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Environmental Considerations: EDCs and Fertility

Jessica Joseph, RN, BSN, MHA
June 10, 2023
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According to the Journal of Endocrinology, endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can adversely affect hormone levels, which impacts menstrual cycles, ovulation, egg quality, and sperm quality.

EDCs are harmful because they can:

  • Mimic hormones

  • Decrease hormone levels

  • Block hormones


EDCs can be found in everyday household products, children’s toys, furniture, toiletries, electronics, perfumes, and pesticides.  Common EDCs that may affect fertility are:

1.  Bisphenol A (BPA) (common source is plastics)

2. Phthalates (largely found in perfumes)

3. Parabens (frequent ingredient in cosmetics)

4. Pesticides (common culprit in foods)


For a complete list of EDCs, the Endocrine Society comprised a comprehensive list.


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has made some strides in banning certain EDCs from being produced in the United States.  However, as new data emerge, work remains to be done. Therefore, it is essential to be educated consumers, which unfortunately takes leg work. 


EDCs Impact on Female Fertility

EDCs can disrupt the normal functioning of hormones involved in the reproductive system, such as estrogen and progesterone. This disruption can lead to irregular menstrual cycles, decreased egg quality, and impaired fertility. Some specific effects of EDCs on female infertility include:

1. Ovulation problems: EDCs can disrupt the normal release of eggs from the ovaries, leading to irregular or absent ovulation.

2. Reduced ovarian reserve: EDCs may accelerate the depletion of a woman's egg supply, reducing her ovarian reserve and overall fertility.

3. Hormonal imbalances: EDCs can interfere with the delicate balance of hormones involved in the menstrual cycle and reproductive processes, leading to hormonal imbalances that can impact fertility.

4. Impaired implantation: EDCs may affect the ability of a fertilized egg to implant and grow in the uterus, increasing the risk of early pregnancy loss or infertility.

5. Disrupted hormone signaling: EDCs can interfere with the communication between hormones and their target tissues, disrupting the normal functioning of the reproductive system.

It is important to note that the effects of EDCs on female infertility may vary depending on the specific chemical, duration of exposure, and individual susceptibility. Minimizing exposure to EDCs through lifestyle changes and avoiding products containing these chemicals may help reduce the potential impact on female fertility.

EDCs Impact on Male Fertility

EDCs can have a significant impact on male fertility by disrupting the normal hormonal balance in the body. Specific issues that EDCs can cause:

1. Reduced Sperm Quality: EDCs can affect sperm quality by altering sperm morphology (size and shape), motility (ability to swim), and viability (ability to fertilize an egg). This can decrease the chances of successful fertilization.

2. Decreased Sperm Count: EDC exposure has been linked to a decline in sperm count, known as oligospermia. This can make it more difficult for couples to conceive naturally.

3. Hormonal Imbalances: EDCs can interfere with producing and regulating hormones such as testosterone, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), and luteinizing hormone (LH). This disruption can lead to hormonal imbalances, affecting sperm production and overall reproductive function.

4. Erectile Dysfunction: Some EDCs have been associated with erectile dysfunction, making it difficult for men to achieve or maintain an erection, which can impact fertility.

5. Testicular Damage: EDCs can cause damage to the testes, leading to reduced sperm production and impaired reproductive function. This damage can include changes in testicular size, structure, and function.

6. Genetic Abnormalities: Exposure to certain EDCs has been linked to genetic abnormalities in sperm, such as DNA fragmentation or chromosomal abnormalities. These abnormalities can increase the risk of infertility, miscarriages, and birth defects in offspring.

7. Disruption of Semen Parameters: EDCs can alter various semen parameters, including semen volume, pH levels, and sperm concentration. These changes can affect fertility by reducing the chances of successful fertilization.

It is important to note that the impact of EDCs on male fertility can vary depending on the type and level of exposure, as well as individual susceptibility. Further research is needed to understand the mechanisms by which EDCs affect male fertility fully and to develop strategies for minimizing exposure and mitigating their effects.

