Excess estrogen seems to plague most of us these days. For those of us who have conditions which are defined by estrogen dominance (too much estrogen), such as uterine fibroid tumors, fibrocystic breasts, polycystic ovaries, infertility, weight gain, hair loss, and depression, this information can be very beneficial. I am an advocate for understanding why your body may be going through what it is. Educate yourself, educate yourself, educate yourself. That being said, I am going to outline and explain for you what you should know about excess estrogen, one of the more common hormone imbalances. So stick with me.
Unfortunately, as we are bombarded with advertisements and available options, it seems completely innocent for us to wrap our food up in plastic wrap or tupperware containers. It seems completely innocent and convenient to drink bottled water. It seems completely normal for us women to take birth control pills to prevent unwanted pregnancies or control painful cramps. It seems completely unharmful for us to use personal hygiene products that are sold to us on the TV. But what do all of these things have in common? They are all exposing us to environmental estrogens, which accumulate and cause hormone imbalance in our bodies.
So what exactly do environmental estrogens do to us? Simply stated, they mimic the same estrogen that our bodies make and create an imbalance of our complex system of hormones. Too much estrogen in our bodies is called Estrogen Dominance and can lead to symptoms such as:
Acceleration of aging
Allergies or asthma
Breast tenderness or fibrocystic disease
Decreased sex drive
Endometrial (uterine) cancer
Fat gain (abdomen, hips thighs)
Increased blood clotting
Irregular menstrual periods
Memory loss or foggy thinking
Water retention, bloating
At this point, your head may be spinning. Take a deep breath and let’s move forward in our understanding.
So what are environmental estrogens anyway and where do they come from? There are 2 types of environmental estrogens we need to discuss; phytoestrogens and xenoestrogens.
You may have heard of phytoestrogens because at one point all the experts were saying how good soy was for you. Well soy contains a high amount of phytoestrogens, along with tempeh, flax seeds, sesame seeds, wheatberries, fenugreek, oats, and barley. Phyto means plant and the estrogens found in these foods (isoflavonoids, lignans, and coumestans), herbs and spices mimic the estrogen found in your body. If high amounts of phytoestrogens are consumed long term, it can cause a hormone imbalance. Phytoestrogens have also been found to inhibit conversion of thyroid hormone T4 to the active form T3. This can trigger hypothyroidism. Therefore, it is recommended that those with hypothyroidism limit the amount of phytoestrogen they eat.
Xeno means foreign which showcases that xenoestrogens are found in many sources that we come in contact with on a daily basis. Many of the chemicals that are in household items mimic the estrogen in our bodies. The problem with this type of estrogen is that it is hard to break down and detoxify in the body, and so it can accumulate. Exposure to xenoestrogens is a serious concern, especially for those with estrogen dominance. Xenoestrogens are found in the following items;
Commercially raised meat
Plastics, plastic food wraps
Personal care products
Pesticides and herbicides
Paints, lacquers and solvents
Car exhaust and indoor toxins
Birth control pills and spermicide
All artificial scents
Air fresheners, perfumes
So what do I need to do to lessen my (and my family’s) exposure to estrogens? Avoiding exposure may seem like an impossibility at this point. But it is more simple than you think. Knowing that you can obtain alternatives that do not contain estrogens is paramount.
1. Avoid excessive Phytoestrogens if you think you may or have been diagnosed with estrogen dominance. This includes soy, soy products (tempeh, miso, edamame, tofu, soy sauce, etc.), flax seeds, sesame seeds, oats, barley, and herbs such as dong quai and wild yam.
2. Avoid excessive Xenoetrogens. This is the part that can become complicated, but it is not. Remember how important it is to maintain hormone balance in your body for your wellbeing, health, and weight maintenance. Avoid the following list, and look for healthy alternatives:
- Commercially raised meat can contain harmful hormones and antibiotics used to fatten meat quickly and prevent disease. The chemicals and medicines that are used stay in the meat after the animal has been slaughtered. These animals are also fed with crops that are loaded with hormone imbalancing pesticides and herbicides. Whenever possible, buy organic, pastured, grass fed meat. You can buy quality meats online at US Wellness Meats.
- Canned foods contain damaging BPA (bisphenol A), which is sprayed onto the inside of the cans. I found this list of companies which have stopped using BPA to line their cans here.
- Plastics and plastic food wraps/containers contain several xenoestrogens that leach into whatever food it is touching. Use glass containers to store food and drink. DO NOT reheat food in plastic containers. Pyrex makes glass containers you can cook in and store food in. This is my favorite company for glass drinking containers.
- Styrofoam cups and foodware also contain BPA, so avoid drinking or eating out of these.
- Industrial wastes can contain chemicals which contain xenoestrogens. There are over 70,000 approved chemicals for use in the US and unfortunately they are often disposed of into the environment. Simply google ‘companies that dump waste’ or any variation and you will see how regularly this occurs. Be aware if it is happening near you or to your water supply and report it.
