14 Oct 2017

Common chemicals may be impacting on fertility

8:03 pm on 14 October 2017

New research has found common chemicals used in cleaning products, foods, cosmetics and plastic containers could be impacting on fertility in both men and women.

New research has found links with Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), placentas and pregnancy complications.

Small measures could be taken to reduce exposure to chemicals, said Melbourne University's Dr Mark Green. Photo: 123RF

Melbourne University expert in reproductive biology Dr Mark Green examined how endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) could negatively effect reproductive health.

He told ABC Radio Melbourne you could get chemical exposure from multiple sources, including the lining of tin cans and receipts.

"Overall there's probably about 800 chemicals throughout different products that are used through our industry and all our household items. But the main ones you may have heard of, things like BPA," he said.

"Then we've got things called parabens, which are sort of preservatives, those are the ones that are in our shampoos and conditioners, but also in some of our food products.

"The other class [is] probably the phthalates … they're the things that are making plastics soft and flexible … the ones that are in soft squeezy plastic water bottles or take-away containers," he said.

He said the chemicals were particularly prone to be ingested if the food contained in the containers were fatty.

"These chemicals love to jump into that food, so over time if we're consuming low levels of that, then it can be built up in our bodies," he said.

While the research was conducted on animals, Dr Green said there was evidence of a similar effect on humans.

"We know that people who have high concentrations of these chemicals take longer to conceive, also those people that go into fertility clinics, they're having even higher levels in their blood and reproductive tissues," he said.

"Unfortunately throughout the years there have been a number of accidental exposures, in terms of people being exposed through their workplace, and we know that's going to have downstream effects on their health and their children's.

"Sadly there's quite a bit of human data out there in terms of high level exposure, but it's really what we're trying to make people aware of is that everyday we're getting this low-level exposure."

He said prospective parents should not be alarmed by the research, but could make small changes to avoid the chemicals.

"We know that all sorts of things like a sedentary lifestyle or a poor diet, all these things can impact our fertility, this is just another one of those things," he said.

"So it's not really about being alarmist, because we can't really do much about these chemicals they're everywhere in our society, but we can do minor things to reduce our exposure.

"It's really just about education in terms of, don't leave that plastic water bottle in the sun and then go back and drink it. Or don't heat your food in those takeaway containers, put it into a bowl and then heat it."

How to reduce exposure:

  • Don't re-heat food in plastic take-away containers
  • Avoid re-using soft plastic water bottles
  • Avoid handling receipts
  • Reduce your consumption of canned food