Infertility and Toxicity

I was on Facebook, when I saw a post talking about how an orca found dead along Scotland's coast was found with the highest concentration of toxic chemicals of any of the orcas found in that region (the guardian). This orca was 20 years old, and never had a calf - none of the orcas in her pod have had a calf in 23 years - there are only 8 of them left. Scientists are attributing the orca's infertility to the toxic chemicals, namely polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) - which is known to cause infertility, depression, fatigue, cancer, and suppress the immune system, to name a few (ATSDR, Health Canada). Reading this article got me thinking: the world is exposed to more synthetic chemicals than it ever has, and infertility rates have also increased. Is there a correlation? 

PCBs have been banned over 30 years ago, along with DDT (a pesticide that was seen to cause miscarriages, and birth defects in newborns (Cornell University)). However, PCBs have a long half-life, meaning that it will remain in the environment for a long time. Their persistence allows it to be accumulated throughout the food chain, concentrating at the top - which includes humans. 

With regards to the reproductive system and PCBs, there has been a relationship found between the two. The higher the exposure to PCBs, the more likely it was that there would be a failed implantation with women undergoing IVF treatment, women were more likely to have early pregnancy loss, and the quality of sperm were decreased (NIEHS). The motility, concentration and the morphology of sperm decreased with men exposed to PCBs (PubMed).

Infertility is multifactorial, and this is one aspect that could contribute to infertility. Some ways you can reduce PCBs in your body is by reducing your exposure to them, and helping your body eliminate them.

  1. Follow advisories for fishing and hunting wildlife - these should tell you which fish and wildlife are contaminated (ATSDRToxic-Free Future). 
  2. Shop smart - Fish high in PCBs include Atlantic or farmed salmon, bluefish, wild striped bass, white and Atlantic croaker, blackback or winter flounder, summer flounder, and blue crab. Choosing lean meats can help reduce exposure since PCBs is stored in the fat of animals (ATSDR). 
  3. Don't burn firewood that has paint on it or has been treated - it can create more toxins (dioxins and furans) (Health Canada).
  4. Avoid products with PCBs - even though they are no longer commercially produced, there are still products that they may be found in, including: transformers and capacitors, other electrical equipment (voltage regulators, switches, reclosers, bushings, and electromagnets), oil used in motors and hydraulic systems, old electrical devices or appliances containing PCB capacitors, fluorescent light ballasts, cable insulation, thermal insulation material including fiber glass, felt, foam, and cork, adhesives and tapes, oil-based paint, caulking, plastics, carbonless copy paper, floor finish (Toxipedia).
  5. Make sure you are going regularly - having a regular bowel movement is a great way to ensure that your body isn't holding onto toxins and metabolites. You may release metabolites of PCBs this way to (ATSDR).
  6. Exercise - PBCs tend to accumulate in fat rich tissues (GreenFacts), by exercising, you are able to help your body decrease it's burden. Sweating is also a great way of excreting heavy metals from your body since they are preferentially selected through this route (GreenMedInfo).

- Dr. Charmagne