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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 August 2018

The everyday products that could affect your fertility

Doctor urge couples to check cosmetic products if they are planning a family

Phthalates in plastic bottles can affect fertility, research shows. AFP
Phthalates in plastic bottles can affect fertility, research shows. AFP

Couples hoping to conceive should avoid certain cosmetics that contain hidden chemicals, because they could harm their chances of having a baby, doctors say.

With global infertility on the rise, and more women choosing to have children later in life, lifestyle choices can be critical in improving the hopes of a healthy birth.

Phthalates are chemicals used in a wide number of plastic bottles and can also be found in solvents used in personal care products to retain colour and scent.

Studies have shown the compound can lower sperm count and alter their shape, with any change in size reducing the sperms mobility and leaving it less likely to successful reach an egg.

Dr Pankaj Shrivastav, medical director at the Conceive Fertility clinic in Dubai, said it was important that couples understood the risks associated with exposure to certain products.

“How do we even begin to protect ourselves and our future generations from items that have become an intrinsic part of daily use and self-care?” he said.

“The first step is always awareness. Scientific research and development is vital and it is imperative that we as medical physicians take this kind of knowledge to the public and make them aware of potential environmental dangers.”

Research into the impact of plastics on fertility of 108 young Chinese men was published in 2016 in the international journal Science of the Total Environment.

The study found significant concentrations of phthalates in urine samples of men aged 18-22, with nearly half of the subjects recording values exceeding a safe threshold.

The UAE's fertility rates dropped to 1.8 births per woman in 2015 from 6.6 in the early 1970s. Seth Wenig / AP
The UAE's fertility rates dropped to 1.8 births per woman from 6.6 in the early 1970s. AP

Similar research in the United States published in 2015 studied 218 couples who had undergone IVF treatment or artificial insemination.

Trends were observed between the presence of phthalates in the bloodstream and decreased odds of implantation and a successful birth.

The number of women in Dubai seeking fertility treatment per year is forecast to increase from around 6,000 today to more than 9,000 by 2030, according to Dubai Health Authority.

Birth rates in the UAE are also expected to fall to an average of 1.66 children per couple between 2020 and 2025, according to a United Nations report.

There are some measures women planning a family can take to improve their chances of giving birth, Dr Shrivastav said.

“When it comes to plastic products, try to avoid using them as much as possible,” he said.

“Thanks to social media the world is much more aware today of how plastic is destroying the planet - so try to choose reusable glass containers to store your foods and household products.

“When it comes to cosmetics, flip the label and read the ingredients. Any sign of a phthalate – don’t buy it.”

Phthalates are used to give flexibility to plastics, and can be found in products ranging from vinyl upholstery, tablecloths, shower curtains, pesticides, solvents, and even soft-squeeze children's toys.

As a result, humans are commonly exposed to the chemicals on a daily basis through ingestion, inhalation and skin contact.

Pankaj Shrivastav, director of Conceive Gynaecology and Fertility Hospital in Dubai, said women should look out for hidden chemicals in cosmetics that could harm their chances of having children. Satish Kumar / The National
Pankaj Shrivastav, director of Conceive Gynaecology and Fertility Hospital in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

“Interestingly, phthalates have been demonstrated to reduce fertility in both humans and animal models," said Dr Shrivastav.

"Occupational exposure to phthalates has also been associated with decreased pregnancy rates, increased miscarriages and other gestational complications.”

Canada has banned so-called "gender-bending" chemicals like Bisphenol-A (BPA) because of its connection with male impotence and a decrease in sperm quality.

BPA is used to make plastic containers watertight, and is found in some mobile phone casings.

“Besides causing permanent adverse effects in almost every part of the body, plastics are now proven to cause hormonal imbalances,” said Dr Nitika Gupta, a gynaecologist at Medeor 24x7 International Hospital, Al Ain near Abu Dhabi.

“When hormones are out of balance, the chances of creating healthy eggs or healthy sperm is reduced.

“Unfortunately, plastics have invaded deeply in our lives from grocery bags to pizza boxes.

“Most things we are using today contain plastic, but we can start taking little steps towards healthier living.”

Medical devices such as tubing, blood bags, and vinyl gloves use plastic compounds, with phthalates also found as additives in some cosmetics products such as perfume and nail polish.

Dr Koulshan Mohammad Jameel, a specialist in obstetrics and gynaecology at Canadian Specialist Hospital, Dubai, said women looking to conceive can make lifestyle changes to increase their chances of pregnancy.

“Small actions and changes in your daily routine can have a big impact,” she said.

“Quitting alcohol, smoking and caffeine are all advisable. Getting fit and to your optimal weight is a good idea, as is eating a baby-friendly-diet of fresh and organic foods to absorb key antioxidants and nutrients that are beneficial when trying to conceive.”

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Read more:

Fertility at risk as western men’s sperm count plummets by half

FNC to discuss amending UAE law to allow embryo preservation

‘We were shuttling between an infertility specialist and oncologist’

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