Xenoestrogens. The name sounds pretty serious, right? That’s because they are! The focus of this article is BPA, a very ubiquitous environmental xenoestrogen you're likely exposed to daily.
Part 2 features two more common, yet undesirable, xenoestrogens: phthalates and parabens, along with some simple tips to reduce your exposure to these toxins.
What Are Xenoestrogens?
Xenoestrogens are some of the biggest health disruptors a person can encounter, and the average person is bombarded by them every day. The word ‘xeno’ comes from Ancient Greek, meaning ‘foreign.' They are synthetic, man-made chemicals that mimic the hormone estrogen and directly interfere with hormone signaling and any aspect of hormone action. They are capable of increasing the amount of estrogenic activity in the body.
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.
One of the most sensitive stages in human development takes place in-utero and for the first 3 years of a child's life. While limits/restrictions for some xenoestrogens have been made for children's products, there is still considerable exposure and there has been little focus on limits during pregnancy.
Where Do Xenoestrogens Come From?
There are over 20 of these man-made chemicals identified to have estrogenic effects. They are present in an overabundance of products such as:
- Plastics of all kinds (plastic water bottles, food storage containers, plastic wrap, shower curtains)
- Household Products (laundry detergent, cleaning products, air fresheners, coffee filters, dish soap, surface cleaners, hand soap, candles)
- Teflon coating on cookware and haircare items, such as flat irons and curling irons
- Food (food coloring and preservatives, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides)
- Skincare & Beauty Products (perfumes, sunscreen, lotions, creams, gels, make-up, nail polish, toothpaste, body lotion, deodorant, cologne)
- Building Supplies (paint, wood preservatives, lubricants, adhesives, electrical oils, carpets)
Scary as it is, we are constantly exposed to xenoestrogens, making them impossible to avoid. However, with education and awareness, you can begin minimizing your exposure to these chemicals.
What is the Xenoestrogen BPA?
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a xenoestrogen used to harden plastics, so it's present in plastics of all kinds (plastic water bottles, food storage containers, plastic wrap, shower curtains). Since plastic is so abundant, you're likely exposed to it every day and don't even realize it. BPA has been known to mimic estrogen since the 1930s, and in the European Union, it's considered a reproductive toxicity category 1B ('May damage fertility').
Common Products With BPA
- Polycarbonate plastics, such as water bottles and plastic food containers
- Metal can linings, such as canned tomatoes, soups, beans, vegetables, ravioli meals, etc.
- Dental sealant
- Cash register receipts--the shiny looking ones (thermal receipts)
- Plastic water pipes
Human exposure occurs when BPA is leached from the common items mentioned above. The rate of leaching increases at high temperatures and when the polycarbonate plastic is scratched and discolored (1, 2, 3). Think of heating up your leftover dinner in a plastic container in the microwave.
Plastic with BPA + Heat = Health Troubles!
BPA and Your Health
BPA is associated with disruption of:
- Female reproductive potential in women (estradiol levels, ovarian function, oocyte quality, altered uterine morphology, implantation, fertility)
- Mammary gland development. Research on the estrogenic effects of BPA shows it activates estrogen receptors (4, 5) and stimulates breast cancer cell growth (6).
- Cognitive function
- Metabolism (increased insulin resistance). Recent studies suggest BPA may also be linked to obesity by triggering fat-cell activity (7).
- The Developing Fetus. The fetus is likely exposed to free BPA because it readily crosses the placenta. Estrogen is significant in fetal development and controls the development of the brain, the reproductive system, and many other systems. Xenoestrogens can duplicate, block or exaggerate hormonal responses. This is very concerning for parents because some animal studies report ill effects in fetuses and newborns exposed to BPA.
- Men's Health. In men, there is increasing evidence, both from epidemiology studies and animal models, that specific endocrine-disrupting compounds, such as BPA, may influence the development or progression of prostate cancer (8).
What Action Is Being Taken In The United States to Ban Products Containing BPA?