EDCs and Prenatal Exposure

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can have various effects on both the developing fetus and the mother during prenatal exposure. Common effects of EDCs and prenatal exposure include:

1. Developmental Abnormalities: EDCs can interfere with the normal development of organs and systems in the fetus. This can lead to structural abnormalities, such as malformations of the reproductive organs, brain, or limbs. EDCs can also disrupt the development of the endocrine system, which controls hormone production and regulation, potentially leading to hormonal imbalances and long-term health issues.

2. Neurodevelopmental Effects: EDCs have been associated with neurodevelopmental effects in children exposed prenatally. Studies have suggested that prenatal exposure to certain EDCs may increase the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorders, and cognitive impairments.

3. Immune System Dysfunction: Prenatal exposure to EDCs can disrupt the normal development and function of the immune system in the fetus. This can increase susceptibility to infections, allergies, and autoimmune disorders later in life.

4. Metabolic Disorders: Some EDCs have been linked to metabolic disorders, such as obesity and insulin resistance when exposure occurs during critical periods of development. Prenatal exposure to these chemicals can alter metabolism, adipose tissue development, and hormone regulation, increasing the risk of metabolic disorders in childhood and adulthood.

It's important to note that the effects of EDCs and prenatal exposure can vary depending on the specific chemical, timing of exposure, dose, and individual susceptibility. Additionally, some effects may not be immediately apparent and may manifest later in life. To minimize the potential risks, limiting exposure to EDCs through lifestyle choices, environmental regulations, and the use of safer alternatives is crucial.

Nine Tips to Minimizing EDCs

  1. Buy organic produce: organic foods tend to be pesticide free. 

  2. Avoid canned products: many canned products contain BPA. 

  3. Transfer food to plates before using a microwave: do not heat plastic in the microwave, as this can cause the leaching of EDCs into your food.

  4. Filter tap water with an NSF-certified water filter can, which helps minimize EDCs in your drinking and cooking water.

  5. Utilize the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetics database to determine if your toiletries are safe.

  6. Avoid fragrances: perfumes contain phthalates. An alternative to perfume can be essential oils.

  7. Buy a reusable water bottle: plastic water bottles can contain BPA and pthalates.  Do not store plastic water bottles in hot areas like your car.

  8. Replace plastic food storage containers with glass containers.

  9. Before purchasing items that state “non-stick” or “stain-resistant,” find out the substances used to make the product and make sure EDCs are not involved.


The Endocrine Society has more useful tips on tackling EDCs in your environment.


According to the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, implementing key nutrients may help in minimizing the effects of EDCs.  These nutrients include:

  • Folate

  • Iodine

  • Antioxidant supplements: (Vitamin C and E, selenium, and melatonin)


Before starting any new supplements, consult your healthcare provider.  Reducing the number of EDCs in the environment is a huge undertaking.  Global efforts are underway, and there are ways to get involved.  As a community, it is essential to stay educated about new policies lawmakers are developing and bills that may need help passing.


For more information, visit the following websites:

Endocrine Society

Environmental Working Group


Lahimer Marwa, Abou Diwan Maria, Montjean Debbie, Cabry Rosalie, Bach Véronique, Ajina Mounir, Ben Ali Habib, Benkhalifa Moncef, Khorsi-Cauet Hafida. Endocrine disrupting chemicals and male fertility: from physiological to molecular effects . Frontiers in Public Health. Vol.11, 2023.


Periklis Panagopoulos, Despina Mavrogianni, Chryssi Christodoulaki, Eirini Drakaki, Georgios Chrelias, Dimitrios Panagiotopoulos, Anastasios Potiris, Peter Drakakis, Sofoklis Stavros. Effects of endocrine disrupting compounds on female fertility. Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology, Volume 88, 2023,102347,ISSN 1521-6934

Rattan S, Zhou C, Chiang C, Mahalingam S, Brehm E, Flaws JA. Exposure to endocrine disruptors during adulthood: consequences for female fertility. Journal of Endocrinology. 2017 Jun;233(3):R109-R129. doi: 10.1530/JOE-17-0023. Epub 2017 Mar 29. PMID: 28356401; PMCID: PMC5479690.


Street ME, Bernasconi S. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals in human fetal growth. International Journal of Molecular Science.  Feb 2021(4):1430. doi: 10.3390/ijms21041430. PMID: 32093249; PMCID: PMC7073082.

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