Are Endocrine Disruptors Hurting Your Hormones?
Maybe you’ve heard the term “endocrine disruptors” or “endocrine disrupting compounds (EDC’s)” being thrown around (or maybe you haven’t, and that’s okay!), but understanding what endocrine disruptors are, what they mean for your health and how to avoid them is crucial to any woman or man wishing to have a healthy, balanced life. This is an important topic, and while it may sound complex, it’s actually quite simple – and I’m going to break it down for you.
Our hormones are constantly interacting with our genetics, our biology, and our experiences. Every bite we take, every thought we have, every move we make is a hormonal experience. At the same time, our hormones must all work in symphony with each other. When all is firing well, we have hormonal harmony. This is when we look good, we think clearly, and we feel amazing.
This harmony is constantly threatened by our environment and modern lifestyles. We are surrounded by compounds that interfere with the production, expression, conversion or detoxification of our hormones and the glands that produce them. These compounds are called Endocrine Disruptors.
What is the Endocrine System?
The endocrine system (aka “the hormone system”) is comprised of the Hypothalamus, the Pituitary Gland, the Pineal Gland, the Thyroid, the Parathyroid, the Adrenal Glands, the Pancreas, the Ovaries or Testes, and the Kidneys. The Endocrine System is responsible for secreting hormones into our bloodstream and regulating those hormones. Proper hormone balance is vital for metabolism, stress response, reproduction, blood sugar control, mood, and bone building and resorption.
Having a healthy endocrine system and balanced hormones is important for our health overall. When our hormones (such as cortisol, thyroid, insulin, and sex hormones) get out of whack, we start to see some health issues including adrenal dysfunction, hypothyroidism (along with Hashimoto’s), hyperthyroidism (including Grave’s Disease), pituitary malfunction, low (or non-existent) libido, diabetes, weight gain, and more. Our endocrine system is a workhorse, but a delicate one, and taking care of it is important. This means managing stress, eating right for your body and genetics, exercising regularly and limiting the toxins we put in, and on, our bodies!
What are Endocrine Disruptors?
You probably guessed it! Endocrine disruptors mess with or disrupt your hormones. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in humans. Many substances, both natural and man-made, are thought to cause endocrine disruption.
These are chemicals and toxins that we come in contact with Every Single Day. Pharmaceuticals – like the birth control pill (contrary to popular belief, oral contraceptives do not contain hormones, but rather they contain hormone disruptors – more on this in a future article), dioxin and dioxin-like compounds (environmental toxins), polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT and other pesticides, and components of plastic such as bisphenol A (BPA) are all examples of endocrine disruptors. These may be found in many everyday products – including plastic bottles, cash register receipts, that plastic lid on top of your Starbucks coffee cup, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food additives, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides.
How Endocrine Disrupting Compounds throw you off balance
Endocrine disruptors can:
- Mimic naturally occurring hormones in the body like estrogens (the female sex hormone), androgens (the male sex hormone), and thyroid hormones, potentially producing overstimulation.
- Bind to a receptor within a cell and block the endogenous (made in our bodies) hormone from binding. The normal signal then fails to occur and the body fails to respond properly.
- Interfere or block the way natural hormones or their receptors are made or controlled.
So, in simple terms: these substances can act like hormones in our body (but they aren’t our natural hormones!) or bind to cells like our hormones would. As a result, our body believes there are higher levels of hormones than necessary which can cause us to stop producing hormones, or make our organs and glands work overtime to correct the issue. Endocrine disrupting compounds can also interfere with the conversion, transport, and detoxification of our natural hormones. All of these things start to cause imbalances leading to some of the health issues listed above.
As a side note, many endocrine disruptors are toxic chemicals and can cause all sorts of health issues – not just hormone-related issues. These same chemicals can cause allergic, mast cell, or histamine, responses in the body, headaches, breathing problems, contribute to leaky gut, and more. Additionally, many of these chemicals are directly linked to cancer.
How to Avoid Endocrine Disrupting Compounds
Finding ways to avoid these disruptors is critical to better health and just safer living overall. Don’t forget that it’s not just what we eat or consume, but what we put on our bodies as well. Our skin is our largest organ, and it absorbs 60+% of whatever we put on it. That means that what we’re putting on bodies goes straight into our bloodstream. Hint: check your personal care products for endocrine disrupting compounds quickly and easily using the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database at ewg.org/skindeep. This is a great way to check out your own products or those you are planning to purchase to learn how toxic they may or may not be. I love this unbiased, constantly up-to-date resource.
