Before venturing into my education in Holistic Nutrition; on some level I had heard of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, or as I will refer to them from now on, “EDC’s”. But it wasn’t until I experienced some hormonal upheaval of my own that I decided to dive into some research to find out how they might actually be affecting me.
Let’s start with the most basic definition of our Endocrine System. The Endocrine system is a network of glands in your body that make the hormones that help cells talk to each other. These glands are responsible for almost every cell, organ, and function in your body (1). Your Endocrine system oversees a plethora of bodily function including but not limited to:
1. Making hormones that control your moods, growth, and development
2. Controlling how your hormones are released
3. Sending those hormones into your bloodstream so they can travel to other body parts(2)
Now without including a definition of each and every gland that is part of our precious Endocrine system, it goes without saying that our hormonal balance relies on the health of this vital system. Things such as our sleep quality, metabolism, immune system, energy levels, reproductive capacity and blood sugar balance are just a few of the important functions regulated by our hormones within our Endocrine system.
So here is the scary part…..
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals can mimic hormones. In doing so, they can change hormone creation, synthesis, transport, binding, and breakdown (3). Even in very small amounts, they have a profound influence on our body’s hormone receptor sites and the way that our hormones are used/interact with our cells. EDC’s enter our bodies through our skin, our nasal passages via the air that we breathe, and the food/water that we ingest. They are found in things that many of us encounter every single day such as plastic bottles, skin care products and the produce that we purchase at the grocery store. An influx in these hormone-mimicking chemicals can either increase or decrease our bodies normal hormone levels and alter the natural production of hormones. This leads to hormonal imbalances and eventually a plethora of health issues (4).
For the sake of this article, I am going to focus on 3 of the most common EDC’s and the effect that they have on our Endocrine system.
1) Bisphenol A- Better known as “BPA”.
This is one of the most well know and well researched of the known EDC’s. BPA is a chemical that is used to make plastic and therefore is contained in most commercial plastic products such as food storage containers, children’s toys, and the common store-bought water bottles. BPA mimics the structure and function of the hormone estrogen and exposure has been linked to impaired brain development in children, ADHD & anxiety disorders, and childhood weight gain/obesity (5). Furthermore, a December 2019 study entitled Neuro-toxic and Reproductive Effects of BPA published by “Current Neuropharmacology” deemed BPA to be one of the highest volume chemicals produced worldwide and concluded that it’s consumption impairs neuronal activity, HPG axis and reproduction/fertility in both humans and animals (6).
This chemical is also found in plastic and is the compound that makes plastics more flexible. It is also a commonly used solvent. Phthalates are commonly used in adhesives, detergents (laundry & dishwasher), plastic clothing, and personal care products such as perfumes, shampoo/body wash and nail polish. The use of phthalates has been linked to breast cancer, hormonal disruptions in young girls and women of reproductive age, obesity, and metabolic issues (7). Scientific Journal “Frontiers in Endocrinology” published a study in February of 2015 entitled The Effects of Phthalates on the Ovary that found that Phthalates have been shown to alter ovarian and oocyte development, target specific follicle types, alter the progression of follicular development, and disrupt the functionality of follicles and corpora lutea. Further, increasing evidence suggests that phthalates disrupt the production, secretion, and action of several essential sex steroid hormones (8). This info is VERY concerning, especially for women that are in the varying stages of family planning.
This type of poisonous chemical is produced in the burning process. The resulting compounds collect in high concentrations in soils, sediments and eventually enter our food chain through animal products (meat & dairy). They are also produced in the bleaching process for things such as paper, pulp & clothing. Dioxins are one of the lesser-known EDC’s but I’ve decided to include them on my list because of my concerns about their use in the production of feminine hygiene products. In many cases, the chlorine bleaching process used in the production of the cotton tampon may contribute to dioxin exposure (9). Now, please take a moment to imagine how many tampons you may have used to this point in your life (gasp!). This is again, particularly concerning for women of pre-menopausal age and particularly so for women in their childbearing years. Dioxin exposure has been linked to birth defects, infertility, endometriosis, and skin disorders (11) to name a few.
So, with all that alarming information, what is a girl to do?
For me personally, knowledge is key. When we have an awareness and understanding of these chemicals and their effects on our hormonal balance, we can begin to take the steps to remove them from our environment. Here are some helpful tips and strategies that I’ve adopted in my own life:
1) Switch from plastic food storage containers to glass. These used to be hard to find but thanks to the internet (Hi AMAZON), you can find a variety of them for an affordable price.
2) Consider slowly transitioning to natural skin care products.
Now I’m not insisting that you trash everything that you have at the moment and replace with expensive organic products. As your current items are used up, do some research into natural varieties, and slowly make the transition. Big brands like Sephora have caught on to the clean skin care movement and you can search for hundreds of products on their website with the “Clean at Sephora” seal of approval. This seal guarantees that they are formulated without parabens, sulfates, sodium laurel sulfate, phthalates, formaldehyde and a number of other harmful ingredients (check their website for a full list).
Another option is to shop local/Canadian brands and I am a huge fan of “Oak and Tonic” and their varying product lines. Here is their website for more information and product details;
3) Buy certified Organic.
This can be a polarizing subject because of the added cost that comes along with purchasing organic foods, but I truly believe that buying certified organic foods when possible can have a profound effect on our exposure levels to these harmful EDC’s. Pesticides/Herbicides used to treat conventional produce are some of the worst offenders when it comes to our exposure levels. If going completely organic is not an option, here is a link to the “Dirty Dozen & Clean 15” https://blog.givingassistant.org/dirty-dozen-clean-15-list/ which outlines the 12 types of produce that are most heavily treated with pesticides, and which foods are the cleanest. Even just purchasing organic varieties of the ‘Dirty Dozen’ foods on this list is a great place to start and can have a positive effect.
I hope that this blog post has provided you with a few tidbits of information and advice to consider. I encourage you all to do some more research of your own on EDC’s (because I’ve only highlighted 3 of thousands). Please get in touch if you have any questions at all or if a personalized assessment into your hormone health is something that you’d like to consider.
6. Santoro A, Chianese R, Troisi J, et al. Neuro-toxic and Reproductive Effects of BPA. Curr
Neuropharmacol. 2019;17(12):1109-1132. doi:10.2174/1570159X17666190726112101
8. Hannon PR, Flaws JA. The effects of phthalates on the ovary. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne).
2015;6:8. Published 2015 Feb 2. doi:10.3389/fendo.2015.00008
9. Singh, J., Mumford, S.L., Pollack, A.Z. et al. Tampon use, environmental chemicals and oxidative
stress in the BioCycle study. Environ Health 18, 11 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-019-0452-z
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