Many people may not think too deeply about the effects of using chemically-laden cosmetics, eating non-organic foods or storing food and drinks in plastic containers. Unfortunately, many everyday household items and foods contain chemicals that are known to disrupt the natural hormone balance in the body. Xenoestrogens are found both naturally in some foods (called phytoestrogens) and as synthetic compounds in everyday products. These chemicals imitate the effects of natural estrogen in the body. This can cause a number of problems ranging from early-onset puberty (in girls), late puberty (in boys), infertility, cancer and even recurrent miscarriages.
Why are Xenoestrogens Bad Anyway?
Xenoestrogens are dangerous because they are a type of chemical known as an endocrine disruptor, which has the ability to bind to hormone receptor sites in the body and negatively affect the very delicate balance of reproductive hormones that control puberty, fertility, and menstruation (in women). Xenoestrogens, in particular, can cause a state of estrogen dominance, due to the liver’s inability to breakdown these toxic chemicals, resulting in high tissue concentrations of estrogen. High levels of xenoestrogens have been linked by multiple research studies to estrogen-dependent breast cancer as well as other cancers of the reproductive system, lung, kidney, and brain.
Household Products to Avoid
Most of us have heard of BPA (short for bisphenol A) as something to avoid, hence all the “BPA-free” labeling on plastics. Buying BPA-free plastic, however, is a mere baby step in avoiding endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Plastics contain numerous other xenoestrogen chemicals such as BPS, so avoiding plastic when possible is key. Other xenoestrogens include butyl benzyl phthalate (found in numerous cosmetics), 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC, found in sunscreen) and parabens (methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben, commonly used as preservatives in cosmetics). You may wonder why there are so many dangerous chemicals in American beauty care products – the short answer is a serious lack of safety oversight by the FDA on the American cosmetics industry.
Choose Safe Cosmetic Products Without Xenoestrogens
Start by losing everything in your bathroom with phthalates and parabens on the label. This could well be every single product you own. Start with replacing one product at a time, if replacing all your personal care items at once feels daunting. Products that go into your mouth or on your scalp are particularly prone to absorption by the body, so you may want to start with haircare items and toothpaste. Health food stores and local/online boutiques carry many lines of natural cosmetics that do not include any endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and they will advertise as such.
How to Ditch the Plastic
Plastic is responsible for many negative health and environmental issues. It’s important to begin phasing plastics out of your life, particularly containers used to store food or beverages. Heating and freezing make plastics particularly prone to leaching toxic chemicals into your food. Look for glass, silicone or metal leftover containers and water bottles. Unfortunately, take-out and fast food containers, microwave popcorn bags, non-stick to-go containers, and non-stick cookware all contain xenoestrogens as well. It’s a good idea to bring your own to-go containers to restaurants, start air-popping your popcorn and swap all those Teflon pots and pans for stainless steel or cast iron.
Avoiding Xenoestrogens – Ladies Only
Unfortunately, while the effects of xenoestrogens are bad for the guys, they are many times worse for women. One reason may be that women are more heavily exposed because of everyday use of cosmetics. Another reason may be that hormonal birth control methods as well as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) all come with the negative effects of estrogen dominance, including increased risk of cardiovascular disease and reproductive cancers. Non-hormonal birth control options are a must for anyone suffering from excess estrogen-related disorders or diseases. Another factor for women to consider is the presence of xenoestrogens in menstrual products such as sanitary pads and tampons. These are often made from bleached cotton and contain dioxins, a known endocrine-disruptor, as well as pesticides like glyphosate. Consider making the switch to washable pads, a moon cup or period panties.
Xenoestrogens in Food
Believe it or not, industrially raised dairy and meat tend to have a lot of xenoestrogens, as they are often given exogenous hormones. Avoiding all non-organic meat and dairy is very important for reducing xenoestrogens. Depending on your age, gender and level of estrogen imbalance, it may also be a good idea to limit naturally estrogenic foods, particularly soy, as they can also increase total estrogen levels in the body. Hops (found in beer) as well as marijuana are plants with high levels of phytoestrogen, which have been shown to cause hormonal imbalances, particularly when used in large quantities.
More Tips to Avoiding Xenoestrogens
Synthetic pesticides and insecticides also contain xenoestrogens, so eating organic really is the best way to avoid endocrine-disrupting chemicals in your food. You may also consider removing any foods or substances (think alcohol, sugar and food allergies) that bog down the liver and prevent it from flushing excess estrogen. Estrogen dominance can be brought back into balance naturally, but not until xenoestrogens are limited or removed from the diet and environment.
Amy Myszko is a Certified Clinical Herbalist and has been practicing herbalism and nutrition since 2007. She recently graduated with a master’s degree in Lactation and is pursuing a career as a Holistic Lactation Therapist.