By now I’m sure you have heard of endocrine disrupters, but what are they exactly? How do we come into contact with them? How can we avoid them? And most importantly- are they really "that" bad?
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Science, endocrine disruptors are "chemicals that interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune effects in both humans and wildlife."
These chemicals are found in everything from cosmetics and common beauty products to cleaning agents, plastics, food, toys and pesticides.
They cause disruptions to the endocrine system, which is comprised of all the body’s different hormones and major players like the adrenals, thyroid, hypothalamus and pituitary. The endocrine system regulates all biological processes in the body, everything from brain and nervous system function to the function of the metabolism and the balance and production of the body’s hormones.
When absorbed in the body, an endocrine disruptor can do one or more of the following three things:
decrease or increase normal hormone levels
mimic the body's natural hormones
alter the natural production of hormones
What Are Some Common Endocrine Disrupters?
Bisphenol A (BPA) — Most people have heard of this one. It is used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, which are found in many plastic products including food storage containers, plastic bottles, and the lining of canned goods. This has been linked to everything from PCOS to obesity and heart disease.
Dioxins — these are a byproduct in herbicide production and paper bleaching, so for example they are found in bleached coffee filters or bleached tea bags.
Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) and Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCS) — these are used in non-stick pan and paper coatings, the insides of popcorn bags (for example) and fast food containers. These have been linked to things like kidney and thyroid disease, high cholesterol and low sperm quality.
Phthalates — these are used to make plastics more flexible, they are also found in food packaging, a lot of cosmetics, children’s toys, and medical devices. These have been linked to thyroid irregularities.
Phytoestrogens — these are naturally occurring substances in plants that have hormone-like activity, found often in soy products, like tofu or soy milk
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) — these are used to make flame retardants for household products like furniture and carpet foam. It’s very hard to avoid this completely.
Sulfates like sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES)- these are found in most beauty products including shampoo and body wash. They are also in cleaning products
Triclosan — this is found in many anti-microbial and personal care products, like liquid body wash.
Okay- So How Can You Avoid These Endocrine Disrupters?
1- Avoid Plastics
Plastics contain endocrine disruptors that leach into food and water, particularly when heated (for example microwaving food in a plastic container). Instead, opt for glass containers and don’t heat food in plastic containers or coated paperboard.
I also encourage you to not drink from plastic bottles. Instead choose glass or stainless steel (it’s better for the environment anyhow).
BPA is one of the worst hormone disruptors out there, in my opinion. Animal studies suggest exposure to it today can actually impact up to three future generations.
Unfortunately, until we have stronger chemical reform laws, it falls on you to do things like avoid canned food and instead choose fresh or frozen, avoid eating or drinking from plastics and be wary of nonstick cooking sprays.
2-Use Safe Household Cleansers
To help avoid phthalates and other hormone disruptors, I have began making my own household cleaners, and I have several clients who do the same. Not only do I feel better about what I’m cleaning with, it’s also cheaper. If you Google homemade cleaning products you’ll find tons of suggestions.
But the recipe I use is 2 cups water, ½ cup vinegar, 1 Tbsp baking soda and 10 drops of any essential oil you want. Add it all to a large spray bottle and you’re good to go. You can even make your own laundry soap! Combine 1 bar grated castile soap, 2 cups washing soda, 1 cup baking soda, 15 drops lavender essential oil and 15 drops peppermint essential oil in an airtight container. Use approximately 1/4 cup per large load.
In general you want to back off on the antibacterial soaps and cleaners, and use less chemical disinfectants.if you don’t want to make your own you can ship for natural alternatives, just read labels!
3- Rethink Your Birth Control
Choosing a more natural approach to birth control is safer than hormonal forms of contraception. I know this subject is touchy, but it’s been my experience over the years, in coaching women, that BC negatively throws off the natural hormone balance in the body. One of the main ingredients of birth control pills (ethinyl estradiol) is an endocrine disruptor and estrogen's evil twin. These types of toxic endocrine disruptors are designed to prevent normal hormone production. Make sure you are well informed when it comes to choosing birth control, and look into options like condoms and non-hormonal IUDs as well.
