PCOS, Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals and Fertility

What people with PCOS need to know about endocrine disrupting chemicals and how they can affect your fertility.

Lifestyle modifications are the primary treatment approaches for people with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). These lifestyle modifications include nutrition, supplements, and physical activity as well as stress management and sleep hygiene. When I provide nutrition counseling to patients with PCOS, we discuss these important lifestyle changes as well as ways to reduce exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs).

What are Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals?

EDCs are everywhere in our environment including the containers that hold the food that we eat and bottles that contain beverages we drink. They are even in our daily shampoo and the toys our children play with. Chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, pollution, pesticides and industrial chemicals, mimic, block, or interfere with the action of hormones in humans, setting the stage for diseases that can affect the health of future generations.

Examples of common endocrine disruptors

  • Bisphenol A (BPA) — used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, which are found in many plastic products including food storage containers
  • Dioxins — produced as a byproduct in herbicide production and paper bleaching, they are also released into the environment during waste burning and wildfires
  • Parabens are used to preserve the shelf life of many cosmetic and personal care products.
  • Perchlorate — a by-product of aerospace, weapon, and pharmaceutical industries found in drinking water and fireworks
  • Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) — used widely in industrial applications, such as firefighting foams and non-stick pan, paper, and textile coatings
  • Phthalates — used to make plastics more flexible, they are also found in some food packaging, cosmetics, children’s toys, and medical devices
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) — used to make flame retardants for household products such as furniture foam and carpets
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) — used to make electrical equipment like transformers, and in hydraulic fluids, heat transfer fluids, lubricants, and plasticizers
  • Triclosan — may be found in some anti-microbial and personal care products, like liquid body wash

The scary thing is that most of these are in our drinking water. A recent Guardian analysis of water samples taken in nine US locations (some with filters), shows EPA testing are likely missing significant levels of PFAS pollutants.  For these reasons, I highly recommend getting your water tested and picking a filter designed to remove what your water report is high in. Unfortunately there isn’t one perfect filter for everyone. Reverse Osmosis systems do remove PFAS and many other pollutants but are very pricey and take up space.


The Effects of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals on the Reproductive System

According to the Endocrine Society, exposure to EDCs has been shown to affect female and male reproductive health and has been linked to fertility problems, PCOS and cardiovascular disease as well as an increased risk for prostate cancer, thyroid diseases, hormonal cancers, ADHD and Autism and increased neurodevelopmental problems.

EDCs interfere with the way the body’s hormones work, which is why they can directly affect the reproductive system resulting in infertility and even causing complications during pregnancy.

Research shows that approximately 70% of reproductive age or pregnant women have detectable levels of phenols, persistent organic pollutants, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

When absorbed by the body, EDCs can increase or decrease normal hormone levels, mimic the body’s natural hormones, or alter the natural production of hormones. These affects can be immediate or cumulative over time. Nonetheless, EDCs can affect the reproductive system at any stage in the life cycle from conception through menopause, affecting future generations.

It seems as if exposure to EDCs can be problematic even before birth. Prenatal exposure in the first trimester to certain EDCs is associated with altered genetic expression in the mother’s placenta, according to research in Environmental Health Perspective. EDCs are linked to complications during pregnancy such as gestational diabetes and high blood pressure.

PCOS, Fertility, and Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

People with PCOS should be particularly concerned about exposure to EDCs and how they can impact fertility. BPA concentration in the follicular fluid from PCOS patients was found to be significantly higher than that from non-PCOS patients according to a study in Gynecology Endocrinology. EDCs can have a significant impact on the health of folks with PCOS as it is linked to increasing estrogen and testosterone, weight gain, and even glucose metabolism.

Exposure to EDCs is known to affect fertility. A study involving 239 women who underwent in vitro fertilization (IVF) from 2007 to 2012 found that the women with the highest exposure to BPA only had a 17% rate of pregnancy versus 54% of women who got pregnant with the lowest exposure.

pcos to pregnant

How to Reduce Your Exposure of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

While it’s impossible to completely eliminate your exposure to EDCs, it is advisable to reduce your exposure to them as much as possible to reduce your risk for diseases and other health related problems. Pregnant women or women who are trying to conceive may be especially vigilant to reduce their exposure to EDCs.

To help reduce your exposure to EDCs, follow these tips:  

  • Replace plastic water bottles and containers with glass or stainless steel ones
  • Store food in glass or ceramic containers
  • Toss old and scratched plastic containers
  • Never heat food in plastic containers in the microwave
  • Limit the use of non-stick pans and utensils. Choose stainless steel or ceramic pans instead.
  • Use tin foil instead of plastic wrap
  • Use reusable cotton sandwich bags in place of plastic ones
  • Buy foods that are in BPA free containers
  • Avoid handling paper receipts and wash hands well after touching them
  • Prepare fresh food instead of prepared foods in plastic containers
  • When purchasing toys consider non-toxic, BPA-free or wooden toys
  • Use phthalate and sulfate-free shampoos and makeup
  • Buy and eat organic produce as much as possible
  • Wash hands often
  • Invest in home water testing and use an appropriate filter
  • For more tips, click here

To learn more about EDCs and the reproductive impact, click here.

Tell us: What have you done to reduce your exposure to EDCs?



Gore A et al. The Endocrine Society’s Second Scientific Statement on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals. Endocr Rev. 2015 Dec;36(6):E1-E150.

Wang Y. Local effect of bisphenol A on the estradiol synthesis of ovarian granulosa cells from PCOS. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2016 May 17:1-5.

LaRocca J, Binder AM, McElrath TF, Michels KB. First-Trimester Urine Concentrations of Phthalate Metabolites and Phenols and Placenta miRNA Expression in a Cohort of U.S. Women. Environ Health Perspect. 2016 Mar;124(3):380-7.

Kandaraki, E et al. Endocrine Disruptors and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): Elevated Serum Levels of Bisphenol A in Women with PCOS. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 2011;96:3:E480-E484.

pcos dietitian angela grassiAngela Grassi, MS, RDN, LDN is the founder of The PCOS Nutrition Center where she provides evidence-based nutrition information and coaching to women with PCOS. Angela is the author of several books on PCOS including PCOS: The Dietitian’s Guide, The PCOS Workbook: Your Guide to Complete Physical and Emotional Health, and The PCOS Nutrition Center Cookbook Recognized by Today’s Dietitian as one of the Top 10 Incredible Dietitian’s making a difference in 2014, Angela is the past recipient for The Outstanding Nutrition Entrepreneur Award, The Award in Excellence in Practice in Women’s Health and The Award for Excellence in Graduate Research, from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Having PCOS herself, Angela has been dedicated to advocacy, education, and research of the syndrome. To learn more about one-on-one nutrition coaching or to schedule a call with Angela, click here

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