If you're anything like us, self-isolation has initially gone hand in hand with an irregular amount of PJ action and TV, as well as the odd *very* happy Houseparty (virtual, naturally.)
But your options needn't be restricted to sloth or social butterfly, there's some activities - both social and practical - that can help you turn your down time...up.
1. Conduct a personal care item cleanse
Being cooped up at home might just be the best time to tackle spring cleaning projects.
One such project being: clearing out the personal care items that pose the most harm to your fertility. You might be somewhat horrified to find out what's lurking within them.
Did you know that in the US, there are over 200 possible endocrine-disrupting chemicals currently being used in personal care products and makeup. Endocrine disruptors are a fancy way of talking about your hormones. And because successful egg maturation is a hormonal process, having your hormones in the proper balance is very important. To put it in perspective, the EU has banned around 1400 ingredients from personal care products, and the US has only banned 30. This means you have to be your own detective and figure out which items are the biggest detractors to your hormonal health. Step 1: Marie Kondo your makeup drawer Nobody likes to get rid of anything they’ve spent money on but consider this a fresh opportunity to bring “joy” to your personal care routine by prioritizing your reproductive health! Start by taking out all your makeup and personal care products at once and put them on the floor or a table in front of you. Group all the items by category - concealer, lipstick, shampoo, etc. Using the chart below, figure out which of those items have surpassed their expiration date and put them a separate pile for the trash. Then, go through and pick out the most essential items that you use on a daily basis. Do one more round of this that includes any items you wear at least once a month. For the rest of them, say “thank you” and then politely lower them into the trash. Personal care product expiration dates
Step 2: Be a toxin detective Now it’s time to play detective by assessing how your most frequently used makeup items fare on the toxin scale. Even products labeled "organic" or "natural" might not be safe. Products certified as organic can contain as little as 10% organic ingredients by weight or volume. And the term “natural” has no meaningful definition that’s regulated by the FDA. When it comes to your egg health, phthalates and parabens are the most well-documented detractors. These categories of chemicals appear under a wide variety of names. Rather than Googling each one of them, it’s easiest if you use one of the free databases below to try to find your current products. (Keep in mind that there are a variety of chemicals that might also be carcinogens and/or have been tested on animals, but we’ll be focused on the ones that can be harmful to your fertility.)
ELANZA Wellness Fertility Fit™ app - A growing number of personal care and makeup products can be found inside our Fertility Fit web app. These have been vetted for their fertility friendliness and have been reviewed for their product effectiveness. Just look for "ELANZA approved products" where you'll see what products we recommend as well as what we like most about them.
The EWG's Skin Deep Database - highly focused on measuring the levels of toxins in over 70,000 products. Search to find your makeup product and then see how it fares in the category of “Developmental & Reproductive Toxicity.” SkinCarisma - This database of mostly skincare products offers both an ingredient analyzer and product reviews. Search to find your product and scroll down to check out the “Product Overview” tab. Does it have a checkmark showing that it’s “Paraben-free?” In the full list of ingredients, do you see the word “fragrance” listed anywhere? If so, that’s a code word for phthalates. Lastly, see what the overall product ingredient safety breakdown is by the EWG and the CIR. Don’t see your product? We like this site because you can use the “Cosmetic Analyzer” to copy and paste the ingredients for them to analyze. Think Dirty app - A database of over 1.1M products tested, search for your cosmetics or use the barcode scanner to find them. This app is better at providing an overall “clean” score along with the chemicals under question. It might just be a bit harder to suss out which of the ingredients are harmful specifically for your fertility. You will quickly discover that almost none of your products will be completely toxin-free so there's often an element of compromise. Step 3: Prioritize your replacements It can be hard to clean out all your personal care products at once, which is why it might be easier to take a prioritization strategy. First, make a list by organizing the items that are the most toxic to those that are the least, with a special focus on those that have an abundance of phthalates and parabens. Next, we’re going to consider how likely each one of the products is to be absorbed into your skin. Because each type of personal care product is formulated and applied in different ways, it can affect your exposure. These are some of the key factors that influence absorption:
Skin Integrity: Are you putting the product on skin that’s damaged or broken? Damaged skin absorbs more quickly and allows larger particles to sneak through. This is important for acne treatments.
Skin Temperature: Higher skin temperature is correlated with increased absorption. This is worth considering for shower gel and shaving cream.
Exposure Length: How long does the product stay on your body? The longer the exposure, the greater the risk. Consider this for body lotion, deodorant, and sunscreen.
Area of Skin Exposed: Different areas of the body absorb more than others, depending on the thickness and temperature of the skin. For example, your scalp and forehead is nearly 4 times as absorbent as the skin on your forearms - making this an important consideration for all types of hair care products. Another important area is your armpits. The thin skin of the armpit - which is exfoliated every time you shave - is extra vulnerable to absorbing chemicals.
