First the bad news. We're inescapably surrounded by chemicals that are basically identity thieves, pretending to be our hormones. They're called endocrine disruptors and they're seriously jeopardizing our health. So why does this matter? Because our hormones are essentially the script for all of our bodily functions. They're created by the endocrine system, which is like, the man behind the curtain, the one keeping the whole show running. If you thought hormones were something you left behind with puberty, think again. They control just about everything: hair growth, acne, hunger, fatigue, metabolism, mental health, libido, and fertility, to name a few.
So what's the issue with endocrine disruptors? The truth is they're incredibly harmful and they can be passed down from parents to children. To give you an idea of their impact here are some of their effects: diabetes, thyroid disorders, infertility, deformed sperm, cancer, delayed puberty, obesity, birth defects, immunosuppression, abnormal brain development...yeah the list goes on and on. This is not some crazy conspiracy theory, but facts confirmed by decades of scientific research.
Now for the good news. While we can't avoid endocrine disruptors entirely, there are a lot of easy steps we can take to greatly decrease our exposure. By choosing to build a few simple habits, we can significantly improve our life long health and even the health of our future children.
Here are the top 9 things you can start doing today to avoid the endocrine impostors and improve your natural hormone balance:
1. Ditch plastics
Most of us come into contact with some kind of plastic almost every day. Unfortunately, it usually contains Bisphenols (think BPA. If a plastic product says "BPA free" it usually has another type of Bisphenol which is just as bad). Switching from plastics to more durable, reusable products like glass, steel or silicone, is a great place to start. Also try to say no to receipts, since the thermal paper is coated with BPA. :-/ Another place BPA hides in plain sight is the lining of canned foods. Choose fresh or frozen instead if you're able to. Bonus, by using less plastic you'll be helping out the environment too!
2. Say no to pesticides in your food and drinks
Pesticides, insecticides, herbicides, fungicides... these chemicals are designed to stop the growth, fertility, and life of living things. So it's not surprising that they impact the health of humans and animals too. The pesticide atrazine has been shown to change the sex of exposed fish and frogs from male to female and intersex. Organophosphate pesticides were originally designed as a chemical weapon during WWII and are still regularly used on our produce. They interfere with testosterone and thyroid hormone. Switching to organic foods when possible is a great way to decrease your levels of these endocrine disruptors. If going all organic doesn't fit your budget, try going organic with just the "dirty dozen" fruits and veggies which have the highest pesticide residues. Considering growing a few of your own veggies, even in a planter on your deck. Don't forget these chemicals also end up in drinks such as tea and wine.
3. Update your pots and pans
I don't know about you, but I grew up eating food cooked on totally scratched up Teflon pans. My family members still use them all the time. Sadly using Teflon puts endocrine disruptors called PFCs and PFOAs permanently in our bodies and our environment. These chemicals impact sex and thyroid hormones and they will literally be around forever since they do not biodegrade. There's no better time than the present to invest in steel or cast iron cookware.
4. Filter your water
A massive source of our exposure to endocrine disruptors and lots of other drugs is the water supply. Whether you live in the city or the country, whether you drink tap water or well water, consider investing in a good water filter. Check out this database to see what type of filter fits you best.
5. Buy second hand
There are so many benefits to buying stuff second hand! Obviously, saving money is a big one. If you want a cast iron pan or a steel water bottle, the thrift store is a great place to look. Also, when you buy something that's been used, you decrease demand for the manufacturing of new products (a process which puts tons of endocrine disruptors in the environment). When it comes to furniture, clothes, and bedding, buying second hand can decrease your exposure to toxic fire retardants. These chemicals love masquerading as thyroid hormone and are linked to abnormal brain development. Don't forget to send stuff you no longer need to the thrift store to find a new life instead of throwing it away.
6. Update your beauty products
Two words, testicular death. Phthalates and glycol ethers, commonly found in perfumes, "fragrances" and makeup wreak havoc with hormones. These common endocrine disruptors can kill testicle cells, harm sperm, mess with sex and thyroid hormone levels and are linked to birth defects and diabetes. Take a look at your lotions and potions. Find safer makeup. Go fragrance-free.
7. Go natural with household cleaning
Again, shrunken testicles. Household cleaning products are also full of phthalates and glycol ethers. When you can, go natural with cleaning. Baking soda and vinegar go a long way! PS you really don't need that scented fabric softener or dryer sheets.
8. Update your menstrual care products (and stop douching!)
Since menstrual care products are considered "medical devices" they're not required to list their ingredients. Millions of us are putting these items in our most intimate parts every month and we have no idea what they're really made of. Many (or most) pads and tampons contain dioxins. Dioxins interfere with male and female hormones and they're carcinogenic. :( If you're using scented products (including douches), they'll also contain phthalates. The issue, particularly with tampons and douches, is that these toxins can be absorbed directly into the blood stream through the mucosal lining of the vagina. Consider getting organic tampons, washable pads, period panties, sea sponge tampons or a menstrual cup. (PS these are examples I found on google, not endorsements, so definitely do your research to find the best brand for you). Also moving on to sustainable products will cut back the crazy amount of wasteful packaging going into landfills. BTW, your vagina is awesome just the way it is! It is not supposed to smell like flowers! And douches can lead to yeast infections. If you really think your nether regions have a seriously bad smell, then you should see a health care provider.
9. Ditch hormonal birth control
If you've been thinking about saying goodbye to hormonal birth control (the pill, the patch, the ring, the shot, the stick, the Mirena IUD) here is some food for thought. Hormonal birth control is a purposefully designed endocrine disruptor. Its objective is to impair female fertility. Hormonal birth control does not contain estrogen and progesterone. In fact, it contains synthetic imitations called ethinyl estradiol and progestins, which are structurally very different from the sex hormones our bodies make. Unfortunately, these mimics impact much more than our fertility, they have far reaching effects throughout the body ranging from hair growth to digestion, from mood swings to blood clotting, to name a few. (Obviously for many people, the benefits outweigh the risks). By switching to a non-hormonal method (condoms, withdrawal, fertility awareness, diaphragm, copper IUD) you will be giving your endocrine system a chance to recover and restore its natural hormone balance. You'll also be helping out the environment by not sending your hormonal BC into the water and soil via your pee and used up devices. If you want to know more about the effects of hormonal BC I recommend this book. If you want a good layout of all your birth control options Bedsider is a great resource.
While you may hear the argument that any one of these sources of endocrine disruptors is "small" or at a "safe level," the inconvenient truth is that many of them accumulate in our bodies and our environment over time. While we can't avoid endocrine disruptors entirely, we can take small, significant steps to decrease our exposure. I hope you find a few ideas on this list that work for your lifestyle.
In good health,