Our hormones are finely tuned and can be put out of balance easily and in many ways. When we are trying to balance our hormones, it is important to eat well, avoid sugars, caffeine and alcohol and to try to identify areas of stress in our lives that may be affecting them.
An important part of balancing our hormones is avoiding environmental chemicals called xenoestrogens.
What are Xenoestrogens?
Xenoestrogens are oestrogen-like chemicals found in plastics, some chemicals and pesticides that can affect hormone balance. Xenoestrogens can play havoc with our endocrine system (the system that controls our hormones). Being exposed to chemical oestrogens is something that should be avoided if at all possible. Xenoestrogens can be up to 1000 times more powerful than natural oestrogen. The greater our exposure, the greater the effect on our endocrine system. They are stored in our fat cells, so if you are overweight, you will accumulate more.
What do they do?
Endocrine disruptors are things that change our normal function of hormones. Normally, our endocrine system releases hormones that tell different tissues what to do. When outside chemicals get into our bodies, they mimic our natural hormones and block or bind to our hormone receptors. Certain organs are especially sensitive to them such as a woman's breasts and uterus and our immune and neurological systems. They can also affect the development of a foetus in the womb.
Oestrogen is an important hormone of both men and women. It is needed for bone growth, blood clotting and reproduction. Normally, the body regulates the amount of oestrogen needed through intricate biochemical pathways. When environmental xenoestrogens enter the body, they increase the total amount of oestrogen, resulting in oestrogen dominance.
This build up of excess oestrogen has been linked to many conditions including breast, prostate and testicular cancer, obesity, infertility, endometriosis, early onset puberty, miscarriages, thyroid disorders and diabetes.
These chemicals are so strong that there is evidence that certain fish in the wild that have been exposed to them have even changed gender.
Where are xenoestrogens found?
Unfortunately, in our modern world they are everywhere, but there are things you can do to limit your exposure.
These man-made chemicals are found primarily in:
Weed killer, pesticides, insecticides and herbicides.
Unfortunately, glyphosate - a widely used weed killer can be found in tampons and conventional food.
Personal care products - shampoo, body wash, deodorant, moisturiser etc
Nail polish and nail polish remover
Birth control pills
Air and dust
Artificial food dyes
Photocopiers and printers
Other endocrine toxins to avoid
Obesogens - like the name infers, these nasty little things are chemicals that cause insulin resistance and weight gain. They include pesticides, BPA and Phthalates. They can be found in cosmetics, moisturisers, nail polish and hairspray.
PFAS and PCBs and Dioxins - these accumulate in ground water, soil and food grown in contaminated soils.
Ways to reduce your exposure to xenoestrogens
A good idea is to look at the list and think about which ones you use more often. Usually it is personal body care products, cleaning/ washing products, food and water that people tackle first.
Before you read on, you need to understand that what you put on your skin - ends up inside your body.
Makeup and personal care
Just because you want to be healthier and avoid these chemicals, it doesn't mean you have to give up on lovely beauty products or makeup. There's loads of greener, more natural brands that you could swap to. Spend some time researching natural, organic toiletries and cosmetics. Some brands you could look at are -green people, tropics, faith in nature, lily and lilo and many more. You can find a list of less toxic makeup suppliers here. .
Swap your deodorant
Your deodorant is applied right next to your breast tissue in both men and women. Not only this but it is on top of lymphatic tissue. Deodorants commonly not only contain xenoestrogens but also aluminium. Aluminium exposure has been linked to neurological conditions such as Alzheimer`s amongst other serious conditions. Aluminium free deodorant is an absolute MUST. Some are better than others so experiment with different brands. There are some examples of natural deodorants here
The chemicals in perfumes are associated with endocrine disruption, respiratory problems, asthma, dermatitis and headaches. If you can`t find a more natural alternative, save you perfume for special occasions rather than wearing it daily.
Natural cleaning products.
