I simply would not be giving justice to the topic of detoxification if I didn’t also address the dangers of hormone disruptors.
Our bodies are run by a network of hormones and glands that regulate everything we do. Most often, we think about this system—the endocrine system—in the context of puberty, but it actually plays a major role in all phases of development, metabolism, and behavior.
Synthetic chemicals in products like plastics and fragrances can mimic hormones and interfere with or disrupt the delicate endocrine dance.
We are exposed to these chemicals daily. Out of the 85,000+ chemicals in use in the United States today, at least a thousand have been shown to tinker with our bodies delicate systems.
Children and pregnant women are most at risk. Even the tiniest exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals at key points of development could set in motion long-term neurological issues or even diseases later in life, like cancer.
What Are Hormone Disruptors?
Let’s take a step back for a moment and make sure we are all on the same page.
First off, what is an endocrine (hormone) disruptor?
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Science, endocrine disruptors are defined as “chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife”.
The damage is believed to be most severe during prenatal or early pregnancy exposure.
What is the endocrine system?
The endocrine system is made up of all the body’s different hormones and is responsible for regulating all biological processes in the body from conception through adulthood and into old age.
This includes the development of the brain and nervous system, the growth and function of the reproductive system, as well as the function of metabolism and blood sugar levels.
The endocrine system includes many different organs; ovaries, testes, pituitary gland, thyroid gland, adrenal glands, pineal gland, thymus, hypothalamus, parathyroid gland, and the pancreas.
In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report co-produced with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). This comprehensive report revealed a wide variety of health problems associated with exposure to pervasive endocrine disrupting chemicals including, cancer, ADHD, infertility, learning and memory difficulties, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Where Do They Come From?
With more than a thousand potential hormone disruptors out there, Environmental Working Group scientists created a list of the 12 most damaging and prominent endocrine disruptors to avoid. Let’s review the most common sources of these Dirty Dozen Chemicals.
- Personal Care Products: this includes body care products and cosmetics. They often contain the following hormone disruptors — phthalates, triclosan, glycol ethers
- Cleaning Products: most conventional cleaning products contain the hormone disrupting solvent, glycol ethers. These are also found in paint and brake fluid, in addition to many cosmetics.
- Drinking Water: the water supply is often contaminated with the following concerning chemicals — atrazine (toxic weedkiller), arsenic, and perchlorate
- Canned Foods: the biggest issue with canned food is the presence of BPA in the lining of the can. BPAs have been linked to increased risk for breast and prostate cancer, PCOS, early puberty, and infertility.
- Conventionally Grown Produce: pesticides are the problem here, which contain a class of chemicals known as organophosphates. The most commonly used and well known organophosphate is Round-Up. It has been linked to cancer (specifically Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma), miscarriages, infertility, food sensitivities, and even neuro-developmental issues like ADHD and Autism.
- Certain Seafood: mercury, a naturally occurring but toxic metal, gets into the air and oceans primarily through coal burning. Mercury binds to hormones and interferes with their proper functioning. Refer to the EWG Safe Seafood List to stick with seafood sources that are the least likely to have high levels of mercury.
- Non-Stick Cookware: PFCs are the concerning chemical present in non-stick cookware. They are also found on the inside of popcorn bags and fast food containers, as well as in stain and water resistant coatings on clothing, furniture, and carpet.
- Plastic: Plastic is everywhere and quite honestly quite hard to avoid; food containers, plastic wrap, bottles, toys, and vinyl. Plastics are a source of BPAs, PFAs, & PVCs; all of which are disrupting and toxic to our endocrine system.
You Can Limit Your Exposure
Now that you understand just how dangerous and pervasive these chemicals are, let’s talk about what you can do to decrease your exposure to them.
- Wash Your Hands Often: by washing your hands frequently (avoiding fragranced or anti-bacterial soaps) and before eating, you will be rinsing a substantial amount of chemical residue down the drain.
- Dust & Vacuum Regularly: many of the chemicals found in your house accumulate in the dust. By dusting often with a damp cloth and using a vacuum with a HEPA filter you’ll be trapping these chemicals and decreasing the amount you’re breathing in.
- Say No To Fragrance: the word fragrance on a label signifies a mix of potentially hundreds of chemicals. Choose fragrance-free creams, lotions, soaps, candles, cleaning products, and laundry detergent. Freshen your home by opening the windows, buying fresh flowers, emptying your trash can more often, and using baking soda in your fridge. Use pure essential oils to add fragrance or as a perfume.
- Limit Your Use of Plastic: this is a really hard one since plastic is literally everywhere. But you can take steps to limit your use of plastic. Swap plastic food containers with glass or stainless steel. Replace plastic baggies with reusable lunch bags and plastic cling wrap with beeswax coated cloth. Replace plastic toys with wood or cloth toys.
- Avoid Canned Food Whenever Possible: even BPA-free cans may be using an alternative that hasn’t yet been shown to be safe. Choose fresh, frozen, or dried (beans) foods instead.
- Buy Organic As Much As Possible: buy organic whole foods as much as you can afford to. Choose foods that are closer to how they are found in nature and minimally processed. If your budget is tight choose conventionally grown foods that have the least amount of pesticide residue.
- Filter Your Tap Water: using a filter can help remove most of the chemicals that may be present in your tap water. If you are concerned about the presence of perchlorate, have your water tested, and if it’s there then invest in a reverse osmosis filter. Filtering your tap water is much better than buying bottled water in plastic.
- Use Safer Cleaning Products & Body Care Products: replace your chemically laden products with safer alternatives. EWG has many helpful guides to help you choose safer products; Cosmetics, Sunscreens, Cleaning Products
- Skip The Non-Stick Pans: use enamel and cast iron cookware rather than non-stick. They work just as well and are just as easy to clean but without the presence of any dangerous chemicals.
Take Home Message
Research spanning the last 25 years implicates endocrine disruptors in many health problems, including male reproductive disorders, premature death, obesity, diabetes, neurological impacts, breast cancer, endometriosis, female reproductive disorders, immune disorders, liver cancer, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s symptoms, prostate cancer, and thyroid disorders.
Our current laws clearly are not working, and policies are needed to protect people from the harmful consequences of endocrine disrupting chemicals. Until Congress makes it illegal for companies to put such toxic ingredients in our products, it’s unfortunately up to us to do our best to avoid hormone-disrupting chemicals.
Here’s what you can do…
- Limit your exposure by keeping your home clean and free of mold, throw out toxic products and replace them with safer alternatives, filter your water and air if needed, avoid artificial fragrances.
- Support your body’s natural detoxification pathways by focusing on the foods, fluids, and lifestyle practices that will help the most.
Although it’s not realistic to think we can 100% control our exposure to toxic substances, we can definitely do A LOT to reduce our exposure & support our body so it can detoxify these chemicals and keep us healthy.
Never is this as important as it is with our children. They are our most vulnerable when it comes to these chemicals. Take steps to protect them by getting the above products out of your home and being especially diligent during pregnancy.
Remember, it takes years for diseases like cancer and autoimmune conditions to take hold. The cumulative effect of your exposure to these toxins greatly impacts your risk for these diseases. And we’ve ALL been exposed. But it’s not too late! Avoid what you can and support your body’s ability to eliminate what’s already there.