SPH Student Zeina Mohamad Alkhalaf Interviewed for NBC News Special Projects
December 6, 2019

Last week, family science doctoral candidate Zeina Mohamad Alkhalaf was featured on the NBC Washington's special program “Behind the Label.” The feature shared Alkhalaf’s personal story with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), chemicals, their effect on her reproductive health, infertility, pregnancy loss, and, eventually, a successful natural pregnancy.

Over 200,000 individuals in the United States suffer from PCOS, one of the most common causes of infertility. PCOS does not have a specific cure, so to find relief and regain her fertility, Alkhalaf took matters into her own hands, cutting out chemicals from her lifestyle and diet. 

In the absence of chemicals, Alkhalaf noticed her menstrual cycles become more regular. She was able to become pregnant and now has two children, turning her disease into a story of triumph. Inspired, she sought to share this information with other women in need through a blog, Confessions of an Organic Mama

Alkhalaf was diagnosed with PCOS when she was 23 years old and trying to become pregnant with her first child. 

PCOS is a hormonal disorder causing irregular menstrual periods or excess male hormone levels. With PCOS, the ovaries may develop follicles—numerous small collections of fluid—and fail to regularly release eggs, preventing pregnancy. The cause is not yet known, and complications can lead to infertility, type 2 diabetes, depression, severe liver inflammation and even endometrial cancer.

“At first, I had to digest the diagnosis. I was very confused. I felt like my body had failed me,” said Alkhalaf. “But afterward, I said, ‘okay, I can either let this disease take over, or I can try to empower myself and figure out what actually caused it.’” 

Undeterred by the lack of known causes or treatments for PCOS, Alkhalaf began poring over research from sites like the National Institutes of Health. She discovered research linking chemicals, such as bisphenol A (BPA), an industrial chemical used to make plastic, to increased risks for PCOS.

“[The research] really shocked me. I had no idea about the pesticides in foods and the chemicals in our everyday products,” said Alkhalaf.

She also found that, compared to countries in the European Union, the United States has little regulation concerning the use of chemicals. This means little protection for children and those with diseases like PCOS, whose symptoms are exacerbated by certain chemicals.

“Your skin is the largest organ in your body,” Alkhalaf said. “So all the makeup, everything you put on it gets absorbed into your body. And children’s bodies lack certain enzymes, so chemicals end up staying in their body longer.”

Alkhalaf began to purge her house of items and cleaning products with chemicals, replacing plastic with glass and silicone where possible, eating organic food and switching from liquid to bar soap with natural ingredients like shea butter and coconut oil.

She began to see results.

“I started experiencing regular cycles, and I thought, ‘okay, there’s something to this,’” said Alkhalaf. “Cutting out chemicals did have an effect on my overall health.” 

While her first child was born with the help of in vitro fertilization, after switching from chemical-filled to natural products, Alkhalaf became pregnant naturally. In her words, the doctors couldn’t believe it.

She created a blog to share her findings with other individuals along with safer alternatives to makeup, household products, hair care items and children’s care products. 

Alkhalaf’s success also piqued her interest in conducting research concerning chemicals and infertility. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Family Science at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health. 

After she graduates, Alkhalaf plans to return to Kuwait to conduct research and spread public health information to local communities. She hopes to advocate for and empower communities to stand up for their health. 

“That’s what I feel public health is all about.”

Related Links

NBC Washington: Mom Credits Fertility Turnaround to Organic Products, Diet

Student Profile: Zeina Mohamad Alkhalaf (PhD, Family Science)

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Zeina Alkhalaf