Our endocrine system is a collection of tissues and organs that produce many different hormones- the chemical messengers that the body uses to communicate. It is through these signals that the body regulates many of its functions like fertility, metabolism, blood pressure, blood sugar and more.
Endocrine disruptors are a class of toxins that alter the normal function of hormones. Basically, when certain chemicals from our environment get into our bodies, they have the ability to mimic our natural hormones; blocking or binding to hormone receptors. This disrupts signaling to various tissues, making these toxins particularly detrimental to hormone sensitive organs like the uterus, breast, and prostate, as well as to human development. Specific chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors are BPA, PCBs, Parabens, Phthalates, Triclosan and DDT.
“Xenoestrogen” is a term used for hormone disruptors that have estrogen-like effects. The human body naturally produces estrogen, which is responsible in part for bone growth, reproduction in both men and women, and blood clotting among other things. When xenoestrogens enter the body they increase the total amount of estrogen, resulting in a phenomenon called estrogen dominance. A build up of xenoestrogens and resulting estrogen dominance have been implicated in many conditions including breast cancer, obesity, infertility, endometriosis, early onset puberty, miscarriages and diabetes.
BPA is an example of a xenoestrogen, and can be found in plastic water bottles or Tupperware. Other sources of xenoestrogens include fruits and vegetables sprayed with pesticides and insecticides, cosmetics and personal care products, perfumes, food preservatives, detergents, dyes, adhesives, and even birth control. Luckily, there’s something you can do about it -switching to safe alternatives can minimize your intake of these toxins.
Here’s how you can reduce your exposure:
- Buy organic when possible, and at least try to focus on the dirty dozen (Check Environmental Working Group site for the list of dirty dozen and clean fifteen)
- Wash your fruits and vegetables thoroughly. Consider peeling those that are either non-organic or that are on the dirty dozen list (or both)
- Buy hormone-free meats and dairy products
- Do not microwave food in plastic containers
- Use glass or ceramic whenever possible to store food
- Switch to a re-usable glass water bottle and ditch the plastic bottled water
- Beauty and Personal Care Products
- Avoid creams and cosmetics that have toxic ingredients such as parabens and phthalates. Instead opt for natural alternatives- some of my favourites are: Consonant Skincare, Pure & Simple, Eminence Organics (and even coconut oil)
- Use naturally based fragrances, such as essential oils
- Use organic cotton, unbleached tampons and menstrual pads (conventional sanitary products are made from genetically-modified cotton sprayed with pesticides that you definitely don’t want near sensitive areas)
- Switch deodorant and hands soaps to toxin free alternatives that don’t contain Triclosan (an anti-microbial and preservative agent that affects thyroid hormone signalling)
- Household Products
- Switch cleaning supplies since they often contain harsh chemical ingredients and synthetic fragrances. Instead try eco-friendly, non-toxic alternatives (e.g. Seventh Generation, Mrs. Meyer’s, Dr. Bronner’s and Nature Clean)
- Avoid chemical air fresheners and instead use essential oils, fresh flowers and plants or pot pourri
- In the kitchen use cast iron and stainless steel cookware instead of non-stick cookware
- At the office
- Be aware of chemicals from copiers and printers that emit harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
- Brighten your workspace with some plants to help clean the air (inexpensive and efficient)
- If you come into contact with dust, fibers, chemical fumes, radiation, or biologic agents on your job, wear personal protective equipment (such as gloves, masks, coveralls and respirators)