Legislation has been introduced to the US Senate to ban children’s products made with polycarbonate plastic containing BPA, such as baby bottles and sippy cups. This is progress, but not enough. As a consumer, you must be your own advocate to avoid BPA-containing products. Polycarbonate products that contain BPA are labeled with the recycling symbol #7” and #3.
You may have noticed more plastic products labeled 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 that many of the BPA analogs are active at concentrations similar to or lower than BPA.
How to Reduce Your Exposure to BPA
Start small – every little change will make a difference in your health.
- Eat fresh or frozen foods to reduce your intake of food stored in plastic containers.
- Do not store your food or drinks in plastic containers. Instead, use glass, silicon, porcelain, or stainless steel containers.
- Limit your use of plastics – plastic plates, plastic cups, plastic silverware, plastic cutting boards, plastic storage containers, etc. Look around because you might be surprised how much plastic is in your kitchen. I know I was!
- Do not microwave foods/beverages in plastic containers or with plastic cling-wraps.
- Hand-wash plastic containers rather than putting them in a steaming hot dishwasher.
- Limit, and ideally eliminate, your use of canned foods. Consider buying foods in glass jars, tetra pak containers, or frozen foods 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.
- Use a filter for tap water and carry a stainless steel water bottle. Not a plastic one. Avoid drinking from plastic water bottles and don’t refill plastic water bottles. Also, if a plastic water bottle has heated up significantly, throw it away—do not drink the water. Use stainless steel or glass bottles as a great alternative to a plastic bottle!
- Say no to thermal paper receipts.
- Avoid plastics with recycling #3 and #7.
How to Detox BPA
Eliminating xenoestrogens from your body’s tissues is crucial for a healthy, well-functioning endocrine system and hormone balance. To do this, the liver needs to be in good shape since detoxing xenoestrogens happens via the liver in two important phases – phase 1 and 2. These two phases require specific nutrients, along with lifestyle factors like sleeping well, sweating, lowering stress levels and healthy, happy relationships.
I regularly use Healthy Goods DIM-X, which is a blend of nutrients that support both of those liver detoxification pathways.
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods
1. Brede C, Fjeldal P, Skjevrak I, Herikstad H, 2003. Increased migration levels of bisphenol A from polycarbonate baby bottles after dishwashing, boiling and brushing. Food Additives and Contaminants 20, 7: 684-689.
2. Burridge E. Bisphenol A: product profile. Eur Chem News. 2003 Apr;14–20:17.
3. Howdeshell KA et al. Bisphenol A is released from used polycarbonate animal cages into water at room temperature. Environ Health Perspect. 2003 July; 111(9): 1180–1187.
4. Routledge EJ, White R, Parker MG, Sumpter JP. Differential effects of xenoestrogens on coactivator recruitment by estrogen receptor (ER) αand ERβ. J Biol Chem. 2000;46:35986–35993.
5. Matthews JB, Twomey K, Zacharewski TR. In vitro and in vivo interactions of bisphenol A and its metabolite, bisphenol A glucuronide, with estrogen receptors alpha and beta. Chem Res Toxicol. 2001 Feb;14(2):149-57.
6. Krishnan AV, Stathis P, Permuth SF, Tokes L, Feldman D. Bisphenol-A: an estrogenic substance is released from polycarbonate flasks during autoclaving. Endocrinology. 1993 Jun;132(6):2279-86.
7. Trasande L, MD, MPP; Attina TM, MD, PhD, MPH; Blustein J, MD, PhD. Association Between Urinary Bisphenol A Concentration and Obesity Prevalence in Children and Adolescents. JAMA. 2012;308(11):1113-1121.
8. Prins GS. Endocrine disruptors and prostate cancer risk. Endocr Relat Cancer. 2008 September; 15(3): 649.
9. Usman A, et al. Occurrence, toxicity andendocrinedisrupting potential of Bisphenol-B and Bisphenol-F: A mini-review. Toxicol Lett 2019 Sep15;312:222-227.