13 Hormone-Altering Chemicals and How to Avoid Them
- Oct 5, 2022
- Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Xenoestrogens are a class of chemicals that mimic the action of estrogen produced in cells and can alter hormonal activity. Unbeknownst to many, xenoestrogens are the #1 health concern in America at this time, and there are many ways they do their dirty deeds.
How Xenoestrogens Alter Hormones
- Increase production of certain hormones
- Decrease production of certain hormones
- Imitate hormones
- Can turn one hormone into another
- Interfere with hormone signaling
- Tells cells to die prematurely
- Compete with essential nutrients
- Bind to essential hormones
- Accumulate in organs that produce hormones
These effects are drastic, especially when they affect the fragile bodies of our kiddos. I will do anything in my control to minimize my own and my family's exposure to them!
We are in a time when our kids are exposed to far more toxins than ever before and they seem to eat far less nutrients than other generations! There are numerous reasons why toxins are especially harmful for our little humans.
13 of the worst hormone disruptors, how they damage health, and tips on how to avoid them
Bisphenol A is a xenoestrogen used to harden plastics. This synthetic hormone imitates the sex hormone estrogen, and the body believes it! Sadly, the results aren’t pretty. BPA has been linked to everything from breast cancer, and others cancers, to reproductive problems, obesity, early puberty and heart disease. According to government tests, 93 percent of Americans have BPA in their bodies!
How to avoid BPA?
- Go fresh instead of canned – many food cans are lined with BPA. Consider buying foods in glass jars, tetra pak containers, or frozen food instead. Some companies have already started using BPA-free alternatives in the lining of their cans. Unfortunately, most companies aren't disclosing what they're using instead of BPA and we don't know which replacements are safe.
- Say no to cash register receipts, since thermal paper is often coated with BPA.
- Avoid plastics marked with a “PC,” for polycarbonate, or recycling label #3 or #7. Not all of these plastics contain BPA, but many do – and it’s better safe than sorry when it comes to keeping synthetic hormones out of your body.
- Avoid drinking from plastic water bottles and don’t refill plastic water bottles. Also, if a plastic water bottle has heated up in the sun, throw it away—do not drink the water because the rate which chemicals leach into the water increase with heat. Drinking from stainless steel or glass bottles are a safer alternative to a plastic bottle.
- Do not store or heat your food or drinks in plastic containers. Instead, use glass, silicon, porcelain, or stainless steel containers.
- Avoid plastic dental sealants and fillings for you and your kids. They contain BPA. I always ask my dentist about alternative filling options, and there is a glass option available.
- There's research showing certain probiotics can support detoxification of BPA.
Dioxins are multi-taskers… but not in a good way! Dioxins are mainly by-products of industrial processes but can also result from natural processes, such as volcanic eruptions and forest fires. Dioxins are unwanted by-products of a wide range of manufacturing processes including smelting, chlorine bleaching of paper pulp and the manufacturing of some herbicides and pesticides. In terms of dioxin release into the environment, uncontrolled waste incinerators (solid waste and hospital waste) are often the worst culprits, due to incomplete burning. They are highly persistent organic pollutants (POPs), meaning they take a long time to break down once they're in the environment, which increases our chances of being exposed. Once exposed, they build up in the body in fatty tissues and wreck havoc on our health.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), "dioxins are highly toxic and can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and can interfere with hormones." Dioxins ability to disrupt the delicate ways both male and female sex hormone signaling occurs in the body is a bad thing! Here’s why: Recent research has shown exposure to low levels of dioxin in the womb and early in life can both permanently affect sperm quality and lower the sperm count in men during their prime reproductive years.
How to avoid Dioxins?
- That’s pretty difficult, since the ongoing industrial release of dioxin has meant the American food supply is widely contaminated. They accumulate in the food chain, mainly in the fatty tissue of animals.
- More than 90% of human exposure is mainly through meat and dairy products, fish and shellfish, and you can cut down on your exposure by eating fewer animal products.
What happens when you introduce highly toxic chemicals into nature and turn your back? For one thing, feminization of male frogs. That’s right, researchers have found exposure to even low levels of the herbicide atrazine can turn male frogs into females that produce completely viable eggs. Atrazine is widely used on the majority of corn crops in the United States, and consequently it’s a pervasive drinking water contaminant. Atrazine has been linked to breast tumors, delayed puberty and prostate inflammation in animals, and some research has linked it to prostate cancer in people.
How to avoid Atrazine?
- Buy organic produce. Especially shop organic with the produce that falls high on the Dirty Dozen list which can help you find the fruits and vegetables with the fewest pesticide residues.
- Get a drinking water filter certified to remove atrazine. Check out EWG’s water filter buying guide.
Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible or resilient. Here's a big list of places where phthalates are found. There is a specific signal in our bodies that program cells to die. It’s totally normal and healthy for 50 billion cells in your body to die every day! But studies have shown phthalates can trigger what’s known as “death-inducing signaling” in testicular cells, making them die earlier than they should. Yep, that’s cell death – in your man parts. If that’s not enough, studies have linked phthalates to hormone changes, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes and thyroid irregularities.
How to avoid Phthalates?
- Examine the ingredients in the products you use on a daily basis. Look for “BPA free,” “Phthalate free,” and “Paraben free” on products you purchase.
- Avoid plastic food containers. See "BPA" section above to learn more about limiting and eliminating plastic.
- Don't purchase children’s toys and items, such as plastic/squishy toys, infant chew rings and teethers. Some phthalates are already banned in kid’s products, but not all, and infants are particularly prone to the negative effects of these chemicals.
- Some personal care products also contain phthalates, so read the labels and avoid products that simply list added “fragrance,” since this catch-all term sometimes means hidden phthalates.
- Phthalates are found in detergents, so use chemical free, biodegradable laundry and household cleaning products whenever possible.
Parabens are so prevalant they're known as the BPA of the beauty industry. They are commonly used as an antimicrobial and preservatives in makeup, lip balms, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, shaving creams, and facial and shower cleansers and scrubs. They can be found in the ingredients section of your beauty products under the names: methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, butylparaben and benzylparaben. They are absorbed through your skin, blood, and digestive system.
How to avoid Parabens?
- Assess the skin and beauty products you use often (daily or multiple times a day), and start by eliminating these first because they pose the most risk due to how often they’re used. When you buy replacement products, look for “Paraben free” on the label of prospective products.
- Purchase paraben-free lotion, lip balms, shampoo, conditioner, and makeup. Here are 5 ingredients to avoid when choosing a shampoo.
- Use chemical free, biodegradable laundry and household cleaning products whenever possible.
- If you're pregnant, reducing your exposure as much as possible is crucial. Be aware of what you're rubbing on your skin. Aside from parabens, here are more ways to reduce your exposure to xenoestrogens during pregnancy.
Who needs food tainted with rocket fuel?! That’s right, perchlorate, a component in rocket fuel, contaminates much of our produce and milk, according to EWG and government test data. When perchlorate gets into your body it competes with the nutrient iodine, which the thyroid gland needs to make thyroid hormones. Basically, this means if you ingest too much of it you can end up altering your thyroid hormone balance. This is important because it’s these hormones that regulate metabolism in adults and are critical for proper brain and organ development in infants and young children.
How to avoid Perchlorate?
- Reduce perchlorate in your drinking water by installing a reverse osmosis filter. Check out EWG’s water filter buying guide.
- As for food, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid perchlorate, but you can reduce its potential effects on you by making sure you are getting enough iodine in your diet. Eating iodized salt is one good way.
7. Fire Retardants
What do breastmilk and polar bears have in common? In 1999, some Swedish scientists studying women’s breastmilk discovered something totally unexpected: The milk contained an endocrine-disrupting chemical found in fire retardants, and the levels had been doubling every five years since 1972! These incredibly persistent chemicals, known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, have since been found to contaminate the bodies of people and wildlife around the globe – even polar bears. These chemicals can imitate thyroid hormones in our bodies and disrupt their activity – that can lead to lower IQ, among other significant health effects. While several kinds of PBDEs have now been phased out, this doesn’t mean that toxic fire retardants have gone away. PBDEs are incredibly persistent, so they’re going to be contaminating people and wildlife for decades to come.
How to avoid Fire Retardants?
- It’s virtually impossible, but passing better toxic chemical laws that require chemicals to be tested before they go on the market would help reduce our exposure.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, which can cut down on toxic-laden house dust.
- Avoid reupholstering foam furniture.
- Take care when replacing old carpet because the padding underneath may contain PBDEs.
Lead is one heavy metal you want to avoid. It’s well known lead is toxic, especially to children. Lead harms almost every organ system in the body and has been linked to a staggering array of health effects, including permanent brain damage, lowered IQ, hearing loss, miscarriage, premature birth, increased blood pressure, kidney damage and nervous system problems. But few people realize one other way lead may affect your body is by disrupting your hormones. In animals, lead has been found to lower sex hormone levels. Research has also shown lead can disrupt the hormone signaling that regulates the body’s major stress system (called the HPA axis). You probably have more stress in your life than you want, so the last thing you need is something making it harder for your body to deal with it – especially when this stress system is implicated in high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety and depression.
Testing your hair, via a Hair Mineral Analysis, is an excellent way to determine whether your body is holding onto lead and how well your body is detoxifying.
How to avoid Lead?
- Keep your home clean and well maintained. Beveled glass is lead treated.
- Crumbling old paint is a major source of lead exposure, so get rid of it carefully. Homes built before 1970 may have lead-based paint.
- A good water filter can also reduce your exposure to lead in drinking water.
