The Effect of the Environment on your Fertility with Dr. Jenna Hua of Million Marker
The topic of today’s Egg Whisperer Show is the effect of the environment on your fertility with special guest Dr. Jenna Hua. Embryo quality depends on good egg and sperm quality and all are determined by your age, genetics, and environment.
For the last 15 years, I have been looking for a test that I can offer my patients that tells them if they have been exposed to chemicals in the environment that could affect their fertility like plastics and BPA.
Million Marker, founded by Dr. Jenna Hua has created a body burden test to tell people how their environment could be affecting their fertility. I’m delighted to have her join me for The Egg Whisperer Show.
Dr Aimee: Welcome to the show, Jenna.
Dr. Jenna Hua: Thanks so much for having me. I have also been looking for a partner in the fertility space to offer this service to others, and to help them with their fertility journey, as well as optimizing their health.
Dr. Aimee: Tell us about yourself. You are a research scientist. Where did you go to school, and what your research focus has been?
Dr. Jenna Hua: My name is Jenna I am the founder and CEO of Million Marker. My background training is in nutrition and environmental health. It was through my research that I realized how important the environment is to our health.
My interest in this area was amplified by my personal journey, including fertility struggles. It made me realize that we really need a tool to allow us to document our environmental exposures, so that we can do something about it.
Dr. Aimee Tell us about your company. When was it started? Where is it located?
Dr. Jenna Hua: The company is Million Marker. We are based in Berkeley, California. We started about eight months ago. We are trying to measure how the environment impacts people’s health.
Dr. Aimee So you have an amazing quote that I saw on your website.
What was that quote?
Dr. Jenna Hua: Dr. Judith Stern once said
Genetics load the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger.
It’s really easy for people to understand, and hits home as to why the environment is important to your health. Your health is driven by your genes and your environment.
In fact, your genes only count for about 30% of your disease risk. Whereas the rest, a full 70% of your disease risk is from your environment.
This is the concept: We call it “exposome versus your genome.” Genome captures your genes, and exposome captures your total cumulative environmental exposure.
This shows how important the environment is, and how the environment could interact with your genes, and then pull the trigger.
Dr. Aimee: How many man made chemicals are really out there, and how many are actually tested?
Dr. Jenna Hua: Good question. There are over 80,000 men made chemicals out there today, and then we only have 1% tested for safety. We basically do not have sufficient information for more than 70,000 chemicals that are in use today.
Dr. Aimee: Can you tell us a little bit about the science? Our audience loves science and so I think they would be really interested in some more background.
Dr. Jenna Hua: We are exposed to a lot of man made chemicals every day.
This is through the food you eat, the water you drink, the products that you use, and even the air you breathe. Everything is pretty much made of chemicals, and you are exposed to a lot of things. And this whole concept of “exposome” is measuring your toxic chemical exposure over your lifetime.
And this “exposome” interacts with your genomes, which then impacts your lifestyle and all your disease outcomes.
Dr. Aimee: So now comes your company, Million Marker. What are you doing about this?
Dr. Jenna Hua: We wanted to create a tool for individuals to use to identify, measure, and then track their exposures. This allows them to learn about what is inside their body and then take actions.
Dr. Aimee: And when you say exposure, what exactly do you mean?
Dr. Jenna: Exposure can come from many different places. We wanted to start with something small. And the two chemicals that we started measuring are BPA and phthalates. These two are plasticizers, so they’re pretty much in all plastics and everyday products, as well as in your personal care products. And that is where you get your exposure.
These two chemicals are also hormone disrupting chemicals. These chemicals could actually interfere with your natural hormones. For example, BPA mimics estrogen and the phthalates block testosterone.
Because these are hormone disrupting chemicals, exposure to them has been linked to fertility issues in both men and women, as well as learning delays in kids, breast cancer, diabetes, obesity, you name it.
Dr. Aimee: And what are the steps involved?
Dr. Jenna Hua: We are live today and people can order a test online through our website. You’ll order a test online, and you take our exposure survey when you get the collection kit. You pee in a cup, and send it back to us. Then we get it analyzed and we give you a detailed report back.
And this detailed report tells you your levels, how you compare to others, and what you can do about it. We do a very detailed, diet recall as well as a product audits. We’re trying to figure out how to better capture your exposure, and then tailor your interventions. This allows you to make changes and reduce your exposure.
Dr. Aimee: It’s both diet and product? So, you’re looking at both of the things: what you’re eating and what you’re exposing yourself to, for example, with your cosmetics, your shampoo, and all of that?
Dr. Jenna Hua: Exactly. Because that’s where these chemicals are coming from.
So for example: for BPA, if you are drinking a lot of canned sodas, or liquids from a plastic bottle, or touched thermal receipts? These are common sources of BPA.
For phthalates we measure both low molecular weight and high molecular weight phthalates. Low molecular weight phthalates are usually from personal care products. High molecular weight phthalates are from PVC or vinyl products.