Step 4: Test out non-toxic alternatives Once you’ve identified the biggest toxin perpetrators in your bathroom and makeup drawer, go through them one-by-one, seeking out cleaner alternatives. The great news is that so many brands have been focused on creating toxin-free products, innovative formulas mean that you don’t have to sacrifice the desired results. To find the best replaceables, use the same toxin detective skills you’ve developed in Step 2 to suss out the best options for your reproductive health. You might find that some products are easier to swap out than others. And maybe there’s that extra special lotion or perfume that gives you “joy.” But taking the time to find alternatives has never been easier. Even big box stores like target are hopping on the bandwagon with a variety of “clean” options. Just make sure to read through the ingredients list rather than just the marketing messages on the front.
2. Skip the canned goods aisle
In times of uncertainty and crisis, a go-to strategy is to stock up on foods that would survive a nuclear explosion. That often means canned goods. Why are canned foods so bad for your fertility?
Lurking in the lining of canned goods is a chemical called bisphenol-A (BPA). This is considered an endocrine-disrupting chemical that leeches into food over time (now consider the lifespan of a canned good!). When we talk about the endocrine system, it's a fancy way of talking about your hormones. There are hundreds, if not thousands of harmful endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that are being pumped into our everyday environment. One study estimates that EDC exposure in the US contributes to disease and dysfunction, with annual costs contributing to $340 billion, 2% of the GDP.
EDCs can affect a variety of hormones that can either directly or indirectly impact your fertility. BPA, in particular, is a chemical that was originally created with the sole purpose of being a source of synthetic estrogen. But then, scientists discovered that it could be used even more effectively as an epoxy resin for canned goods, which keeps the metal from corroding and breaking, as well as in plastics as a way of making them hard, watertight and shatterproof. This breakthrough is packaging science has taken a toll on our reproductive health.
BPA, also known as the "gender bending" chemical due to its effects on male breast growth (aka "moobs" or "man boobs"), is one that both men and women really need to watch out for.
For women, hormone disruption from chemicals like BPA are linked to (...get comfortable, the list is long):
Abnormal menstrual cycles
Premature ovarian failure
Early onset menopause
Adverse pregnancy outcomes
Fewer eggs retrieved from fertility treatment cycles
Fewer mature eggs retrieved from fertility treatment cycles
Fewer successfully fertilized eggs from IVF cycles
Disruption in the egg maturation process
Lower quality eggs
For men, The Endocrine Society believes it’s no coincidence that declining sperm counts (up to 50% in the last half century), earlier puberty in girls worldwide, and genital malformations in people and animals coincide with the 500% rise in the amount of plastics (which BPA is often found in) produced since the 1970s - though that’s nearly impossible to even try to prove.
So, what else can you buy instead?
Buy beans in bags - dry goods like beans (lentils are a great source of protein!) might take a little more time to soak and prepare but, let's be honest, it's not like you're out and about during quarantine anyway. Plus, they tend to have less sodium and preservatives.
Buy vegetables frozen - vegetables that are flash frozen maintain much of their original nutritional value, making this an excellent alternative.
Buy tomatoes in glass jars or preserve your own! Because tomatoes are highly acidic, it draws out more of the BPA from the epoxy lining. Instead of buying them in cans, see if you can find them in glass jars. A great and easy way to preserve your own is to buy fresh ones in bulk and then blanch and freeze them. Or, you can make fresh tomatoes into pasta or pizza sauces and then freeze them. (Extra points if you use food grade silicone bags instead of plastic ones when you stick them in the freezer.)
Make soups to freeze - Canned soups are generally good to avoid for your fertility. They are often stock-full of sodium and at least for us, don't really keep you full for very long. On the other hand, soups in general can be a fantastic way to access a variety of healthy, and filling, nutrients that will bolster your fertility and your immune system. All you need to do is make them while you're sheltering in place (we love the one pot, ourselves) and then wait for it to cool a bit before placing in a food grade silicone bag.
3. Host a virtual tea party
"Ok, grandma," you might be thinking.
But in our defense: sheltering in place means learning to treasure the simple things in life!
While self isolation is of course the best thing you can do to protect yourself as well as everyone around you, it's well known that it has the potential to take a large toll on both your physical and mental health.
To battle this, you may have taken up the newly minted trend of virtual happy hours (you're only human, after all).
But instead of drinking in your newfound digital hangouts, consider hosting a late afternoon virtual tea party! Because, while drinking alcohol in small amounts is not known to be disastrous to your fertility (the most robust study on the matter found that light alcohol was associated with an 11% reduction in the probability of conceiving and a 23% reduction for moderate to heavy drinking), the peripheral downsides of drinking aren't good for your fertility either. For example, it could disrupt your sleep cycle and could lead to other mental health issues.
The perfect alternative is caffeine-free herbal tea. Our personal favorite is antioxidant-rich rooibos, also known as "red bush" in it's homeland of South Africa (an appropriate name thanks to the benefits it imparts on your own... "bush." Yes, we went there.) It has a sweet, delicate, earthy flavor that is just plain nice to drink both hot and as an iced tea.
