PCOS and Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals


Lifestyle modifications are the primary treatment approaches for women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). These lifestyle modifications include improving diet and physical activity as well as stress management and sleep hygiene. When I provide nutrition counseling to women 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, pesticides, and industrial chemicals, mimic, block, or interfere with the action of hormones in humans, setting the stage for diseases.

Health Problems Associated With Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

Research is available that shows an association between EDCs having a negative impact on the health of women, men, and children. 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, obesity, and cardiovascular disease as well as an increased risk for prostate cancer, thyroid diseases, hormonal cancers, and increased neurodevelopmental problems.

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.

PCOS, Fertility, and Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

Women with PCOS should be particularly concerned about exposure to EDCs. 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 women 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 percent rate of pregnancy versus 54 percent of women who got pregnant with the lowest exposure. 

How to Reduce Your Exposure

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
  • 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
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