Cleaning products not only expose you to nasty chemicals but they also have a negative effect on your immune system. We need to exist alongside bacteria to ensure our immune system is healthy. There are many brands of more natural cleaning products out there. Some well-known ones are faith in nature and ecover who use plant based solutions in their products. You can also find out how to make your own very effective products using lemon, vinegar and baking soda from tutorials on the web. Good old fashioned steam is second to none for keeping your house clean so steamers are a great addition to the home. Some examples of suppliers can be found here
Get a water filter
Tap water has been treated with chemicals that disrupt our endocrine systems and digestive health. The water can also be contaminated with other peoples medications, beauty products or cleaning products. A filter can help limit your exposure. Your filter should be an activated carbon water filter and should be able to remove chlorine from your drinking water. If you want to splash out, get one that removes flouride and other micro contaminants also. I use a Berkey, which is brilliant.
Say goodbye to non-stick pans
Teflon cookware contains PTFE and PFOA - two carcinogenic substances. These have even been found in human breast milk. They leach into our food as we are cooking and we ultimately eat them. Stick to stainless steel or ceramic. Some greener pans can be found here
Ditch the plastic food containers, and never warm food in them.
One of the main chemicals that are damaging in plastics is BPA, a known endocrine disruptor. Many companies have made their plastic products BPA free but unfortunately, the evidence is showing that these alternatives are just as damaging. Glass containers are great. You can put your food in them, freeze them and use in the oven.
Avoid plastic food wrap
For the same reasons as plastic containers. Fatty foods such as cheese and meats absorb the plastic chemicals especially. If you buy foods wrapped in plastic, remove it when you get home and give it a good wash if possible.
Choose organic food
Non-organic food is sprayed heavily with pesticides, insecticides and herbicides. These all affect our hormone health and increase the risk of cancer. Studies have shown that organic produce has more antioxidants that help fight the damage that has been done to our bodies and can reduce cancer risk. The environmental working group has published a “dirty dozen” list of 12 foods that are the worst culprits for chemical load. You could start by swapping your dirty dozen products. They also have published a “clean 15” list that tells you the least chemically loaded that you don't need to swap in terms of importance.
Swap tampons and pads to alternatives
Intimate care products are one of the most heavily treated. One of the common chemicals found in them is dioxin, a known endocrine disruptor. The average woman who menstruates for five days a month for 38 years will use approximately 11,400 tampons. The vaginal wall is only one cell thick so these chemicals go straight into the bloodstream. That`s direct contact to the chemicals for 2,200 days. There are many organic brands out there. You can experiment with organic pads and tampons or make the swap to more sustainable products like moon cups or period pants and help the environment at the same time. Many women find that when they make the swap to a moon cup or period pants their flow lessens over the course of a few months - a direct effect of eliminating the chemicals from conventional pads and tampons.
Make sure you are having bowel movements everyday.
Daily elimination by way of bowel movements, allows us to excrete harmful and damaging waste, including excess oestrogen. Increase your fibre intake through eating plenty of wholegrains, fruit and vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables. Fibre can help eliminate xenoestrogens.
Include plenty of foods containing phytoestrogens
Phytoestrogens are compounds found naturally in plants. These can help block the effects of xenoestrogens. They are found in flax seeds,soybeans and edamame, dried fruits, sesame seeds, garlic, peaches, berries, tofu, cruciferous veg, tempeh and legumes.
Try to reduce your exposure to chemicals used in farming or building materials and avoid any unnecessary products such as scented candles (unless natural versions), air fresheners, dryer sheets, stain repellents, carpet cleaners or car air fresheners. Try to avoid bringing toxic residue into your house by removing your shoes at the door, regularly dusting and replacing carpets with hard floors that can be cleaned more easily.
One of the best resources for learning more about this topic is the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organisation that update and publish new research about environmental toxins in food, cosmetics and household products.
Thrive Clinical Nutrition and Naturopathic Health Eve Morley N.T Society of Naturopaths AMNNA FNTP NFPTA