Hormone or “endocrine” (the fancy word for hormone) disruption is becoming a more commonly discussed topic. Obviously, I’m a fan of pursuing health, so it’s cool to see people get hyped about wanting to upgrade their health.
But…BUT…I see people go NUTS on this particular topic. They start throwing out their cleaners, refusing takeout from plastic containers…Honestly, when you start reading the literature on a few of these guys, it’s hard not to go a little DEFCON. But wrestling with this topic and others like it consistently lead me to the question:
Are these elements truly endangering our health? Or could it be more dangerous to believe we are so fragile, that we can’t handle them at all?
I think the key here is to approach these topics with curiosity, with a desire to mitigate negative influences where we can, rather than attributing our entire health or wellbeing on them. For someone struggling with liver clearance or thyroid issues for example – cleaning up environmental chemicals may be a great move. But everyone is different and this means everyone has different thresholds. Personally? I believe if I have the ability to avoid EXCESS exposure to some of these elements while developing resiliency in moderate amounts…and I can take steps to upgrade my practices over time without stressing over any of it…why wouldn’t I?
My aim is to present some information today and suggest some simple actions to bring us middle of the road. As a coach, discussing these topics without being dogmatic is tricky. As a coach speaking to an unknown audience…a nightmare. So, to provide extra clarity, this post is written for you if:
- You enjoy finding ways to upgrade your health without being a psychopath
- You’re not sure if your detoxification systems – liver, GI, kidneys, skin – function optimally (perhaps you experience some occasional skin problems, gut issues or PMS)
- You’re curious how to make simple swaps to “clean up” your act
Let’s establish WHAT hormone disrupters are. Endocrine simply refers back to our endocrine system – which is the collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep, and mood (aka a ton of super important things lol). In fact, the endocrine system affects almost every organ and cell in the body. But what does it mean to “disrupt” our endocrine system and what has the ability to impact us like that?
Well, we’re discovering that many synthetic chemicals in products like plastics and fragrances can mimic hormones and interfere with or disrupt the endocrine communications. Since we’re exposed to these chemicals daily (and especially vulnerable in utero and throughout childhood) it makes sense that people may freak out a bit. A number of these chemicals have also been classified as obesogens, act at low doses (daily life), and include pesticides, herbicides, plastics, detergents, flame retardants, personal care products, etc. Among other things, obesogens increase the number of adipocytes, increase ability to store fat, module hormones, that regulate appetite, satiety, and energy metabolism.
Remember what I said about going DEFCON? Take a breath, you’re ok I promise. Let’s arm ourselves with a little bit more knowledge then we can wrap this up with some easy action items.
SOME COMMON CULPRITS (AND WHAT THE LITERATURE SAYS)
- Bisphenol A (BPA): This chemical is found in many products, including canned foods, plastics, and dental sealants, and is similar in structure to the hormone estrogen. Studies have linked BPA exposure with many health problems, including obesity, early puberty and miscarriage.
- Phytoestrogens: Found in soy and other foods. In animals, the intake of phytoestrogens was reported to impact fertility, sexual development and behavior. Studies are still inconclusive – if you’re not menopausal or have great or colon cancer, miiiight want to avoid.
- Phthalates: Found in plastics, food packaging, cosmetics, cleaning agents. If a product has “fragrance” or “perfume” it probably has phthalates. Globally, studies showed that over a dozen phthalates and their metabolites ingested passively by man from the general environment, foods, drinks, breathing air, and routine household products cause various dysfunctions. This review addresses the health hazards posed by phthalates on children and adolescents, epigenetic modulation, reproductive toxicity in women and men; insulin resistance and type II diabetes; overweight and obesity, skeletal anomalies, allergy and asthma, cancer, etc., coupled with the description of major phthalates and their general uses.
- Perchlorate: Some recent studies have reported significant associations between urinary perchlorate concentrations, thyroid dysfunction, and decreased infant IQ in groups who would be particularly susceptible to perchlorate effects. Perchlorate is a competitive inhibitor of iodine uptake, and too much perchlorate can affect the ability of the thyroid gland to make hormones. Although it is hard to avoid perchlorate in food, people can reduce the effects of the chemical by making sure to consume enough iodine in the diet (cod, tuna, seaweed, shrimp, some fruits and vegetables depending on the soil where they grew and iodized salt).