4- Read Your Health and Beauty Product Labels
While the list of hormone-disrupting chemicals in cosmetics is long, here’s a great trick to quickly weed out products that likely contain endocrine-disrupting phthalates. Look on the ingredients list. If you see “fragrance” or “parfum,” avoid it. Those are catch-all terms that can include 3,000+ chemicals that often include phthalates. Also- look for products that ADVERTISE they are free from phthalates and sulfates.
You can also rate your current personal care products and find safer ones at Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety database.
5- Clean Up Your Diet
What we eat and drink has a great deal to do with how many hormone disruptors we end up coming into contact with.
An anti-estrogenic diet is one way in which you can minimize dietary consumption of endocrine disrupters. It’s a less of a “diet” and more of a common sense approach with three major components: eating farther down on the food chain, eating less processed and chemically laden foods, and supplementing your diet with compounds that decrease estrogen excess and help your body to eliminate added hormones.
First, avoid processed and refined foods. Besides the many food additives and chemicals that processed and refined foods contain, the lack of fiber and extra sugar can overwhelm your colon and liver so that circulating hormones are reabsorbed rather than eliminated.
Second, avoid pesticides and herbicides. Buying organic is one way you can help limit your intake of endocrine disruptors in and on fruits and vegetables. Also make sure you wash (thoroughly) all produce prior to consumption
Buy pasture-raised / grass fed animal products. The best option, if possible, is to connect with a local farmer so you can ask questions and learn about their farming practices. If that’s not possible, look for labels that say “grassfed” or “pasture raised.” The ever popular "natural” literally means nothing, so don’t trust that.
Eat detox veggies. The more fresh vegetables you eat, the lower you’re eating on the food chain. Toxins accumulate in the tissues of animals. Fresh veggies have a whole host of health benefits, as well as the ability to deflect excess estrogens. Cruciferous veggies, such as broccoli and cabbage, contain flavones and indoles that are particularly effective at battling estrogen excess. It also helps to avoid high estrogen foods like soy, wheat, alcohol, and conventional meat and dairy.
Buy local. Local farm methods are more transparent and accountable than big industry farming. They’re often a safer bet even if they haven’t been certified organic. Try to avoid purchasing produce from overseas too. For example DDT was banned as a pesticide in the U.S., but we still produce it and sell it to other countries who use it. Then they turn around and sell their produce to us. Go figure.
Avoid soy. We’ve all come to think of soy as a healthy alternative for animal protein, especially in the wake of the plant based craze but soy is a source of phytoestrogens. And because it is a subsidized crop (an agricultural subsidy is a government incentive paid to farms to supplement their income) soy has become prevalent in many foods, snuck in under the clever guise of various names like hydrolyzed vegetable protein, lecithin, starch and vegetable oil. The exception to unhealthy soy would be ferrmented soy like miso or tempeh which has less detriments and more nutrients.
Get enough fiber. Fiber is critical for healthy bowel movements, and healthy bowel movements are the main way for excess estrogen to exit the body. Some fiber-rich whole-food examples would be broccoli, pears, raspberries, artichokes, lentils, and ground flax seeds. If you’re in need of more fiber, try having oatmeal and oat bran a few times a week or psyllium husks. Fiber is a natural source that binds to estrogen that is excreted by the liver and brings it into the intestinal tract for elimination while preventing estrogen reabsorption
Supplement. Some general supplements that can help are DIM and Calcium D-glucarate, D3, Probiotics, B6, dandelion root, and Magnesium.
I know this can all be "daunting", but knowledge is power. It is important to have an understanding of what endocrine disrupters are and what they do so you can make informed decisions and work to control your exposure to them. And even implementing just one of these five simple adjustments can greatly reduce your personal load of endocrine disruptors and help you take steps towards greater health.