We are exposed to endocrine disruptors daily. These are sneaky chemicals hiding in stuff we use every day, from makeup to food, and they can mess up our hormones. Let’s dive into the simple details: what they are, where we find them, and ways to avoid them.
What are Endocrine Disruptors?
Endocrine disruptors, often called endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), are a group of toxins that disrupt the function of the entire endocrine system. Normally, our endocrine system releases hormones (chemical messengers) that signal the body what to do. Chemicals from outside that get into our bodies have the ability to mimic our natural hormones and block or bind hormone receptors. They interfere with the body’s ability to properly function and maintain hormonal balance. This can have significant negative effects on hormone-sensitive organs such as the uterus and breast, as well as on the immune and neurological systems and human development.
Endocrine disruptors cause trouble via 3 possible mechanisms:
1. They mimic or partially mimic naturally occurring hormones, like estrogen, leading to estrogen dominance.
2. They block natural hormones from binding to cells they’re supposed to bind to.
3. They interfere with the way natural hormones or their receptors are made or controlled.
Endocrine disruptors most commonly impact the sex hormones. These disruptors in sex hormones can cause infertility, autoimmune disorders, PMS and PCOS in women, prostate cancer in men, and obesity. They can also cause sexual development defects, development delays, and learning disabilities in fetuses, babies and young children.
In the thyroid, endocrine disruptors can cause hypothyroidism, a condition where the thyroid gland produces too little thyroid hormone which leaves you with an underactive thyroid. Phthalates is an endocrine disruptor that is an exception to this since its known to cause hyperthyroidism, a condition where the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone which leaves you with an overactive thyroid. Some also may cause thyroid cancer. Disruption to the thyroid function in early development could be the cause of abnormal sexual development in both males and females and it may also affect learning ability and early motor development.
A big issue with endocrine disruptors nowadays is in pregnancy. If the mother is exposed to them, the fetus could be affected. Significant exposure in the womb, in infancy, and in early childhood may have lasting effects on birth weight, sexual development, immune system development, and mental capacity.
Xenoestrogens are a subcategory of EDCs that can impact hormonal balance. These chemicals act like estrogen (the female sex hormone) imposters in the body which leads to an increase in the total amount of estrogen, also called estrogen dominance. Xenoestrogens are stored in our fat cells and are linked to many conditions including PMS, infertility, endometriosis, early onset puberty, breast cancer, miscarriages and obesity.
Common Sources and Reducing Exposure
Understanding where endocrine disruptors hide in the everyday products we use, is essential when it comes to minimizing exposure. Here’s a list of common sources and tips to reduce exposure:
1. Personal care products
Many skincare and makeup products contain parabens and synthetic fragrances, acting as endocrine disruptors. It’s actually worse to put harmful products on our skin than it is to eat them. Our skin is our largest organ, and these products get absorbed quickly and they also bypass the liver detoxification system. Many personal care products contain ingredients that improve or speed up absorption which further exacerbates the problem. The worst toxins personal care products include parabens, phthalates, toluene, fragrances, artificial colors, antibacterial agents, sodium lauryl sulfates and polyethylene glycol. Check the labels of your personal care products and opt for toxic free products that don’t contain these endocrine disruptors.
Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates are chemicals that are commonly found in plastic bottles, tupperware and cutting boards that can leach into food and beverages. Plastic is a well-known xenoestrogen that you want to avoid as much as possible. Choose glass containers, stainless steel bottles, and wooden cutting boards to reduce exposure.
3. Feminine care products
The vagina and vulva have very thin tissue and a rich blood supply allowing products to be absorbed quickly into the system. Tampons in particular are in direct contact with the walls of the vagina for long periods of time. Tampons and sanitary pads contain fragrance, pesticide-soaked cotton, harsh adhesives, plastics, artificial colors and bleaches, and even petroleum-based foams. The bleaching agent used to make those products white, chlorine dioxide, leaves a toxic byproduct behind called dioxin. This is an endocrine disruptor that’s linked to increased cancer risk. Opt for organic, chlorine-free and unbleached options in feminine care products.
Pesticides sprayed on fruits and vegetables, as well as hormones and antibiotics in conventional meat and dairy products, are common endocrine disruptors. Choose organic and local fruits and vegetables and organic, grass-fed and hormone-free meat and dairy to reduce exposure.
5. Cleaning products
Many of the ingredients in these products are endocrine disruptors. The major chemical products to look out for in cleaning products are chlorine, amomonia (combined with chlorine produces a deadly gas), glycol ethers, triclosan and other antibacterial additives, fragrances such as phthalates and styrene which are petroleum-based products that act as xenoestrogens. Opt for toxic/chemical free alternatives that don’t contain these endocrine disruptors.
6. Kitchen products
Non-stick cookware and products like aluminium foil often contain per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), an endocrine disruptor. Choose stainless steel or cast-iron cookware as safer alternatives.
7. Fragranced/scented products
Many air fresheners, scented candles and other scented products contain synthetic fragrances that can act as endocrine disruptors. Opt for fragrance-free or use essential oils for a natural scent.
By being aware of these sources and making informed choices, you can significantly reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors and promote a healthier lifestyle. Check product labels and explore alternatives to make conscious decisions for your hormones and overall health.