- Fire retardants: Called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are very persistent in the environment. While the mechanisms of PBDE neurotoxicity in humans are still not clearly elucidated, findings from this review indicate that PBDE exposure during fetal development is associated with impairments in executive function and poorer attentional control in children. They can disrupt thyroid activity, and have been linked to health effects such as lower IQ, according to EWG.
- Lead: Exposure to lead produces various deleterious effects on the hematopoietic, renal, reproductive and central nervous system, mainly through increased oxidative stress. There is almost no function in the human body which is not affected by lead toxicity. These alterations play a prominent role in disease manifestations.
- Mercury: Mercury exists naturally and as a man-made contaminant. Mercury has profound cellular, cardiovascular, hematological, pulmonary, renal, immunological, neurological, endocrine, reproductive, and embryonic toxicological effects.
- Pesticides: Found in food, water, soil. A huge body of evidence exists on the possible role of pesticide exposures in the elevated incidence of human diseases such as cancers, Alzheimer, Parkinson, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, asthma, bronchitis, infertility, birth defects, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, diabetes, and obesity. Most of the disorders are induced by insecticides and herbicides most notably organophosphorus, organochlorines, phenoxyacetic acids, and triazine compounds.
- UV filters: Found in sunscreens, cosmetics. Exposure to UV filters induce various endocrine disrupting effects, as revealed by increasing number of toxicological studies performed in recent years
- Parabens: Preservatives (ingredients which inhibit growth of microorganisms including parabens) are used to prolong shelf life of various foods, cosmetics, and pharmaceutical products. Parabens are easily absorbed by the human body. In view of the current literature, which classifies parabens as a group of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), it seems that the precise assessment of their influence on the human endocrine system is particularly important. Disruption of the endocrine homoeostasis might lead to multidirectional implications causing disruption of fitness and functions of the body.
Now that we’re all freaking out (seriously, don’t), let’s make some easy changes.. Remember: you’re not fragile, just trying to upgrade your game.
APPLYING THE LOW HANGING FRUIT
- READ LABELS: Simply knowing what you’re exposed to on a regular basis can be enlightening as heck (remember, it’s nothing to freak out about, simply be aware of and change as you like)
- FILTERED WATER: Real talk, bottled water does kinda suck. The industry is barely regulated which means we tend to pay a premium for crap quality. Plus it’s a big bummer for our environment and you never know how long that plastic has been exposed to temps that can compromise the integrity of the plastic (aka bleed into the water). Tap water is arguably better than bottled water but depending where you live, ehhh. It can contain a bevy of its own potential hormone disruptors, including residue from birth control pills (awkward 😬). Investing in a reverse osmosis filter, CBG unit, or at least a standard fridge filter is definitely a good step.
- INSULATED WATER BOTTLE: I mean these things are so damn pretty these days, why wouldn’t you want one? Keep your water fresh throughout the day, save the worllllld and stay hydrated (because you’re *probably* not drinking enough anyway amirite?).
- PERSONAL PRODUCTS: The Environmental Working Group has a nifty database where you can search your personal products and see how they rank on an A-F score. Try swapping out gradually, as you run out of what you currently have. I’ve found that the more I graduate to simpler products, the less I seem to need (and I’ve been a sweatyyyyy gal my whole life).
- GLASS TUPPERWARE: You can’t eliminate all plastic, but you can take some easy steps to reduce your use. Swap plastic food storage containers with glass or stainless steel. If you do keep plastic ones, don’t use them to store fatty foods, and try not to microwave them.
- AVOID FRAGRANCES: If you’ve noticed some sensitivity to scents (how’s that for alliteration), try avoiding “fragrances” as listed on ingredients, particularly in detergents or products that touch your skin. Legally, “fragrances” can mean up to 300+ different chemicals. Heck, give your essential oil friend a sale (lemongrass + lavender is my favvv).
- EAT ORGANIC: Yeah, yeah still a debated topic *eyeroll.* Don’t @ me with “organic is expensive!” or “this study showed no difference between organic and conventional blah blah.” Remember who this post is for? If you’re interested in making the simple upgrades OR if you might have some detox issues, you may want to buy organic because of what’s NOT present on those veggies..
Damn guys, you made it through. That was a heavy one, I know. I would love to address any questions or feedback this one brought up for you, so don’t hesitate to reach out. In the meantime, go forth and BE ANTI-FRAGILE.