Since officially determining that I have low progesterone levels (aka hormonal imbalances) I’ve been really interested in which environmental factors and toxins help contribute to hormone disruption. I think I’ve intuitively known all along that hormones were causing me issues, and I’m already pretty educated on the negative effects toxins have on our bodies, but after a conversation I had with my doctor about this, I decided to do some more digging/research and write a blog on it.
Also, if you ever want to know anything about “what is safe” or “what is toxic” for your body, HIGHLY recommend following and reading the various information put out into the world by the Environmental Working Group. They have research and documentation on nearly EVERYTHING that could cause potential harm to our bodies, from chemicals in makeup to foods to sunscreen. I appreciate everything about this organization and from what I can tell, the research is sound and unbiased.
Most of these toxins fall into a category commonly referred to as endocrine disruptors. What’s that mean? According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences:
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.
These can be either natural or man-made and include things like pharmaceuticals, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT and other pesticides, and plasticizers such as bisphenol A (commonly known as BPA) and can be found in common products like plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides. Endocrine disruptors mimic or partially mimic naturally occurring hormones in the body, including estrogens (the female sex hormone), androgens (the male sex hormone), and thyroid hormones, and can produce overstimulation.
So, what are some of the common household items, devices and environmental toxins that have a negative impact on hormone levels in females (estrogen and progesterone)?
Have you been noticing that a lot of brands are now marketing their products as “BPA free?” If not, then I challenge you to take notice the next time you’re at the store. This is because bisphenol A (BPA) is one of most hazardous and widely used chemicals in the world today. BPA is one of the fundamental building blocks of polycarbonate plastics that are commonly used for a wide variety of food and beverage storage — think canned foods on store shelves, plastic food storage containers, juice/milk cartons — anything that is plastic and that is used to store something in. Studies have shown that BPA can transfer to the food or drink source it comes in contact with and then leads to routine ingestion of BPA by most individuals.
What can you do to avoid BPA? A good solution is to read labels and look for cans/packaging that says “BPA free” or only buy foods that are stored in glass jars. At home, switch to glass containers (like Pyrex) for food and beverage storage. If you typically drink from single use plastic water bottles, those typically contain BPA, and a healthier (and more eco-friendly) alternative is to use a stainless steel reusable water bottle or a plastic bottle that is BPA free (like Nalgene, Kleen Kanteen, Contigo, Hydro Flask, CamelBak, etc.).
What are pesticides? Simply put, they’re synthetic (man-made) molecules that are intended to kill off certain fungi, plants and animals. The 3 most popular types of pesticides are fungicides, herbicides, and insecticides. And unfortunately, these chemicals are also HIGHLY toxic to humans and can cause a wide variety of health issues beyond hormone disruption. We lived in a log house growing up and I remember my dad would go around to spray Roundup along the perimeter of our house to kill weeds, and other pesticides to keep bugs/termites out, and every time he would come back really really sick , covered in a rash and light headed/nauseous.
Glyphosate is the active pesticide found in Monsanto’s Roundup, which is the most popular household pesticide that people use to kill grass, weeds and other things, but it’s also used by large scale agriculture/farming companies to keep crops alive. So yeah, that stuff ends up in our FOOD and we INGEST it. And that can throw your entire system — hormones included — out of whack. They can mess with your reproduction system for those wanting to conceive, and can also stunt growth and contribute to other developmental issues, including brain development. My doctor said he recently found out that Cheerios (and Quaker Oats) contained Roundup, which is quite honestly frightening. People feed that to their children. But Monsanto is too big to stop, and they’re in it for the profits, not the people.
How can you avoid pesticides? Simple answer is to buy organic fruits and veggies and to wash all product with a nontoxic fruit and veggie wash before eating. Trader Joe’s sells an affordable veggie wash, and we buy ours from Whole Foods. EWG also has a Produce Shopper’s Guide you can follow to make sure you select the safest fruits and veggies.
Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to soften and increase the flexibility of plastic and vinyl, so think cosmetics and personal care products, plastics and children’s toys, shower curtains, vinyl flooring, food packaging and wraps (plastic wrap), PVC pipes, adhesives, detergents, wallpaper, and even raincoats! Phthalates are very widespread, and are especially prevalent in women’s cosmetics/beauty products.
These chemicals can be consumed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin and studies have linked phthalates to hormone changes in estrogen and progesterone, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes, cancer and thyroid irregularities.
Two other chemicals that are similar to phthalates are parabens and sulfates which are commonly found in cosmetic products and worth mentioning here. Parabens are mostly used as preservatives and they mimic estrogen in the body and can therefore inhibit or alter natural estrogen production and create an imbalance in your body.