This natural powerhouse is host to several antioxidants, which are thought to offer protection to your ovaries against harmful free radicals. In particular, the antioxidant aspalathin plays a dually valuable role by helping keep your blood sugar levels under control. Because when blood sugar levels get out of whack, it can disrupt the balance of hormones needed to mature quality eggs. If that wasn't enough to motivate you to swap wine for tea, preliminary research indicates that it could help you fend off the "quarantine 15" AND even help reduce wrinkles.
The antioxidant levels change based on the cultivation. Green rooibos has more antioxidants than red and quality does matter. Our personal favorite is Sunbird rooibos, which is an artisanal brand that is hyper-focused on quality.
And to add some extra spice, why not add some fun to your tea party invite by making it themed? Don a hat or get out your Sunday best to add a Mad Hatter or Megan & Harry vibe to your virtual catch-up.
3. Incorporate a 10min mental check-in to your daily routine
During a pandemic, it's safe to say that many of your normal routines will be thrown out the window. Our often deeply-routed routines are established as a form of self-preservation - they allow our bodies to function on auto-pilot so that we can focus our attention on more pressing, complex or important matters. It can be challenging if very small changes are inflicted onto this routine. But what on earth happens if nearly every single one of them is taken away from us in a matter of days!?
While we certainly need to be mindful of the bigger picture - you can thank your lucky stars if you haven't tested positive for COVID-19 or don't have a friend or family member that has - but it's good to consider the gravitas of your own situation and the effects it might have on your mental health. The goal of this being to tell yourself that IT'S OK if you're struggling. We are living in an unprecedented time. The way to take back some control in an otherwise uncontrollable situation is to focus on establishing a new routine that supports this particular moment.
So, right now, get out your calendar and think about when you want to take out 10min of your day to have a personal check-in with yourself. Carve out 20min (10 to get you there) and add this important "me time." Be rigid with yourself. Don't reschedule or move it around. This is an important meeting with the most important person in your life: YOU!
You may find that you enjoy one kind of daily check-in versus another and you don't need to do the same thing every day but here are a few ideas to get you started:
Write in a journal - You can find a daily journal in our Fertility Fit™ app
Try meditation - These come in all shapes and sizes. ELANZA's very own Catherine Hendy is also trained as a yoga & meditation instructor and has added a bunch into the Meditations section of the Fertility Fit™ app
Just be - Don't do anything. Just sit in silence and ask yourself "How am I feeling right now? What is bothering me? What do I feel good about?"
We are living in an unprecedented time in which every single one of us will experience all kinds of emotions.
It's easy to let those emotions run away with you and feel like every single aspect of your life is out of control, especially when your fertility is yet another concern.
But, even small lifestyle choices can lead to big results and that can be empowering. Let's focus on those small things that we can feel good about.
And, if this is something you are struggling with personally, we (the co-founders of ELANZA wellness, Brittany & Catherine), want to let you know to feel free to reach out to us directly to ask any questions or ask for support. We all need each other right now. And together, we got this.
Female alcohol consumption and fecundability: a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-14261-8
Aspalathin improves hyperglycemia and glucose intolerance in obese diabetic ob/ob mice.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23238530
Clinical efficacy comparison of anti-wrinkle cosmetics containing herbal flavonoids.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20412217
Effects of fermented rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) on adipocyte differentiation. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24060217
Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the USA: a population-based disease burden and cost analysis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27765541
Health risk of exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25813067
Environmental Contaminants Affecting Fertility and Somatic Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28658707
Serum unconjugated bisphenol A concentrations in women may adversely influence oocyte quality during in vivo fertilization. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21122836
Urinary bisphenol A concentrations and ovarian response among women undergoing IVF. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20002217
Urinary bisphenol A concentrations and implantation failure among women undergoing in vitro fertilization. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3404656/
Bisphenol A deteriorates egg quality through HDAC7 suppression. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29190921
Bisphenol A regulates the estrogen receptor α signaling in developing hippocampus of male rats through estrogen receptor. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25074486
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs). World Health Organization website https://www.who.int/ipcs/publications/en/ch1.pdf
Endocrine disrupting chemicals and disease susceptibility. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21899826
Epigenetic mechanisms in the actions of endocrine-disrupting chemicals: gonadal effects and role in female reproduction. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22827390
More chemicals show epigenetic effects across generations. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3385447/
Environmental factors and endometriosis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21876930
Negative impact of endocrine-disrupting compounds on human reproductive health. http://www.royanaward.com/files13/Balabani%C4%8D%20et%20al.%202011.pdf
Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28981654
Impact of EDCs on Reproductive Systems. The Endocrine Society website https://www.endocrine.org/topics/edc/what-edcs-are/common-edcs/reproduction. Accessed August 2019.