Hormone-disrupting chemical pollutants are now getting in the way of our ability to make babies.
I was in Grade 4 when my mom gave me "the body talk." By the time I got my period sometime the next year, I regretted sticking my fingers in my ears and humming all the way through her instructions.
Whether we're talking about girls starting to menstruate younger and younger or adults having more and more trouble conceiving, the question keeps popping up: are chemicals messing with our bodies?
Just last week, a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control concluded that girls with high levels of a chemical found in solid-puck toilet bowl cleaners/air fresheners and some mothballs are getting their period seven months earlier than average.
Back in the 19th century, when the term "on the rag" was coined, North American girls started menstruating at 16 to 17. Now the average age is 12 or 13, and even younger if you're black or Hispanic. And, yeah, a lot of factors are at play here, all of which are under study.
Increasingly, research points to children's waistbands. Overweight girls often get their period before their thinner friends. I was a husky kid myself, so this theory could very well have played out in my own developing body.
There's also evidence linking early periods with a cocktail of - surprise! - hormone-disrupting chemicals. Case in point, that mothball/air freshener chemical dichlorobenzene. It's a suspected endocrine disruptor that's been banned in California since the mid-90s, but wouldn't you know it, it's still legal in Canada.
Of course, it's not alone. All sorts of flame retardants have been linked to early puberty, including higher levels of PBDEs. Most PBDEs have been phased out in this country over the last several years, but that doesn't mean we don't have this stuff floating around in our old couches or household dust.
Plus, the voluntary phase-out of one holdout PBDE, decaBDE, isn't complete until the end of this year. (FYI: Ikea furniture has been PBDE-free for over a decade.)
The Centers for Disease Control study found no connection between early menses and bisphenol A (the estrogenic stuff in tin cans, toilet paper, cash register receipts, dental resins and shatterproof plastic) or plastic-softening phthalates, unlike earlier studies. However, research is stacking up against BPA when it comes to weight gain. The developing bodies of babies in the womb exposed to BPA may essentially be tricked into putting on more weight down the road. And more childhood weight gain means earlier periods.
Speaking of wombs, all the above chems are also thought to get in the way of our ability to pop out babies. Sure, more obvious factors like age (including the age of the baby daddy) and smoking can impede things, but pollution plays a role as well. One study found that the higher your level of PBDE, the longer it'll take you to get pregnant. Others connected BPA with low sperm count and sterility as well as lower libido.
Levels of plastic-softening phthalates (off-gassing from all things vinyl as well as many colognes/perfumes/scented body care products) were three to five times higher in infertile couples, according to a 2012 study in Italy. Shame Canada isn't following in Denmark's footsteps and banning four phthalates from all consumer products, not just children's toys.
And a 7,000-person, seven-year study found that the worse the fossil fuel pollution is outdoors during the course of in-vitro fertilization treatment, the lower the chances of its success.
Heck, your job may even be keeping you from having a wee one, and not because you're coming home late and in no mood to do it. If you or your partner does any welding, soldering, ceramics or demolition work and happens to take in high levels of lead or other heavy metals on the job, you're more likely to be infertile.
Take a look at your diet, too. Chow down a lot of seafood laced with mercury and you could be at higher risk of fertility problems. Moms ODing on red meat seven days a week were more likely to have sons with fertility woes, too.
At this point, we don't know anything for sure. But what I can tell you is that we should take the precautionary approach and minimize our chemical body burden however we can. Avoid BPA and phthalates like the plague, and vacuum/wet dust often to minimize flame-retardant-laced dust bunnies in your home. Stay away from mercury-laden fish, and try to protect yourself from undue chemical/heavy metal exposure on the job.
We can't all move into a bubble, but we can push the feds to oust endocrine-disrupting chemicals from the products we use every day. Tell them to take a page from the great Danes and get detoxing.
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