How can you avoid these chemicals? This is a tough one since it’s so widespread, but do your research and be mindful of the types of toys, plastics and cosmetics you are buying. Pacifiers have been known to contain phthalates, which is startling to think about. There are company’s out there that are making nontoxic toys for children, and plenty of cosmetic companies that are focused on delivering nontoxic beauty products. Some of my favorites that are vegan/cruelty, paraben, sulfate and phthalate free are Honeybee Gardens, Araza Beauty, Primally Pure, Alima Pure, andRMS Beauty. A ton of people also love Beautycounter, but it’s never really been my thing.
Lead is one heavy metal you do not want to mess with. I think as a society we’ve been aware of the negative effects of lead for a while, especially for children. But, even though we hear less about lead poisoning these days, it’s still out there and something you need to be mindful of. Lead affects nearly every organ in the body, and can cause loss of libido and fertility in men, and menstrual disturbances and spontaneous abortion in woman.
You’ve probably been warned by someone at one time or another when eating fish (sushi!) to be mindful about mercury poisoning. Mercury is a naturally occurring chemical element but is still highly toxic. Fish does not naturally contain mercury, what happens is that it gets released into the air and oceans through industrial coal burning. It can then contaminate seafood in the ocean that may eventually end up on your plate. Mercury tends to bind to one particular hormone that regulates women’s menstrual cycle and ovulation thereby interfering with normal signaling pathway. Basically, mercury makes your hormones function less effectively.
What can you do to limit your exposure to lead and mercury? Lead is commonly found in conventional paints and in your drinking water. It typically enters the water system through runoff from industrial plants. That’s why you should ALWAYS use a water filter vs. drinking straight from the tap, and should not keep old paint cans lying around, especially if you have children.
To avoid ingesting mercury, limit your seafood intake and be very wary of the food source, and ALWAYS eat wild caught fish. The more sustainable the process, the less chance there is of mercury contamination. There’s a company out there called Safe Catch (they were on Shark Tank) and they developed a special process for testing the mercury levels in fish, and they also sell canned fish (tuna, salmon, etc.) that passes their mercury test.
The next time someone tells you to get off your phone, listen to them! It’s easier said than done, I know. Our cellphones have become an extension of ourselves, and while we can debate the longterm effects of cellphones on our mental wellbeing and ability to connect on an emotional level, what we can’t debate is the fact that the magnetic field created by our mobile devices certainly has a negative effect on our bodies, especially female hormones and the reproductive system.
There was a study done on female rats a while back that found long-term exposure to electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones and Wi-Fi devices decreases plasma prolactin, progesterone, and estrogen levels and increases uterine oxidative stress in pregnant rats and their offspring.
There have also been numerous studies done on humans that show the electromagnetic fields created by our phones have a direct impact the human endocrine system, including our thyroid and hormone levels and lung, ovaries, prostate, heart, pancreas and inflammatory processes, like this study in Australia.
What can you do to limit your exposure? Try to keep your phone off your body when not using it, so instead of keeping it in your pocket, store it in a purse, bag, backpack, etc., don’t sleep with your phone by your head/under your pillow (keep it at least an arms length away) and use earphones when listening to music or talking on your phone. I used to tuck my phone into my sports bra when I was at the gym because I refused to buy wireless bluetooth headphones. That’s a bad idea on multiple levels. I finally got smart and got some bluetooth headphones. Aelec is the brand I have and they work great and are SUPER affordable — plus, they’re made specifically for sports performance.
Dioxins are environmental pollutants formed during many industrial processes when chlorine or bromine are burned in the presence of carbon and oxygen. These chemicals are highly toxic and they stick around for a really long time in the body because of their chemical stability and their ability to be absorbed by fat tissue, where they are then stored in the body. One of the main concerns around dioxins is that they can disrupt the ways that male and female sex hormones signaling occurs in the body. Dioxins typically end up in the human food chain, especially the animal food chain, and can be found in products like red meat, fish, milk, eggs and butter.
In fact, according to the World Health Organization:
More than 90% of human exposure to dioxins is through the food supply, mainly meat and dairy products, fish and shellfish
How can you avoid dioxins? Since this toxin is very much engrained in the food chain, it can be a challenge. One of the best ways is to shop for organic and wild caught meat and seafood, and to buy from locally sourced butchers and farmers that prioritize quality products. When you buy locally, you typically are buying from farm to table, meaning there’s very little intervention from outside sources, and no added chemicals or toxins because you skip the industrial manufacturing process.
You should also trim away fat in animal products or opt for leaner cuts since dioxin is largely built up in fat stores, including animals. Another option is to also limit or eliminate your consumption of those products, however, I personally do not advocate for long-term veganism.
Pretty scary stuff. The good news is that our body is constantly detoxifying itself and there are certain choices you can make in your every day life to limit your exposure to these hormone disrupting chemicals.
I think a follow up blog on supplements, herbs and natural remedies you can use to help balance your hormones might be coming in the near future…stay tuned!
If you want to read more about toxic substances to avoid, check out this Dirty Dozen list by the EWG. I chose to focus on the top toxins that specifically affect female hormones (estrogen and progesterone), but there are other endocrine disruptors out there that you might want to be aware of.