- Personal care products includes soaps, shampoos, lotions, sunscreens. Major chemicals to watch out for are parabens and pthalates. Look for brands that do not contain these ingredients such as Kiss My Face, Aubrey Organics, and Dr. Bronner’s. Stores like Whole Foods and Mother’s Market usually carry products that do not contain these chemicals. You can also shop Arbonne products, which contain no petroleum products, no parabens, no pthalates, no artificial fragrances or dyes, no gluten, and with a 0 hyperallergenic rating. These products work more like products you are used to (some people do not like whole food beauty products). You can purchase Arbonne here, with a consultant number #21471196.
- Pesticides and herbicides are found in non-organic foods. Eat organic whenever possible to limit your exposure. Know where your food comes from. Maybe even start an organic garden yourself!
- Paints, lacquers and solvents can be highly toxic by releasing VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) for months after application. If you want to make your indoor living space less toxic, use low-VOC or zero-VOC products. TreeHugger.com and ApartmentTherapy.com both have lists of zero-VOC paints.
- Car exhaust and indoor toxins can also build up by way of inhalation through the lungs. Diesel fuel has been shown to disrupt hormones. Avoid breathing in fumes whenever possible. When testing air quality, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the air inside the typical home is 2-5 times more polluted than the air immediately outside—and in extreme cases, 100 times more contaminated. Indoor toxins can range from chemical laden cleaners and air fresheners to candles, carpet fumes, and paints. Stores that I mentioned above such as Whole Foods and Mothers Markets offer alternatives. Or you can search online and make your own products (which I do and ends up being much cheaper).
- Cosmetics are loaded with hormone altering chemicals and we put them directly on our skin (including nail polish)! Our skin is essentially a sponge that absorbs whatever we put on it and it moves into our bloodstream. There are many brands available without these harmful ingredients at the markets mentioned above or online. My favorite brand is 100% Pure. Read here about different ingredients to watch out for in different makeup brands.
- Birth control pills and spermicide that contain hormones disrupt the balance in your body. Obviously with birth control there are pay-offs of not having an unplanned pregnancy. However, if you have a problem with a hormone imbalance, just know that these can further complicate it.
- Detergents, specifically laundry, contain hormone-altering chemicals such as Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, Diethanolamine, 2-Butoxyethanol, Nonylphenol ethoxylate, ER, KSN, OB, and OB-1. In addition, detergents also contain cancer-causing ingredients such as Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)/sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), 1,4-dioxane, NPE (nonylphenol ethoxylate), and Phosphates. According to the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep: Cosmetic Safety Reviews, research studies on Sodium laurel sulfate have shown links to:
- Irritation of the skin and eyes
- Organ toxicity
- Developmental/reproductive toxicity
- Neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, ecotoxicology, and biochemical or cellular changes
- Possible mutations and cancer
- Artificial scents are found in products such as artificially scented air fresheners, soaps, detergents and cleaners, deodorants, lotions, perfumes and other common products. It is estimated that 95% of the synthetic fragrances on the market today are derived from petroleum by-products. Phthalates are also prevalent in artificial scents. Repeated exposure to petrochemicals and phthalates has been shown to disrupt hormones and cause cancer. Use essential oils whenever possible, such as NOW Foods Lavender Oil.
- Tap water can contain residues of birth control pills, pesticide run off from farms or landscaping, among many other chemicals. I recommend purifying your water through reverse osmosis, which removes harmful intruders. You can purchase an under the sink reverse osmosis system from any number of online retailers or Amazon (iSpring 75GPD 5-Stage Reverse Osmosis Water Filter System). Or you can purchase a Berkey portable Water Filter here (it removes fluoride, yes!) Read my post on water quality here.
- Avoid the following chemicals in any products:[left]4-Methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC) (sunscreen lotions)butylated hydroxyanisole / BHA (food preservative)atrazine (weedkiller)bisphenol A (BPA)bisphenol S (BPS)dieldrin (insecticide)DDT (insecticide)endosulfan (insecticide)erythrosine / FD&C Red No. 3heptachlor (insecticide)[/left]
lindane / hexachlorocyclohexane (insecticide)
nonylphenol and derivatives (industrial surfactants; emulsifiers for emulsion polymerization; laboratory detergents; pesticides)
polychlorinated biphenyls / PCBs (in electrical oils, lubricants, adhesives, paints)
phenosulfothiazine (a red dye)
phthalates (plasticizers, found in nail polish)
DEHP (plasticizer for PVC)
For a healthier family and you, avoid the chemicals above by supporting brands that are clean and non-toxic or make your own. Even though it may seem exhausting, in the end it ends up being better for everyone and their wellbeing.
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The pros and cons of phytoestrogens. Patisaul and Jefferson. Front Neuroendocrinol. Oct 2010; 31(4): 400–419.
Congress moves to Ban BPA in all food containers. Mercola.com.
Endocrine-disrupting activity of chemicals in diesel exhaust and diesel exhaust particles. Takeda et al. Environ Sci. 2004;11(1):33-45.
Environmental Working Group Skin Deep.