Estrogen is what makes a woman uniquely female. It is a critical hormone for the proper function of so many organs in a women’s body. Beyond our reproductive organs, estrogen is important to our skin, our brain, our heart, our intestines, and our bones. All of the cells of these tissues have estrogen receptors on them, where estrogen binds and produces its effects.
However, there are certain environmental chemicals that mimic the structure of estrogen and can either block or bind to these estrogen receptor sites on our cells. When this happens, it prevents our biologically made estrogen from binding there.
These chemicals are called xenoestrogens. They are essentially artificial estrogen. When these xenoestrogens bind to our cells they interfere with the normal activity of estrogen. This can disrupt the proper functioning of our endocrine system resulting in various health issues.
Many xenoestrogens can interfere with bone remodeling leading to bone loss and osteoporotic fractures. They can also increase susceptibility to cancers, such as breast, uterine, and ovarian cancer. Even in men, they can increase the risk of prostate, and testicular cancer. Overexposure to xenoestrogens can also lead to a predisposition of hypothyroidism, weight gain, poor memory, neurologic disorders, diabetes, and more.
Where do these xenoestrogens come from?
You are likely being exposed to xenoestrogens every day through the food you eat, the water you drink, the medication you take, the personal care products you use, the cleaners you use, and the plastic containers that you store your food in. Unfortunately, when these chemicals get into our bodies, they get stored in our fat. They build up over time and can remain in our fat stores for years.
Some of the most common chemicals include:
- Phthalates. A group of chemicals that are used to make plastics more durable. But not only are phthalates in plastics like the plastic food storage containers but also hundreds of other products such as cosmetics, soaps, shampoos, vinyl flooring, and toys.
- Alkylphenol ethoxylates (APE). APEs are added to detergents, cleaning products, hair care products, pesticides, certain hand sanitizers, and perfumes. Many APEs have been banned in Europe, yet the United States still allows manufacturers to put these toxins in our products.
- Parabens. Parabens are often found in personal care products, make-up, lotions, and sunscreens. Essentially any product that contains fragrances also most likely contains parabens.
- Perfluorochemicals (PFC). PFCs are used in nonstick cookware, stain-resistant carpets and fabrics, and food packagings like microwave popcorn bags and fast-food wrappers.
- Bisphenol A (BPA). Until recently, BPAs were widely used in plastic water bottles. They continue to be used in personal hygiene products, the inner lining of canned foods, and the thermal printer receipts that you get when checking out at a store. Luckily, several stores like Target, CVS, Mom’s Organics, and Whole Foods have now switched over to using phenol-free receipt papers.
- Pesticides. Pesticides are perhaps the biggest source of xenoestrogens. Conventionally grown food is loaded with xenoestrogenic pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides that affect our hormone balance and our health.
As you can see, it is nearly impossible to avoid all xenoestrogens in our modern world!
So what can you do about it?
The best thing to do is to try and minimize your personal exposure, as best you can, to these toxins.
- Reduce the use of plastics whenever possible. Avoid microwaving food in plastic containers. When the plastic heats up, it can cause these chemicals to leach into your food. The same thing can happen if you leave plastic water bottles out in the sun or in a hot car.
- Look for chemical-free, biodegradable laundry detergent and household cleaning products.
- Check the lab on personal care items for these toxic chemicals such as parabens and phthalates and try to find natural, chemical-free shampoo, soap, and makeup.
- When buying canned foods, look for the BPA-free logo on the can.
- Eat organic whenever possible. Some experts suggest that Americans ingest over a pound of pesticides a year! Eating organic, non-GMO foods will decrease your exposure to pesticides and these artificial hormones.
- Keep your gut and digestive tract healthy. Healthy GI function will help maintain optimal elimination and detoxification.
- Eat more cruciferous vegetables. Vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower contain a phytochemical called indole-3-carbinol that can help to detoxify and clear the body of xenoestrogens. Broccoli is especially high in this phytochemical.
When looking to optimize the health of your bones and your body, it is important to understand how the toxins in our environment and the products we use every day can affect us.
Part of every healthy living plan, whether the goal is to strengthen your bones, address a health issue, or simply prevent disease, needs to include a lifestyle that decreases your exposure to toxins.