It would be impossible to memorize all the big chemical names for the hormone wrecking compounds in our household and personal can products, and you don’t have to. Just a few of things you want to steer clear of are BPA, dioxin, atrazine, phthalates, parabens, perchlorate and lead. Avoiding these chemicals is critical for better health and healthier living. As a rule of thumb, choose natural, unscented, organic formulas that use essential oils.
7 Common Sources of Endocrine Disruptors
- Personal Care Products. I consider this category among the most important to begin replacing with safer alternatives. Remember that your skin absorbs 60+% of everything you put on it, and all those chemicals go straight to your bloodstream! Shampoo, conditioner, moisturizers, cosmetics, sunscreens, deodorant – any products you use on your skin are typically filled with all the chemicals you should be avoiding. I recommend finding a few product brands that you like and begin replacing your old products with new ones. Did you know that the last legislation concerning personal product regulation in this country was in 1938? Unbelievable, if you ask me. The European Union has banned the use of 1,400 ingredients in personal care products. In the United States, there are 11 ingredients banned. Yes, you read that right – 11. This statistic alone shows how important it is to understand what’s in your personal care products. A great way to check your products is to download EWG’s Healthy Living App. It allows you to scan in, or search, for products and gives them a score rating their safety.
- Plastics. This includes plastic containers and plastic wrap. Plastic is especially dangerous when heated, as the chemicals in plastic leech out into the food or liquid that is in the container. Avoid heating leftovers up in plastic containers or with plastic wrap. This also applies to bottled water that may have gotten warm. Choose glass or stainless steel containers for both food storage and water/liquids. Side note: while not plastic, non-stick cookware is dangerous for the same reasons (chemicals leech when heated, not to mention that if you scratch or chip the coating, that also goes into your food and you end up eating it), so choosing cast iron, stainless steel or ceramic cookware is best.
- Conventionally Grown Fruit and Vegetables. Pesticides, herbicides and industrial runoff are found in conventionally grown produce. Choosing organic when possible helps to ensure not only less exposure to toxins but more nutrient dense fruit and veggies as well. If budget is a concern, try to buy organic based on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen Buying organic frozen fruit and vegetables can be a budget saver as well. Also, don’t forget to shop your local farmers’ market for local, organic produce.
- Conventionally Farmed Meat, Poultry and Dairy. Regular meat, poultry, and dairy products contain antibiotics, hormones, and industrial chemicals. Choosing organic, grass-fed, and free-range products can greatly reduce your exposure to harmful toxins. If budget is an issue, check your local farmers’ markets or local farms for farmers that are committed to raising animals in a healthy way. Oftentimes, these farmers offer great prices for beef, poultry, pork, and dairy products.
- Canned Foods. Many food cans are lined with BPA, a well-known endocrine disruptor. Look for cans that are labeled BPA-Free, or avoid canned foods as much as possible. It is especially important to avoid canned tomatoes. The acid in the tomatoes causes the BPA, and other chemicals from the can, to leech directly into the tomatoes. To avoid this, choose the tomatoes packaged in boxes (they look similar to a box of chicken broth/stock).
- Water. Most of the water in our cities and towns is filled with chemicals. It’s important to drink filtered water whenever possible. There are a lot of affordable water filters on the market. We love the Berkey! Don’t forget to consider putting filters on your bath/shower. Remember that our skin absorbs chemicals, too, so standing in the shower for 15 minutes, or soaking in a tub, gives our skin plenty of time to absorb toxins from our water supply.
- Cleaning Products. Regular cleaning products are filled with toxic chemicals. Choose greener products, or consider making your own. White vinegar is one of the best cleaners, and it’s super cheap. The internet is filled with cleaning product recipes, and there are many safer brands on the market, as well. This also includes your laundry soap and dryer sheets – what’s on your clothes matters, too!
I know, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. I recommend starting with one category at a time and moving down the list. For those who want to take it one step further and detox from years of exposure to birth control, pharmaceutical drugs, plastics, personal care products, non-stick cookware, plastics and more – I invite you to join my 21 Day Metabolic Rehab and Hormone Makeover. This program can help jumpstart your metabolism and help clear out years of exposure to hormone wrecking chemicals