It seems that every week, we hear of another toxin lurking around us that we should avoid. This barrage of bad news is an unfortunate consequence of the increase in research and education in the past decade, but the good news is the more we know, the safer we can be.
A newer member on the blacklist of toxins to avoid: endocrine disruptors, and for good reason.
We all have an endocrine system that includes the ovaries or testes, thyroid, adrenal glands, pituitary gland, and pancreas. Each of these organs produces hormones, which are then released into the bloodstream and used to regulate the nervous system, reproductive system, kidney function, homeostasis (the internal balance of body systems), our stress-response, and much more. In layman’s terms, the endocrine system controls communication throughout the body, keeping all of our body’s functions in check.
When we’re exposed to endocrine disruptors, they interfere with the body’s naturally-occuring (or endogenous) hormones, affecting all of the processes hormones regulate.
Some endocrine disruptors mimic hormones. In the body’s feedback loop, endocrine disruptors are recognized as naturally-occuring hormones and the body decreases production of the hormone, thinking there is already enough. The reverse can also happen: endocrine disruptors can bind to a hormone receptor and prevent endogenous hormones from binding. This causes the body to think there is not enough of a given hormone, leading to overproduction.
The most common endocrine disruptors are known as the dirty dozen, but the three you’re most likely to have heard of are Bisphenol A (BPA), Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), and dioxin. Unfortunately, it has proved difficult to study the impact of endocrine disruptors, in part because many people are exposed to several at once, making it difficult to pinpoint the effect of any single disruptor. However studies have shown negative effects in both lab animals and wildlife species.
Even in low doses, studies have demonstrated that endocrine disruptors can lower fertility, cause early puberty, and cause early reproductive senescence (the point at which reproduction slows). They can also speed up the progression of many diseases such as diabetes, endometriosis, autoimmune diseases, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and even mammary, ovarian, and prostate cancers. Reports state that endocrine disruptors may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are developing. Studies have also shown that the adverse effects of endocrine disruptors may be passed down from a mother to her children — and possibly to her children’s children — without the child ever having been exposed to the chemical.
Endocrine disruptors are, unfortunately, found in everyday sources, such as food packaging (especially plastics), pesticides, flame retardants, and cosmetics. Because they are so common, it may seem impossible to avoid exposure to endocrine disruptors, and it is indeed difficult to avoid them completely. However with a holistic approach to lifestyle and health, you can significantly lower your risk to their adverse effects.
As an added benefit, a lifestyle that avoids endocrine disruptors is also incredibly healthy and includes practices that are good for the environment.
In your diet, avoid exposure to pesticides by choosing organic produce, and avoid the disruptors in the lining of cans by buying fresh or frozen rather than canned. Avoid cans further by buying dried beans, in bulk if possible. Try not to consume food that’s packaged in plastic: avoid bottled water, store food in glass containers, and ditch the plastic wrap. If there’s an option to choose, say, pasta packaged in plastic versus in a cardboard box, choose what’s in the box.
Several years ago, BPA became infamous for its adverse effects. Many companies, specifically manufacturers of water bottles, started marking their products with a ‘BPA-free’ stamp. While this is progress, some companies replaced BPA with another endocrine disruptor that is less well known: BPS. If a product boasts being BPA-free, do a little research to be sure they haven’t swapped one disruptor for another. Or stay on the safe side and drink from a glass or aluminum bottle.
Eating a diet consisting mostly of plants and plant-based foods is healthy for a slew of reasons, and avoidance of endocrine disruptors is yet another one: dioxin builds up in animal products in your body.
With that said, we know a vegan diet isn’t healthy or realistic for everyone, so if and when you do consume animal products, try to choose pasture-raised meat and wild-caught fish. To go the extra mile, speak with local farmers at farmer’s markets to learn more about their practices. Buying local isn’t just good for your local economy: smaller farms and food companies are typically more transparent than large corporations, and therefore less likely to put their products in contact with nasty chemicals.
In the kitchen, avoid nonstick cookware: it contains perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). Avoid PFCs snuck into the lining of microwavable popcorn bags by making it on the stove instead. Avoid aerosol cans (another swap that’s beneficial both for you and for the environment).
Keep an eye on the ingredients of your beauty, personal care, and cleaning products. Many lotions contain “fragrance,” an ambiguous substance known to contain endocrine disruptors, and ironically, many cleaning products also contain toxins. Instead of buying a bottle of name-brand cleaning solution, mix one part vinegar, one part water, and a bit of castile soap in a spray bottle. You’ll find it works better than many of the commercialized cleaning sprays out there, and contains nothing that could harm you or your family. For clean cosmetics, we recommend the Beautycounter brand.
In general: Buy organic, eat clean, and simplify your products.
Dr. Sturm integrates both Western and Chinese Medicine treatment modalities to help her patients boost their immune system, detoxify their bodies and rebalance their endocrine system. She utilizes custom herbal formulas and functional supplementation to help patients regain hormonal balance and to detoxify a congested endocrine system.
We know it can feel overwhelming to discover that you’re surrounded by harmful chemicals, especially when you seem to read about a new one every week. But we have good news: making gradual changes like the ones listed above will keep you safe not only from endocrine disruptors, but from whatever new harmful substance may be trending next week or next year.
To learn more about endocrine disruptors and natural ways of keeping yourself well, make an appointment with Denver Holistic Medicine today.
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Written by Ali Weeks