Our modern world is full of wonderful conveniences that many of us can’t imagine being without. Automobiles, cell phones, computers, and television, as just a few examples, benefit our lives in many positive ways. We love the convenience of microwaving a meal, grabbing a bottle of water on the way to the gym, and choosing from endless products on supermarket shelves. But, as time goes on, we are beginning to recognize the drawbacks that accompany our modern conveniences, especially those in the form of harmful chemicals. Endocrine disrupting chemicals known as xenoestrogens offer a prime example.
Estrogen, like every hormone naturally produced by the body, is a vital chemical messenger that transports a signal from one cell to another. However, xenoestrogens, a group of chemicals present in the environment and the products we use every day, mimic the effects of estrogen and compromise normal hormone function. Combined with the estrogen naturally produced by the body, these foreign chemicals create an excess of estrogen. Since we know that breast cancer develops in the presence of estrogen maintained over a prolonged period of time, this puts both women and men at risk for developing the disease.
Research shows that xenoestrogens are not only linked to high rates of breast cancer, but also contribute to endometriosis, precocious puberty (unusually early onset of puberty), infertility, and miscarriages. In men, xenoestrogens are believed to contribute to decreased sperm counts, and prostate and testicular cancers. Other health problems such as thyroid disorders, diabetes, and behavioral abnormalities in children, may also be linked to xenoestrogens interfering with the estrogens naturally produced by the body.
In relation to breast cancer, organochlorines are among the most concerning of the xenoestrogens. Organochlorines, or compounds which contain chlorine and carbon, do not easily breakdown in the environment and accumulate in high concentrations in the fat of humans. Organochlorines are produced as by-products of industrial processes involving chlorine, organic matter and heat, such as bleached paper, burning of hazardous, municipal and medical waste, and chemical production. They are also found in pesticides, pharmaceuticals, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and much more.
Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs) are yet another class of endocrine disrupting chemicals. They are commonly used as detergents in many industrial processes (including the production of oil, pulp and paper, synthetic and natural textiles and leather) and common household products. NPE’S are used as additives in latex paints and cosmetics, as anti-oxidants and stabilizers in some plastics and in some pesticides. Nonoxynol-9, a form of NPEs, is the active ingredient in contraceptive spermicides.
Clearly, we are constantly exposed to endocrine disrupting xenoestrogens making them impossible to avoid altogether. However, with education and awareness, each and every step taken to identify and minimize our exposure to these and other toxic chemicals will contribute to our future health and that of the planet. Simple steps can make a huge difference, like choosing a food-grade stainless steel water bottle over plastic and/or switching to chemical free personal care products. Each positive choice we make, no matter how small, matters. Now is the time to begin.
What can you do right now to make a positive impact on your health and reduce your risk for developing breast cancer and other diseases? Begin by examining the products you use on a daily basis. Check the ingredients in your personal care products like shampoo, conditioner, facial care products, deodorant, etc. where many xenoestrogens are commonly found. Reduce your exposure to chlorine by using a chlorine filter shower head and choosing unbleached products. Limit your use of plastics, especially drinking from plastic water bottles and microwaving in plastic containers. Learn to identify and minimize as many xenoestrogens as possible.
Identifying chemicals shown to have estrogenic effects:
o Atrazine (weedkiller)
o 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC) (sunscreen lotions)
o Butylated hydroxyanisole / BHA (food preservative)
o Bisphenol A (monomer for polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resin; antioxidant in plasticizers)
o Chlorine and chlorine by-products
o Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (one of the breakdown products of DDT)
o Dieldrin (insecticide)
o DDT (insecticide)
o Endosulfan (insecticide)
o Erythrosine / FD&C Red No. 3
o Ethinylestradiol (combined oral contraceptive pill)
o Heptachler (insecticide)
o Lindane / hexachlorocyclohexane (insecticide)
o Metalloestrogens (a class of inorganic xenoestrogens)
o Methoxychlor (insecticide)
o Nonylphenol and derivatives (industrial surfactants; emulsifiers for emulsion polymerization; laboratory detergents; pesticides)
o Pentachlorophenol (general biocide and wood preservative)
o Polychlorinated biphenyls / PCBs (in electrical oils, lubricants, adhesives, paints)
o Parabens (methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben commonly used as preservatives in personal care products.
o Phenosulfothiazine (a red dye)
o Phthalates (plasticizers)
o DEHP (plasticizer for PVC)
o Propyl gallate
Guidelines to minimize your personal exposure to xenoestrogens:
o Choose chlorine-free products and unbleached paper products.
o Avoid all pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.
o Use filtered water to drink and bathe in to avoid chlorine.
o Whenever possible, choose organic foods.
o Buy hormone free meats and dairy products to avoid hormones and pesticides.
o Use chlorine free tampons, menstrual pads, toilet paper, paper towel, coffee filters, etc.
o Reduce the use of plastics whenever possible.
o Do not microwave food in plastic containers.
o Avoid the use of plastic wrap to cover food for storing or microwaving.
o Use glass or ceramics whenever possible to store food.
o Do not leave plastic containers, especially your drinking water, in the sun.
o If a plastic water container has heated up significantly, throw it away – do not drink the water.
o Don’t refill plastic water bottles.
o Avoid freezing water in plastic bottles to drink later.
o Buy food grown locally and in season, organic if possible.
o Peel non-organic fruits and vegetables.
o Use chemical free, biodegradable laundry and household cleaning products whenever possible.
o Use chemical free soaps and toothpastes.
o Avoid creams and cosmetics that have toxic chemicals and estrogenic ingredients such as parabens and stearal konium chloride.
o Minimize your exposure to nail polish and nail polish removers.
o Use naturally based fragrances, such as essential oils.
o Read the labels on condoms and diaphragm gels.
o Minimize X-rays whenever possible.
o Be aware of noxious gas such as from copiers and printers, carpets, fiberboards, and at the gas pump.
Guidelines to protect the environment:
o Share this information with family and friends.
o Insist on your right to know before chemicals are used in your neighborhood, schools and work.
o Ask your local grocery to carry non-toxic products and non-bleached products.
o Demand action from politicians, industry and environmental regulators to phase out known endocrine disrupting chemicals.
o Press for disclosure of information on endocrine disruptors in consumer products, packaging, industrial emissions, pesticides and food.
o Support groups that are working for the phase-out of harmful chemicals in the environment.
o Maintain a strong immune system. Exercise regularly and eat well. Eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables-reduce consumption of animal protein. Reduce stress in your life as much as possible.
o Minimize car and energy use; walk, bicycle, bus or car pool instead.
o Recycle cell phones and other electronic devices and rechargeable batteries to keep estrogenic heavy metals from leaching into the environment.
o Use biodegradable detergents that use plant- or vegetable-based surfactants, since these types of ingredients don’t form estrogenic chemicals that can contaminate the environment.