We live in a toxic world. All around us there are thousands of FDA-approved chemicals in the air we breathe, the food and water we consume, the products we apply and the surfaces we touch. Natural and synthetic chemicals enter our bodies through our organs of elimination; skin, lungs, and digestive systems.1 Contaminants in our food, food containers, personal care items and household cleaning products have been linked to disease outbreaks, cancer, birth defects, and brain impairments.2,3 Some of these chemicals were approved prior to fully understanding their safety levels. What we face now, as citizens, is an accumulation of toxic chemicals in our water, food and air supply that are difficult to avoid and have the potential to cause health problems. As these chemicals accumulate in our environment, they also accumulate in our bodies, as do their harmful effects accumulate.
There is a particular classification of synthetic and naturally occurring chemicals known as xenoestrogens that mimic natural estrogens found in our body. These estrogens are persistent organic pollutants, or POPs. That they are persistent means they don’t degrade, instead remaining for generations in our environment, food supply and in fat cells. These pollutants remain in storage sites in estrogen sensitive organs like the breasts, prostate as well as in our fat cells. The presence of these xenoestrogens can cause metabolic changes in the body.3 They have also been classified as endocrine disruptors because they disrupt the body’s natural hormone system including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, insulin, cortisol and appetite control.3 Xenoestrogens are part of a large group of endocrine disruptors because of their capacity to disturb normal hormonal actions. Some endocrine disruptors may contribute to the development of hormone-dependent cancers.4
Xenoestrogens increase the size of our fat cells, promoting obesity in exposed people.4 A literature review identifying connections between exposures to these POPs and type 2 diabetes was found, proving the “obesogen” theory that these chemicals make us fat and may lead to chronic disease. The review also identified support for the “developmental obesogen” hypothesis, which suggests that chemical exposures in utero may increase the risk of obesity in childhood and later in life by altering fat cell and the hormones that regulated appetite and eating behaviors. When pregnant women are exposed to POPs their children are more likely to get diabetes type 2 and obesity, particularly when they consume a diet high in calories, carbohydrates, or high-fat diet later in life.5
Despite the fact that food is a major source of exposure to these known reproductive and developmental toxins, thousands of chemicals have still been approved for use in food, including hormone disrupting chemicals like BPA and phthalates found in the commonly consumed plastics (cling wrap, tin cans, Ziploc food storage, bottled water, baby bottles). What adds to the concern are recent studies that show residues on food may be an important route by which kids are exposed to harmful hormone disruptors e.g. phenols, phthalates, BPA, phytoestrogens, genistein, dietary fat, ionizing radiation. Exposure before and during puberty might set the stage for pre-pubertal overweight, obesity as well as increased breast cancer risk in adulthood.6 Studies have shown that the risk for breast cancer among those with an earlier age of menstrual onset is up to twice as high when contrasted with girls with later age of menarche.6 An increased duration of hormone exposure over a lifetime promotes the development of breast cancer.6 Obesity during childhood may be associated with increased risk of obesity later in life as well as pre and post-menopausal breast cancer.6 Obesity represents a collection of physical attributes that include Body Mass Index (BMI) and waist and hip circumference. New York University Women’s Health Study and the EPIC (European Prospective Investigation Into Cancer and Nutrition) Study found that obesity markers such as BMI, waist and hip circumference were associated with increased breast cancer risk.6
6 Health Tips to reduce the accumulation of harmful xenoestrogens:
- Maintain a healthy weight- prevent higher exposures to endocrine disruptors by never becoming overweight. Once overweight, it can be difficult to rid the body of these stored chemicals, making weight loss difficult as well
- Chemical free- We can’t control the whole environment but we can avoid cigarette smoke in the homes and purchase natural cosmetics and cleaning supplies that reduce our household exposure to harmful endocrine disruptors.
- Organics- By selecting organics when possible you reduce your overall load of chemicals added to the food supply such as pesticides and synthetic hormones:
- Avoid the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables that absorb the most pesticide
- Non-GMO. Genetically Modified cash crops such as soy, corn, sugar, canola and cotton seed produce their own endocrine-disrupting pesticides that cannot be washed off. Choose organic versions of these foods.
- Go for free range, pasture fed, transition or organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products have not been fed GMO crops, or injected with synthetic hormones.
- Choose hormone-free contraception such as non-hormonal IUD, condoms, cervical cup or diaphragm.
- Detox- Help the body get rid of harmful xenoestrogens by consuming foods with nutrients that eliminate harmful extrogen metabolites. Flax seeds, sprouts and cabbage family vegetables; broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, cabbage, kale, bok choy.
- Elimination- prioritize daily bowel movements, as these hormones can be packaged up in fiber and eliminated from our stool. Fruits, veggies, whole grains, lemon water and a diet low in animal products improve size and ease of bowel movements.
Dr. Millie Lytle is a Naturopathic Doctor and the founder of Nat Med Coach. She has a passion for finding and filling gaps of care in the health care system. She holds her license in the District of Columbia, practices virtually and in New York City. Originally from Canada, Dr. Millie earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto, her doctorate from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and her Masters in Public Health from the Hamburg School of Applied Sciences in Germany. She is a published researcher, avid public speaker and author of Eating for Meaning. She is the director of Nat Med Coach and the founder of Virtual Health Club – providing supervised self-care to help you stay out of the doctor’s office. She sits on the Medical Advisory Board for the School of Applied Functional Medicine. Dr. Millie specializes in helping those address chronic fatigue with mind-body-spiritual well-being.
- Environmental Protection Agency website retrieved March 1 2015 at http://www.epa.gov/heasd/chemicalsafety.html
- Natural Resources Defence Council website retrieved March 1 2015 at http://www.nrdc.org/health/fda/
- Thayer KA, Heindel JA, Bucher JR, Gallo Role of Environmental Chemicals in Diabetes and Obesity: A National Toxicology Program Workshop Review. Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Jun; 120(6): 779–789.
- Sonnenschein C and Soto AM. An updated review of environmental estrogen and androgen mimics and antagonists. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 1998 April;65( 1–6: 143–150.
- Thayer KA,Heindel JJ, Bucher JR, Gallo MA. Role of environmental chemicals in diabetes and obesity: a National Toxicology Program workshop review. Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Jun;120(6):779-89.
- Hiatt RA,Haslam SZ and Osuch . on Behalf of the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Centers. The Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Centers: Transdisciplinary Research on the Role of the Environment in Breast Cancer Etiology Environ Health Perspect. 2009 Dec; 117(12): 1814–1822.