top of page

Endocrine disruption chemicals and their impact on fertility

To optimise the chance of conceiving, some of the factors that we need to consider are our lifestyle, age, nutrition and overall health.


However, the environment that we are all exposed to on a daily basis is also having an adverse effect on fertility. For example, many scientists now agree that there has been a decline in sperm count over the past few decades which is linked to changes in our environment.


Globally, the amount of plastic production increases yearly and waste products containing endocrine disruption chemicals (EDCs) have grown from 50 million tonnes to 300 million tonnes since 1970!


Also, because the human reproductive process is similar to that of other species, many pest control chemicals intended to harm the reproductive systems of pests also end up harming the reproductive systems of humans. As a result, EDCs are believed to negatively impact both male and female fertility. 


What are EDCs?  


EDCs are natural or chemical compounds that can alter the natural function of the endocrine system. The main function of the endocrine system is for hormone production and secretion. Hormones are important in controlling functions such as metabolism, growth, and development, emotions, mood and sexual function.


EDC interference with normal reproductive function can result in many adverse effects including:

  • abnormal hormone production

  • decreased male and female fertility,

  • polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

  • testicular dysgenesis syndrome (TDS)

  • impaired spermatogenesis

  • undescended testis

  • endometriosis

  • increased risk of miscarriage

  • early menopause

  • reduced sperm and egg quality  



Since EDCs are derived from a wide range of sources, we are therefore exposed through a variety of channels, such as the food, drink, and even the air we breathe. EDCs may also penetrate the skin to enter the body.  


EDC effect on female fertility and unborn offspring  


Maternal EDC exposure is associated to several complications such as increased miscarriage rates, decreased fertilisation and embryo implantation rates as well as high quality embryo numbers in assisted conception.


Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used to produce polycarbonate plastics. It is found in various products including water bottles and epoxy resins that coat some metal food cans, bottle tops, and water supply pipes. BPA exposure can compromise embryo implantation, reduce oocyte maturity, yield and count. Animal studies have also shown that BPA could lead to endometriosis.


Parabens are chemicals that are commonly used as preservatives in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. Studies have shown that  exposure to Parabens, lowers the embryo quality produced by IVF on Day 3 of development and  reduces the overall number of live births.


Phthalates are chemicals used to make plastics more durable. However, phthalates alter thyroid hormones after prenatal exposure increasing oestrogen hormone levels in pregnant women, and adding to the risk of preterm birth and developmental delay and autism spectrum disorders.  


EDS effect on male fertility  


EDC impact is not limited to female fertility, as studies have shown EDCs to impact normal testicular morphology and function. BPA has been shown to decrease sperm quality and exposure to phthalate sources, such as eating and drinking foods in contact with phthalates-containing products, increases the risk of abnormal sperm formation.

Exposure to pesticides increases the risk of sperm morphology abnormalities, increases sperm pH and may lead to seminiferous tubule damage resulting in a  decreased sperm concentration. This is evident in studies in farm workers.


Also, exposure to lead can decreases sperm quality by affecting the normal testicular function impacting spermatogenesis.  


How can we reduce EDC exposure?  


There are few lifestyle changes that can be made to protect our fertility:  

  • Use paraben-free cosmetic products  

  • Choose fragrance-free creams, cleaning products, and laundry detergents 

  • Thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables before consumption to remove pesticides  

  • Reduce use of plastic containers

  • Avoid heating food in plastic containers  

  • Improve air quality of your home by dusting and cleaning regularly and opening windows  

  • Avoid consuming canned food and reduce consumption of food with pesticides 


If you can think of any other useful lifestyle changes, please add them to the comments.

Blog written by Caroline Lina Johnson-Mendy MMedSci

72 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment

Apr 24

I enjoyed reading this segment mainly because it was an eye opener for me. I always used to wonder about parabens in shampoos and conditioners, although I stopped using products that had them a few years ago. This is very informative for someone like me that does not have a clue.

bottom of page