You’ve probably heard of chemicals and toxins, but what about xenoestrogens?
The name xenoestrogen translates literally to "foreign estrogen." They’re man-made chemicals in our environment, and likely in the products you use every day, but they’re different from other toxins because they’re estrogenic. What is estrogenic? It means they mimic the hormone estrogen and are capable of binding to estrogen receptors throughout the body, and this blocks the action of natural hormones. Xenoestrogens significantly disrupt the body’s fragile hormonal balance and compromise normal hormone function.
When the body’s normal hormonal function is disrupted, this can contribute to an increased risk of many things, including: fertility issues, a more difficult transition into menopause, changes in uterine integrity, early puberty in children and teens, changes in cholesterol metabolism and health of your blood vessels, changes in sugar metabolism, disruption of thyroid function, weight gain, changes in bone health and imbalanced immune responses.
BPA is one of the most common xenoestrogens people are exposed to because it's found in plastics of all kinds. Human exposure occurs when BPA is leached from plastic items. The rate of leaching increases at high temperatures, such as when you heat up your leftover dinner in a plastic container in the microwave, and also when the polycarbonate plastic is scratched and discolored.
Plastic with BPA + Heat = Health Troubles!
You may have noticed more plastic products labelled as "BPA-free." These likely contain other forms of BPA, and research shows BP-B, BP-F, BP-S also act as endocrine disruptors (9). The National Toxicology Program reports many of the BPA analogues are active at concentrations similar to or lower than BPA.
Recycling Symbol #7 and #3
As a consumer, you must be your own advocate to avoid BPA-containing products. Polycarbonate products which contain BPA are labeled with the recycling symbol #7” and #3.
Obvious Sources of Plastic Exposure
These are the places where we obviously know we’re using plastic:
Plastic storage containers (ie: Tupperware)
Plastic wrap, plastic baggies, and other plastic food wrap
Food packaged in plastic
Packaging for personal care products
Plastic plates & single use cups and cutlery
Hidden Sources of Plastic Exposure and How to Avoid Them
Coffee Cup Lid
These lids are almost always made of plastic and when hot liquid touches plastic, the rate BPA leaches out increases. The hot liquid not only touches the plastic, but also causes condensation on the underside of the lid, where it then drips down into your drink along with any other chemicals in the plastic.
What To Do About It: Skip the coffee cup lid, or bring a reusable mug. However, even a stainless steel coffee mug usually has a plastic lid.
Some tea bags release billions of tiny plastic particles into the water when steeping. It happens in two ways: 1) Paper tea bags contain polypropylene, a sealing plastic, to keep the tea bags from falling apart. This plastic is not recyclable or biodegradable. 2) The tea bag itself is made from plastic or nylon, which is typically the triangular-shaped tea bags you can see the leaves through. They begin to break down when put into hot water.
What To Do About It: Choose loose-leaf tea and use a stainless steel tea strainer. Find a company who is aware of this issue and avoids plastic all together.
Cash Register Receipts
If you’re shopping and handed a shiny looking cash register receipt, the coating on that paper contains BPA. Even more worrisome is it is free BPA, which means it isn’t bound into a polymer, like the BPA in a bottle, so the individual molecules are loose and ready for uptake. Once on your fingers, BPA can be transferred to foods.
What To Do About It: Decline a receipt if it isn’t necessary. Ask for a digital receipt. If you need the receipt, place it in a specific sealed place that isn’t with your food or in your pocket or wallet (ie: business card holder or coin purse dedicated for receipts). If you take the receipt, always wash your hands after picking up a BPA-laced receipt. Keep it out of the hands of babies and kids that might put fingers that handled the receipt into their mouths.
Dental sealants typically contain monomers that are derived from BPA, such as Bis-GMA and Bis-DMA, BPA is the result of a chemical breakdown by enzymes present in saliva. Low levels of BPA may be released from dental sealants immediately after application of the sealants to the teeth.
What To Do About It: Choose a glass ionomer sealant option. If plastic sealants are the only option, ensure the dentist is removing all saliva during the placement process. After the sealants are applied, roughly scrub the sealant’s surface to remove the top liquefied later of sealant. Rinse the surface for 30+ seconds immediately after application to decrease salivary BPA levels. BPA is often detectable in saliva for up to 3 hours after placement, so consider spitting saliva (vs. swallowing) after placement of sealants.
It’s true, chewing gum is commonly made of plastic. Yikes! Specifically, gum can be made from several different types of synthetic rubber, which includes polymers such as styrene butadiene, polyethylene, or polyvinyl acetate, which are all plastic variations!
You probably had no idea you were chewing on what is essentially a lump of malleable plastic! Manufactures don’t actually tell you this – they kind of dodge around this detail by listing “gum base” as the ingredient. According to the FDA, “gum base” describes a possible 46 different substances divided into 5 different categories, and chewing gum companies can use these 46 substances in any number and combination they want. This means there are 31,752 mixtures of ingredients legal to use in chewing gum, which includes plastic polymers.
What To Do About It: If you want to chew gum, there are a few “natural” alternatives that uses chicle, the original raw ingredient of choice in chewing gum.
You thought aluminum was the only concern in that can, but it turns out every single drink can on the market is lined with a plastic resin, usually epoxy, to stop the drink contained within from corroding the aluminum. According to coating specialists, roughly 80% of that epoxy is BPA.
What To Do About It: Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of options for swapping out aluminum can expsoure other than decreasing your intake of the beverages you buy in cans and choose a glass option if its available.
To-Go Paper Coffee Cups
Hang on a minute, they’re called paper cups, not plastic? What’s up?
Yes, they are made out of paper, but they’re also usually made with a thin coating of a plastic called polyethylene.
It’s incredibly difficult to separate plastic lining from paper, making it a nightmare to recycle. In fact, you need specialist recycling facilities to do it, which most local authorities don't have. So the vast bulk of cups end up in landfill with other plastic pollution – leaking toxins into the environment.
What To Do About It: Bring your own stainless steel cup or mug. Drink your coffee in the coffee shop rather than taking it to-go because they’ll serve the beverage to you in a ceramic cup instead.
It's hard to deny that they’re super handy – especially for cleaning babies’ dirty faces (and other parts).
Yet despite looking like paper, most wet wipes are actually a form of plastic. They're usually made from polyester fibers mixed with wood fibers – and don’t dissolve like standard toilet paper.
Lots of people don’t realize this. They end up flushing them down the toilet, causing blockages and polluting our waterways with plastics. Wet wipes make up an astounding 93% of the material causing blockages in the sewage system.
What To Do About It: Use fewer wipes, or none, if you’re trying to reduce plastic in your home. But if you find it’s unavoidable, look for a brand that makes wipes from “just organic cotton cloth, no cellulose or viscose.” Two brands to look for Natracare and Kinder by Nature, but the rule is still no flushing.
How to Detoxify Xenoestrogens from Plastics
Start with the basics. It's important to eat foods that help the two liver detoxification pathways and processes, along with the elimination phase. Here's information about the 3 phases of liver detoxification.
To kick-start your xenoestrogen detox, consider DIM-X.
To kick-start your xenoestrogen detox, I find it convenient to take a detox blend that contains all the detox-supporting nutrients in one capsule, such as DIM-X. It contains milk thistle, glutathione, broccoli sprout extract (for the sulphoraphane), and a few other powerful ingredients to support endocrine balance and promote detoxification of environmental estrogens in both men and women.
Obvious and hidden sources of plastic are affecting our health and the environment. Our choices matter and making a conscious effort to reduce plastics goes a long way.
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods