The Link Between Endocrine Disruptors and the Fertility Crisis

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In April, 2017, the streaming network HULU launched a series based on the 1985 novel by Margaret Atwood. I had not heard of the series A Handmaid’s Tale, but a couple of my students in the ‘Nutrition for Endocrine and Reproductive Health’ class commented that the topics we were covering in this class, endocrine disruptors being one, were being played out on this ‘fictional’ series.

For those of you who have not seen A Handmaid’s Tale, it is a futuristic show about a fertility crisis around the world.

So, what’s really happening with fertility rates in the US and throughout the world?

Well, to sum it up….sperm rates are tanking….and rather rapidly….in some parts of the world. (The USA is included in the countries with rapidly declining sperm rates.)

There has been a 52% decline in sperm concentration and a 59% decline in total sperm count over a nearly 40-year period ending in 2011, based on a report, published in the journal Human Reproduction Update.  These included 42,935 male participants who provided semen samples between 1973 and 2011.

In part, we are eating our way to extinction and no one seems to be sounding the alarm.

At our current trajectory, we will begin feeling the decline of population within the next generation.

There are certainly some who believe we need to strongly curtail our human population to protect precious resources. And, while that may have some merit, each of us should have the ability to make the decision on whether or not we want to start a family.  However, most people have no idea that sperm rates are plummeting. And more so, have no idea what to do about it.

There are many suspected reasons for the decline in fertility:

  • Prenatal chemical exposure
  • Pesticide, and herbicide exposure
  • Phthalate and paraben exposure
  • Environmental toxin exposure
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • And more….

If there is good news, it’s that virtually all of these risk factors are modifiable….meaning you have the power to minimize these risks.

Let’s break it down:

  1. Minimize or eliminate exposure to pesticides and herbicides. These are known ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS. (This means they wreak havoc on proper hormone signaling.)

Your pro-active action step:  Eat Organic vegetables and fruits.

  1. Know what’s in your body-care products (soap, shampoo, body spray, make up, etc).  Ingredients such as parabens, phthalates and sodium lauryl sulfate (aka SLS) are also ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS and are especially problematic because they are absorbed through the skin. Additionally, phthalates are also found in plastic products (like the packaging for soaps, shampoos, make up, etc). Phthalates have been linked to reproductive disruption in both men and women. Your pro-active step: Choose body care products free of parabens, phthalates and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS).
  2. Minimize or eliminate your exposure to canned foods, plastic storage containers, plastic wrap, cash register receipts and anything else with bisphenol-A (BPA). This stuff is bad news.              The attendants of a 2016 meeting called the “Triennial Reproduction Symposium” used the results of animal and human studies to note that even low levels of BPA can permanently damage human reproductive organs. Studies show that BPA acts by causing an increase in circulating estrogen. In men, this effect decreases testosterone levels and sperm count.         Your pro-active step:  Swap out your plastic storage containers with glassware. Purchase un-lined canned foods. (The can will tell you if it’s un-lined)  Pass on taking your cash register receipt.

In addition to avoiding chemicals that are known endocrine disruptors, you can also add foods to your diet that will optimize hormone production.

Foods that support optimal sperm production include:

  • Oysters (high in zinc – a crucial nutrient for sperm production)
  • Eggs (high in Vitamin E – helps create strong sperm)
  • Spinach (great source of folic acid – deficiency of folate causes sperm deformities)
  • Garlic (contains allicin – which helps improve sperm production and semen volume)
  • Carrots (high in Vitamin A – important for sperm production and motility)
  • Asparagus (high in Vitamin C – key for increasing sperm volume)

I’m offering three recipes to accompany this blog that are perfect for winter days…making sure to include the foods that will support optimal sperm production.  Enjoy!

Grain-free, Gluten-free Oyster Stuffing

(Thank you, Haley, at Health Starts in the Kitchen, for this yummy recipe)

  • 1 8×8 Square Grain Free Cornbread -cubed (recipe for this is listed below)
  • ¼ cup butter (pasture raised, grass fed)
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 3 stalks celery chopped
  • 1-2 cloves garlic minced
  • 8 ounces mushroom chopped
  • 2 8-ounce containers of standard Oysters chopped
  • 1+ teaspoon organic dried sage
  • 2 teaspoons organic dried parsley
  • 2 teaspoon celery salt
  • 4 large eggs (organic, pasture raised)
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 8×8 or similar sized casserole dish.
  • In a large skillet over medium heat, cook vegetables in butter until soft. Add oysters and liquid, cook until oysters curl. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
  • Combine eggs, milk and seasonings.
  • In a large bowl, lightly toss bread cubes with cooled vegetables. Add liquids and fold to combine. Be careful not to over mix and/or break apart the bread cubes too much.
  • Transfer to your prepared casserole dish. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes, uncovered or until cooked through and brown on top.

Grain-free, Gluten-free Cornbread

  • 2/3 cup almond flour
  • 2/3 cup arrowroot starch
  • 2/3 cup organic tapioca starch
  • 3 large eggs (organic, pasture raised)
  • ¼ cup butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon  organic raw apple cider vinegar (with mother)
  • 1/4teaspoon sea salt
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees, grease 8×8 square baking pan
  • Combine all ingredients in your blender, and blend until smooth. Spread evenly into your prepared pan.
  • Bake at 350 for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool slightly before eating.

Sauteed Asparagus and Spinach

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bunch asparagus, ends removed and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 3 cups packed spinach
  • ⅛ tsp marjoram
  • ⅛ tsp thyme
  • ¼ of a lemon, juiced
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • In a medium skilled over medium heat, add olive oil.
  • Add asparagus and top with a little salt. Mix well to evenly coat asparagus with oil.
  • Add water, spinach, and remaining ingredients, mix well.
  • Cover and steam for 2-3 minutes.
  • Remove lid, mix and re-cover.
  • Cook the sautéed asparagus with spinach another 3-5 minutes, or until asparagus is to your liking (firm or soft).
  • Once done, remove from heat, plate and serve the sautéed asparagus with spinach hot.

If you, or a loved one, is struggling with fertility issues, look around your house and your fridge to determine where endocrine disruptors might be lurking. Swap them out for safer alternatives. And, if you want or need more guidance, any of our alumni (certified nutrition therapy practitioner or master nutrition therapist) would be honored to guide you on your road to better health.

Related reading…

Male Infertility – An Epidemic That’s Getting Very Little Media Coverage

Love Your Fertility With These Preconception Nutrients

Safe & Effective Non-Toxic Alternatives for Household Cleaning

Dr Rebecca Spacke, Certifications in Functional Endocrinology (University of Bridgeport), Lifestyle Medicine (Harvard Medical School), and Course Instructor at Nutrition Therapy Institute

Image: gorillaimages/

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