SA's IVF Leader Since 1982

How to avoid chemicals that can reduce fertility

How to avoid chemicals that can reduce fertility

In our modern everyday life, we come into contact with many different chemicals. Studies show that a particular group of chemicals called Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) can have negative effects on female and male reproductive health. If you are planning a pregnancy, here is what you need to know about EDCs and how to reduce exposure to them.

Where are EDCs found?

EDCs are everywhere - they are substances that can be found in the air, soil, water, food, and manufactured products. Around 800 artificial EDCs have been found in everyday items, such as plastic food containers, toiletries, and food products. Fragrances found in everyday household products are common sources of endocrine disruptors and up to 300 chemicals can be used to make each synthetic perfume.

What EDCs do

Studies have found that EDCs can have negative effects on male and female reproductive health by either mimicking or blocking the male and female sex hormones (the endocrine system). This can cause changes in hormone levels, decreased sperm and egg quality, damage to the DNA in sperm, longer menstrual cycles, a longer time to achieve a pregnancy, increased risk of miscarriage, and earlier menopause. EDCs have also been found to cause:

  • cancer or an increased risk of cancer
  • changes in the development and behaviour of infants and children
  • disturbances in the immune and nervous system functions
  • heart disease and stroke
  • asthma

Research shows that EDCs are present in 95% of people tested and that people who are infertile have higher levels of some EDCs.

How are we exposed to Endocrine Disruptors?

There are various sources:


Swallowing food or beverages that contain endocrine disruptors



Breathing air contaminated by endocrine disruptors

Skin contact

Touching products made with endocrine disruptors

Types of EDC and where they are found

Bisphenols (BPA/BPS/BPF)

Plastic products, the lining of cans, and sales receipts printed on paper with a glossy sheen.


Added to plastics to increase flexibility and durability and found in toys, footwear, food packaging, and personal care products.


Used as a preservative, in antibacterial products, and found in food, cosmetics, and personal care products.

Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

By-products of industrial processes such as metal and paper production, wood incineration or heating plastics. Used in electrical devices and industrial lubricants and found in flame retardants in furniture.

Pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides

Found in most people's garden sheds and sprayed on many food products and crops sold commercially.

Heavy metals (e.g. aluminium, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury)

Smoke, air pollution, dental fillings, contaminated food and drink, and contact with petrol, industrial and household products.

How can you avoid EDCs?

Due to their many sources, we are all exposed to EDCs, but the individual degree of exposure will vary depending on your lifestyle, job, and location. While we cannot totally avoid exposure to EDCs, there are some simple steps you can take to reduce exposure to them:

Read the labels on all personal care products such as cosmetics, shampoos, conditioners, hair colour and body washes, etc. and choose those that are free of parabens. Try to avoid using heavily scented products where possible.

Carefully wash fruit and vegetables to reduce your intake of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, and chemicals that may have been sprayed on the plants.

Eat fewer processed, canned, and pre-packaged foods to reduce your intake of BPA, phthalates and plasticisers that coat the inside of cans or those absorbed from plastic wrappings or cling wrap.

Limit your intake of oily fish (such as salmon, tuna, and sardines) and fatty meats to reduce your consumption of POPs, pesticides, heavy metals and fat-soluble chemicals that can accumulate in animals.

Avoid household products like detergents, hand sanitisers*, cleaning agents, and carpet cleaners, or strong chemicals like glues, paints, and varnishes which have numerous chemical classes in them. Use 'green products' which use alternative non-toxic agents.

Read the labels on all food products and avoid those with additives, preservatives, and anti-bacterial agents. Better still, eat fresh food and if you can afford it, organic is always better.

Be aware of marketing ploys - some products that are advertised as 'BPA free' often have replacement chemicals such as BPS which can be just as harmful as BPA.

Avoid handling sales receipts or storing them in your purse. The shiny texture comes from a thermal coating that contains BPA.

Only drink out of glass bottles, not soft plastic bottles.

Never heat food in soft plastic takeaway containers or those covered with cling wrap. Instead, place food in a china or glass bowl and cover it with a paper towel or a china plate before heating. When they are heated, phthalates and bisphenols in plastic can easily be absorbed into the food, especially if it is fatty.

Avoid using pesticides and herbicides in the garden, at work, or in the home. Instead, try using 'green chemicals', which use non-toxic agents to reduce pests and weeds

If you are having trouble falling pregnant, then talk to your doctor about what precautions you can take to limit the risks of EDCs or sign up for the Flinders Fertility Preconception Clinic to discuss the best approach to wellness with one of our nurses.

*During the COVID-19 pandemic you are probably going to have some exposure to hand sanitisers. While it’s best to avoid these as much as possible (and regularly clean your hands with soap and water instead which is more effective), the risk of a COVID-19 related illness outweighs the danger of occasional use of hand sanitiser. While we normally advocate for natural non-toxic antibacterial ingredients, so far there is no evidence that these are effective against the COVID-19 virus.

Photo by Michael Walter