Based on what you report back, as well as your levels, we can then tell you what you need to do to actually reduce these exposures. And then you can make changes, and come back later and check your levels again.
Dr. Aimee: Show us what a kit looks like. What is in it? How do you actually do the test?
Dr. Jenna Hua: You get a box inside a box. You have a pee cup, and a biohazard bag. Plus a smaller sized craft box for safety. It also includes urine collection instructions.
We want people to collect their first morning urine from right when you wake up. It’s the most concentrated urine, and we want you to capture it and ship it back to us via Fedex priority overnight. That means your sample will get to the lab as soon as possible. If you ship today by 5:00 PM, it will get to the lab the next day to ensure the best sample quality.
Dr. Aimee: Nice. And what exactly does the test measure?
Dr. Jenna Hua: Right now our tests measure BPA and phthalates, as I mentioned before.
BPA is actually used to make clear and hard plastics. Many times shatterproof containers contain BPA. BPA is also used as a protective lining in canned food and canned drinks.
BPA is also used as a coating for thermal receipts. We have always been telling people not to touch receipts. Instead, have the store email the receipt to you if possible. And if you do have to touch a receipt, make sure to wash your hands afterwards. For BPA, we measure a total BPA conjugated BPA, and free BPA.
What we report back for total BPA is pretty much your overall BPA exposure. Conjugated BPA is how your body metabolizes the BPA. Free BPA is the bad stuff. It’s the major hormone disruptor. We report back all three.
A little bit of background on phthalates — compared to BPA making plastic hard and clear. Phthalates make plastic soft and flexible. They are used in personal care products. A lot of time you will see them in fragrances. Phthalates are used to make perfume stick on your body a lot longer.
One surprising thing I was able to find is that phthalates are also used to make vitamin capsules. This is not something that you can just like simply read from the product labels. And there are phthalates in PVC products. For example, sometimes the shower curtain might contain phthalates.
For phthalates, we measure low molecular weight phthalates, which include two metabolites, as well as high molecular weight phthalates, and that includes five metabolites.
Dr. Aimee: So I love how you mentioned receipt paper. I remember I had a patient, I mean a long time ago, maybe 10 years ago. And she wrote on her new patient intake form that she was allergic to paper.
She had looked at the research behind how thermal paper can increase our environmental exposure to BPA. And this is actually what started getting me thinking about how important it was to look at this for patients.
Thank you for all the work you do. Can you show us a sample report? I would love to see what a report looks like. That a patient of mine would get.
Dr. Jenna Hua: When we provide the report, we actually provide two reports. One is a snapshot report. One is a longer detailed report because the detailed report is actually about 12–13 pages.
A snapshot report will give people a quick overview of what their levels are. In a snapshot report, we report back your total BPA level, your low molecular weight phthalates, your high molecular weight phthalates, and how you compare to others. It includes notes on where you are high and also a snapshot of the recommendations we make based on your product recall as well as your diet recall.
For the detailed report, we go into more details in terms of explaining what these chemicals are and where they are from. And what are the health concerns regarding these chemicals. And then we provide a lot more detailed tips.
Dr. Aimee: You also mentioned that you will compare results maybe to other people and the same sort of situation.
How does that report look?
Dr. Jenna Hua: Right now you can compare your levels against other current Million Marker users. We will also compare your results against the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It’s done by the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and it offers a representative sample of the whole US. In addition to comparing your levels with other Million Marker users, we compare your levels with the national average. Note that with these chemicals, we actually don’t have safe levels for them.
The comparison is based on the percentile. If you’re below the 25th percentile (there is zero to 25th percentile), this would mean your level is considered low. If you are between 25th to 75th percentile, then you’re a medium level. And then if you are above 75th percentile, then, your level is high. However, one thing to know is that these chemicals are synthetic chemicals. They have no business being a body. So you should always, always be trying to reduce them.
Dr. Aimee: I love how you say that they have no business being in your body. So if they’re in your body, they could potentially affect your fertility as well. So where can patients order a kit where they can find you?
Where can they learn more? Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Dr. Jenna Hua: If you’d like to keep informed, we actually put out a lot of educational materials through our blog. We do Instagram, Facebook,Twitter, and Pinterest. Feel free to visit our website, follow us on Instagram and Twitter and join our Facebook group.
You can also email me anytime, firstname.lastname@example.org and I’m happy to answer any questions.
Dr. Aimee: Awesome. Well, Jenna, thank you for being on today’s show. Thank you for your visionary work, because I truly think that you’re going to change the health and lives of millions of people. I think that’s why you named your company Million Marker.
Dr. Jenna Hua: We are hoping to start with a couple of biomarkers of exposure, and eventually get to a million markers, and really help push medicine forward. We believe that once people know their numbers, they’re better equipped to make changes. And besides these two biomarkers, eventually we would like to offer other tests, pesticides, testing, air quality testing, and other chemicals.
Our mission is to educate the public about these exposures so they can really take actions each of their own hand and then change their health outcome.
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