Here's yet another reason to limit your exposure to phthalates, the chemical plasticizers found in everything from plastic wrap to Tupperware to aftershave. According to new research, female partners of men who have high concentrations of phthalates in their bodies may have a harder time getting pregnant than women paired with men with low concentrations. In other words, these synthetic compounds, which are already well known to mess with hormones and potentially cause a host of health issues, don't just pose harm for your body – they can also derail you and your partner's hopes of having a baby.
A team of researchers tracked 501 healthy couples who were trying to conceive (but were not seeking fertility treatments) over a five-year period. They measured urine concentrations of various phthalates in all of the study participants. While the women's phthalate levels did not impact fertility, there was a significant connection between the guys' phthalate concentrations and how long it took for their partners to become pregnant.
"We aren't exactly sure what mechanisms result in phthalate exposure being linked to a longer time-to-pregnancy," says lead researcher Germaine Buck Louis of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. "But we think phthalates may affect the androgen (testosterone) receptor or inhibit the production of androgens, resulting in poorer semen quality." She says phthalates' effect on sperm quality is a very new area of study, so it's still too early to draw concrete conclusions. "It is also possible that phthalates affect other hormonal pathways as well, which is why it's important to look at both partners of the couple," she adds.
Until more studies are done and researchers learn more about how phthalates impact reproduction, do your best to limit exposure to these chemicals. "Be mindful of eating and drinking from plastic," Buck Louis says. "Try to use glass or stainless-steel glasses and bowls when drinking hot beverages and microwaving food. Also avoid products made of PVC plastics." PVC plastic products include most anything vinyl, plus plastic-coated paper clips, soft-sided shaving kits, and pliable footwear such as cheap rain boots and Crocs knockoffs (real Crocs are PVC free). Food, beverage, and grooming product containers with the recycling code 3 also contain PVC and therefore phthalates.