Which toxins should you avoid to improve IVF outcomes and fertility?

Woman drinking from glass water bottle to reduce toxin exposure. (Getty Images)
Simple steps like using glass water bottles can help keep your toxin exposure at bay. (Getty Images)

Did you know that toxins can have an effect on your fertility? While it may be hard to avoid them completely (and that's okay), reducing your exposure as best you can can be a great way to boost fertility and improve IVF outcomes

But why can it have an impact on trying to conceive (whether through fertility treatment or naturally), what exactly do we consider 'toxins' and and which are most harmful, and how can we avoid them in our everyday life?

Here, Sandy Christiansen, lead fertility coach and clinical embryologist at Béa Fertility and Francesca Lyon, lead nutritionist at FUTURE WOMAN, explain.

woman doing ivf process
Harmful toxins could be hindering your chances of successful IVF. (Getty Images)

"Yes. Exposure to toxins and endocrine disrupting chemicals can have an impact on our fertility and IVF outcomes, as these chemicals can disrupt our hormone balance, damage our reproductive cells and the DNA in them," says Christiansen.

"By limiting or decreasing the exposure to these toxins, we have a better chance of optimising our health and reproductive health when trying to conceive."

Lyon adds, "Environmental toxins, whether they are inhaled, digested or absorbed through the skin, are called endocrine disruptors (or hormone disruptors). This means that the hormonal process can be disrupted at any point, from the production of the hormones, to the transport of the hormones, to the detoxification of hormones. Environmental toxins therefore have a huge impact on the entire hormonal process in the body.

"One of the most common hormonal imbalances that can present from environmental toxins is excess or unopposed oestrogen [which plays a key role in fertility]. This is due to environmental toxins causing disruption to the healthy detoxification and removal of oestrogen from the body."

On IVF specifically, Lyon explains, "Studies suggest that when oestrogen levels are too high, pregnancy from IVF is less likely. As we've seen above, this is because having too much oestrogen, relative to progesterone, impacts the process of implantation.

"Heavy metals from toxin exposure can also impact egg quality and impact implantation too. As well as impacting the maturation of the egg which can impact the success of IVF. It is important to mention that environmental toxins also impact sperm health and this can impact the quality of the embryo and chance of success in IVF too."

One interesting fact Lyon tells us, which speaks for itself, is that the staff in IVF clinics are typically not allowed to wear perfume as it is toxic to the embryos.

top view collection of cleaning items stuff
Toxins could be messing with your hormones without you even realising. (Getty Images)

Lyon says there are 1,000 known endocrine disrupting chemicals, with three common ones FUTURE WOMAN focuses on, including:

  • Bisphenol A (BPA) – found mainly in plastic

  • Dioxins – environmental pollutants, commonly found in bleached products like some tampons and toilet paper and some food sources

  • Phthalates – used to make plastic more durable, commonly found in beauty and personal care products

"The worst fertility disruptors are things like pesticides and herbicides (found in our produce) and bisphenol A. However, many other chemicals, metals, and air pollutants can damage fertility. Air pollutants might include vehicular exhaust, tobacco smoke, aerosols, harsh household cleaning products, residue from wildfires etc," adds Christiansen

Lyon emphasises that toxins can be found in your home, workplace, or general environment "and cause havoc to hormones without you even realising".

Variety Fresh of organic fruits and vegetables and healthy vegan meal ingredients in reusable eco cotton bags on beige background . Zero waste shopping concept. Healthy food, clean eating, eco friendly, no plastic. Flat lay, top view
Simple swaps can go a long way. (Getty Images)

"It can be hard to avoid some of these toxins, as we are exposed to them every day. But reducing the use of plastics (don't heat Tupperware in the microwave!), reducing the use of aerosols (like deodorants and hairspray) and avoiding exposure to cigarette smoke can be really beneficial," says Christiansen.

"When it comes to environmental toxins, the best fix is to remove as many toxins from your home, food, and cosmetics as possible," adds Lyon.

So what can we quickly and easily swap-out for toxic-free versions? "Opt for gentle cleaning products (like ethical or plant-based sprays) and try to eat more organic or locally sourced produce," says Christiansen, though of course, this can depend on accessibility.

Lyon suggests, "Two easy things we often recommend to clients are to switch from a plastic to a glass drinking bottle, and to cut back on products with synthetic fragrance added – this includes air fresheners, perfumes, cleaning products and scented body lotions."

Shot of a beautiful young woman holding up a face cream product
While swapping the products we use can be an easy win, it can be hard to eliminate toxins completely. (Getty Images)

This isn't about needing to be perfect, or feeling guilty for not eliminating all toxins from your life. This is just one thing among many others you can do to try and help your fertility journey.

Christiansen agrees. "It can be difficult (and sometimes expensive) to try to reduce exposure to some of these environmental toxins, but even small changes, where you can, can help protect your fertility," she says.

"Reducing exposure is important, but try not to get too overwhelmed!" adds Lyon. "We love to approach toxin reduction by simply replacing toxic products in your home one by one as you finish them." Just remembering to focus on these three simple steps will make a huge difference:

  1. Reduce plastics

  2. Eliminate fragrance

  3. Switch to organic for the 'dirty dozen' (these include strawberries, grapes, apples, spinach, celery, tomatoes, berries and peaches)

It's also worth remembering that, sometimes, no matter what you do, you can't control fertility outcomes, even if you did everything 'right'. This is never your 'fault', though it can seem unfair.

"Fertility is complex and there's no 'one thing' that you can do to change your fertility overnight that will guarantee a pregnancy. This can be particularly difficult because it feels so out of our control. Making changes to your lifestyle can help you feel a sense of control, but it can also be discouraging if it's taking a while to get pregnant," says Christiansen.

"Be kind to yourself and try not to feel too much pressure (easier said than done) to eliminate every toxin around you. It can be an impossible task that creates more stress and your mental health is really important too."

Lyon suggests the Environmental Working Group’s skin deep database, which has a directory of products you can search to see how harmful they are to your hormones.

Talk to your doctor about any fertility problems and consult a healthcare professional before making any big changes to your diet and lifestyle.

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