- If you need another reason to eat better, studies have also shown that children with healthy diets absorb less lead.
- Sulfur compounds can promote healthy detoxification: NAC, Cysteine, Acetyl-Cysteine, Glutathiones, Alpha-Lipoic Acid
This toxin is lurking in your food and drinking water. If you eat enough of it, arsenic will kill you outright. In smaller amounts, arsenic can cause skin, bladder and lung cancer. Basically, bad news. Less well known: Arsenic messes with your hormones! Specifically, it can interfere with normal hormone functioning in the glucocorticoid system that regulates how our bodies process sugars and carbohydrates. What does that mean for you? Well, disrupting the glucocorticoid system has been linked to weight gain/loss, protein wasting, immunosuppression, insulin resistance (which can lead to diabetes), osteoporosis, growth retardation and high blood pressure.
Testing your hair, via a Hair Mineral Analysis, is an excellent way to determine whether your body is holding onto arsenic and how well your body is detoxifying.
How to avoid Arsenic?
- Reduce your exposure by using a water filter that lowers arsenic levels.
- If your water comes from a well, have it tested for arsenic.
Caution: that sushi you're eating could be hazardous to your health. Mercury, a naturally occurring but toxic metal, gets into the air and the oceans primarily through burning coal. Eventually, it can end up on your plate in the form of mercury-contaminated seafood. Pregnant women are the most at risk from the toxic effects of mercury, since the metal is known to concentrate in the fetal brain and can interfere with brain development.
Mercury is also known to bind directly to one particular hormone that regulates women’s menstrual cycle and ovulation, interfering with normal signaling pathways. In other words, hormones don’t work so well when they’ve got mercury stuck to them! The metal may also play a role in diabetes, since mercury has been shown to damage cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, which is critical for the body’s ability to metabolize sugar.
Testing your hair, via a Hair Mineral Analysis, is an excellent way to determine whether your body is holding onto mercury and how well your body is detoxifying.
How to avoid Mercury?
- For people who still want to eat seafood for the healthy fats, but without a side of toxic mercury, wild salmon and trout are good choices.
- Avoid mercury dental fillings, and get your silver dental fillings removed by a dentist who specialized in removing mercury amalgam/silver fillings.
- Sulfur compounds can promote healthy detoxification: NAC, Cysteine, Acetyl-Cysteine, Glutathiones, Alpha-Lipoic Acid
- Selenium, zinc and vitamin C are also crucial antioxidants involved in removing heavy metals from the body.
- Improving the body's detoxification rate will increase the rate of detoxifying Mercury, so take care of your liver with these seven tips!
11. Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs)
The perfluorinated chemicals used to make non-stick cookware can stick to you. Perfluorochemicals are so widespread and extraordinarily persistent that 99 percent of Americans have these chemicals in their bodies. One particularly notorious compound called PFOA has been shown to be “completely resistant to biodegradation.” In other words, PFOA doesn’t break down in the environment – ever. That means even though the chemical was banned after decades of use, it will be showing up in people’s bodies for countless generations to come. This is worrisome, since PFOA exposure has been linked to decreased sperm quality, low birth weight, kidney disease, thyroid disease and high cholesterol, among other health issues. Scientists are still figuring out how PFOA affects the human body, but animal studies have found it can affect thyroid and sex hormone levels.
How to avoid PFCs?
- Skip non-stick pans.
- Avoid stain and water-resistant coatings on clothing (ie: waterproof clothes), furniture and carpets.
12. Organophosphate Pesticides
Neurotoxic organophosphate compounds that the Nazis produced in huge quantities for chemical warfare during World War II were luckily never used. After the war ended, American scientists used the same chemistry to develop a long line of pesticides that target the nervous systems of insects. Despite many studies linking organophosphate exposure to effects on brain development, behavior and fertility, they are still among the more common pesticides in use today. A few of the many ways organophosphates can affect the human body include interfering with the way testosterone communicates with cells, lowering testosterone and altering thyroid hormone levels.
How to avoid Pesticides?
Buy organic produce. Especially shop organic with the produce that falls high on the Dirty Dozen list which can help you find the fruits and vegetables with the fewest pesticide residues.
13. Glycol Esthers
Shrunken testicles: Do we have your full attention now? This is one thing that can happen to rats exposed to chemicals called glycol ethers, which are common solvents in paints, cleaning products, brake fluid and cosmetics. Worried? You should be. The European Union says some of these chemicals “may damage fertility or the unborn child.” Studies of painters have linked exposure to certain glycol ethers to blood abnormalities and lower sperm counts. And children who were exposed to glycol ethers from paint in their bedrooms had substantially more asthma and allergies.
How to avoid Glycol Ethers?
- Opt for safe cleaning alternatives. Check out EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, and a way to decode labels on cleaning products.
- Avoid products with ingredients such as 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME).