health. It deprives living organisms of vital nutrients, vitamins and minerals. In humans, it is a chelator of magnesium, iodine, zinc, iron and cobalt. It lowers B12, glutathione and biotin, which are important to the liver’s ability to detoxify. It blocks manganese uptake, inhibiting the enzymes necessary to make neurotransmitters, which ultimately can lead to brain disorders having to do with communication. It can also block phenylalanine production, which can lead to leaky gut.
As if that’s not enough, it acts as a potent antibiotic, which can lead to an imbalance of microflora. So even if the chicken or meat you eat does not contain added antibiotics, if their feed contains “Roundup Ready” soy and corn, your beneficial bacteria may still be depleted, which can lead to build-up of other pathogenic species such as Group-B Strep and Clostridia.
Glyphosate also binds with aluminum and mercury, and they work synergistically to create deficiency in sulfate supplies to the brain, which may contribute to autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
“Environmental Toxins Associated with Diabetes and Obesity” Medscape Medical News, June 2014
“Childhood Cancer and Environmental Toxins are Both Increasing” Medscape Medical News, February 2011
“BPA and Obesity: Is this Connection Real?” Medscape Family Medicine, January 2013
“Infant Lead Poisoning Associated with Use of Tiro, an Eye Cosmetic From Nigeria” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, September 2012
“Fracking Chemicals May Disrupt Hormonal Activity” Medscape Medical News December 2013