Avoiding food in plastic or cans, and avoiding fast foods are among the recommendations in a new study from the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) to reduce exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and improve pregnancy outcomes.
The study, published in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics, was a semi-structured review to learn what, if any, interventions were effective for pregnant people to reduce exposure to EDCs – chemical agents that interfere with hormones responsible for women’s health and reproduction – and to guide OBGYN patient recommendations.
“Addressing the effects of EDCs and minimising exposure to chemicals is an issue requiring urgent attention,” said Professor Fionnuala M. McAuliffe, Head of Women’s and Child’s Health at the National Maternity Hospital, Dublin, Ireland, and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at University College Dublin, who led the study on behalf of the FIGO Committee on Impact of Pregnancy on Long-term Health and the FIGO Committee on Climate Change and Toxic Environmental Exposures. “Health care providers should be aware that endocrine disruptors pose significant risks to reproductive health and prenatal development.”
Reducing exposure to EDCs
With the science clear on how endocrine disruptors harm reproductive health and fetal development, the study authors wanted to explore what pregnant people could do to effectively reduce exposures. Several interventions were found to be effective in reducing exposure to EDCs, and the study recommends that pregnant people:
- avoid plastic containers, bottles and packaging
- avoid canned food/beverage
- consume fresh and organic food
- avoid fast/processed foods
- supplement diet with vitamin C, iodine and folic acid.
While ingestion is the dominant source of exposure to EDCs globally, people are also exposed through skin and air. EDCs are found in building materials, such as flame-retardant chemicals and PVC piping, cosmetics, personal care products, cleaning products and pesticides.
“While it’s important for individuals to learn what they can do to reduce exposures, there are many sources of exposure that are beyond the control of individuals, so systemic or policy changes are needed,” said Dr. Tracey J. Woodruff, a study co-author and Professor and Director of the University of California, San Francisco Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment. “There are real inequities to avoiding EDCs, as fresh, organic food is not available to everyone,” Woodruff said.
Impact of EDCs on health
EDCs trigger hormonal changes that can affect gonadal development both in-utero and after birth, causing testicular failure and testosterone-related effects on female development, leading to earlier onset of puberty and menstruation. Prenatal EDC exposure is also linked to cognitive and behavioural impairment, autistic spectrum disorders and lower IQ scores in children.
“In 2015, FIGO recommended that health professionals advocate for policies to prevent exposure to toxic environmental chemicals, work to ensure a healthy food system for all, make environmental health part of health care, and champion environmental justice,” said study co-author and FIGO President Dr. Jeanne Conry. “This article summarises important steps for individuals to take but also calls attention to the need for improved regulatory safeguards.”
The paper encourages medical professionals to follow guidance from FIGO and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that encourages taking an environmental health history of patients to inform all care and guidance.
Article: Nutritional interventions to ameliorate the effect of endocrine disruptors on human reproductive health: A semi-structured review from FIGO. Corbett GA, Lee S, Woodruff J, et al. Int J Gynecol Obstet [published online ahead of print, Feb 23, 2022]. doi: 10.1002/ijgo.14126.
Authors: Gillian A. Corbett, Sadhbh Lee, Tracey J. Woodruff, Mark Hanson, Moshe Hod, Annemarie Charlesworth, Linda Giudice, Jeanne Conry, Fionnuala M. McAuliffe.