How endocrine disruptors affect our health and hormones
How endocrine disruptors affect our health and hormones
- What is the endocrine system?
- What are endocrine disruptors?
- What issues can endocrine disruptors cause?
- What are endocrine disruptor sources?
In the last 25 years, research has demonstrated that endocrine disruptors in Australia and worldwide are linked to many health problems, including male reproductive disorders, premature death, obesity and diabetes, neurological impacts, breast cancer, endometriosis, female reproductive disorders, immune disorders, liver cancer, osteoporosis, Parkinson’s symptoms, prostate cancer and thyroid disorders. (1)
So, what exactly are endocrine disruptors and what can we do to avoid them and treat their build up in our bodies?
Firstly, what is the endocrine system?
The endocrine system is a network of glands and organs that produce, store and secrete hormones. It works with other systems to regulate the body’s healthy development and function.
What are endocrine disruptors?
Endocrine disruptors, also known as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), are
- food sources
- personal care products
- manufactured products substances in the environment, such as air, soil or water supply
that interfere with the normal function of the body’s endocrine system. They are chemicals or mixtures of chemicals that interfere with the way the body’s hormones work.
Endocrine disruptors are able to:
- trick the body into thinking they are hormones
- block natural hormones from doing their job
- increase or decrease hormone levels by affecting how they are made, broken down or stored in our body
- change how sensitive our bodies are to different hormones
Endocrine disruptors can have an influence even in very small amounts, so they are often measured in ppt (parts per trillion).
They are also very stable and don’t break down quickly, so they are perfect for manufacturing. This also means they stick around in water, air, soil and our bodies for a long time. (2)
How do we interact with endocrine disruptors?
People may be exposed to endocrine disruptors through food and beverages, pesticides and cosmetics. In essence, your contact with these chemicals may occur through diet, air, skin and water. (3)
What issues can endocrine disruptors cause?
- oxidative stress
- altered testicular function and suppression of testosterone synthesis
- early onset of menarche and puberty
- sensory impairment and social problems (especially when exposed at early ages)
- altered conversion of cholesterol to steroid hormones
- promotion of obesity (by altering metabolism, fat cell signalling, glucose uptake, inflammation and appetite)
- endocrine disruptors stored in fat cells (the more body fat, the more endocrine disruptors have been stored)
- disrupted bone health, cardiac function and mental status
- alterations in sperm quality and fertility
- abnormalities in sex organs (4)
- altered nervous system function
- immune function
- certain cancers
- respiratory problems
- metabolic issues
- neurological and learning disabilities (5)
What are endocrine disruptor sources?
There are a growing number of contaminants in the environment that can accumulate in exposed individuals and have adverse consequences. Thousands of chemicals, some banned and some still in use, have been classified as endocrine disruptors.
EDCs include pesticides and herbicides (such as diphenyl-dichloro-trichloroethane, DDT, or its metabolites), methoxychlor, biocides, heat stabilizers and chemical catalysts (such as tributyltin, TBT), plastic contaminants (e.g. bisphenol A, BPA), pharmaceuticals (i.e. diethylstilbestrol, DES; 17alpha-ethynilestradiol, EE2), or dietary components (such as phytoestrogens). (6)
Chemicals that may disrupt your endocrine system
- Bisphenol A (BPA) is one of the best known and most pervasive. It is used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins found in many plastic products, including food storage containers. In humans, it is linked to reduced egg quality and other aspects of egg viability in patients seeking fertility treatment.
- Dioxins are a by-product of some manufacturing processes, such as herbicide production and paper bleaching, and are released into the air from waste burning and wildfires.
- Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are manmade chemicals used as oil and water repellents and coatings for common products including cookware, carpets, textiles, firefighting foam, non-stick pans and paper. These endocrine-disrupting chemicals do not break down when they are released into the environment and they continue to accumulate over time. (7)
- Phthalates are usually identified on product labels by the specific compound: The eight most common are BBP, DBP, DEHP, DEP, DiDP, DiNP, DnHP, and DnOP.
Phthalates are used in hundreds of products, including many food and beverage containers, plastic wraps, cosmetics, fragrances, children’s toys and medical devices. They are used to make plastics more flexible. People are exposed to these EDCs when they leach into foods or are released when containers are microwaved. Phthalates interfere with the production of androgen (testosterone), a hormone critical in male development and relevant to females as well.
- Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring substances in plants that have hormone-like activity, such as genistein and daidzein in soy products like tofu and soy milk.
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications due to their non-flammability, as well as chemical stability and insulating properties. As a class, they have the strongest and longest-known associations with neurological disorders. PCBs are used to make electrical equipment, such as transformers, and are in hydraulic fluids, heat transfer fluids, lubricants and plasticizers. (8)
- Perchlorate is a by-product of aerospace, weapon and pharmaceutical industries found in drinking water and fireworks
- Lead, acknowledged as a neurological toxicant, has also been linked with adverse female reproductive functions in animal, in-vitro and human epidemiological studies.
- Cadmium is a natural element used in batteries, pigments, plastic stabilizers, alloys, and coatings but is now recognised as a carcinogen and pollutant. Research suggests a link to a wide range of detrimental effects on the reproductive system.
What can we do about endocrine disruptors?
- The first thing to do is think about how you can reduce your exposure by keeping as many harmful chemicals as possible out of your house and make substitutions for common household pollutants.
- Identify chemicals in all the products you use and look for safer and eco- or body-friendlier alternatives as much as possible.
- Use less fossil fuel by carpooling, taking public transit, walking or cycling.
- Help your body get rid of toxins. Eat the best quality, freshest food possible, organic if you can get it. Stay active so that you can sweat out toxins. Be kind to your liver and eat lots of fibre.
- Use containers like glass, steel and ceramic when possible. All of these are safer and better for the environment. Don’t heat things in plastic or Styrofoam and switch to wooden or metal utensils instead of plastic. (9)
- Wash all your fresh produce.
- Clean your drinking water. Filters like a simple activated carbon jug filter or reverse-osmosis will remove most of the toxins from water.
- Eat more plants and less animal foods. A high number of chemicals end up in greatest concentrations in meat, fish, seafood and other animal products. Increasing your intake of plant foods that will help you flush toxins from your body. Source quality meats and seafood rather than commercially farmed varieties.
- Vacuum your home regularly as many endocrine disruptors are found in dust.
- Avoid non-stick cookware, opting instead for stainless steel, cast iron, titanium or ceramic pans. (10)
How you can help balance your hormones
- Supplementing with fish oil and additional vitamin D and B vitamins help balance hormones. Also take a good multivitamin and mineral with sufficient magnesium. Probiotics, antioxidants and phytonutrients (vitamin E, resveratrol, curcumin, n-actetyl cysteine, green tea, selenium), and the anti-inflammatory omega-6 fat (GLA or gamma linoleic acid) can help balance hormones.
- Exercise. When you exercise, people typically have less PMS and other problems. Find something that you love to do and commit to your improved health. Running, long walks, weight training, dance, or any other form of movement that you enjoy can provide significant benefits to your hormones as well as your stamina and energy levels.
- Reduce stress. Chronic stress can trigger or exacerbate hormonal imbalances. The key here becomes finding something that works for you to reduce stress.
- Get enough sleep. Insufficient sleep can adversely impact PMS, menopause, and other conditions.
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol. (11)
How can Functional Medicine help?
“Personalized dietary treatments using an elimination diet and detox food plan, as well as how to apply various nutraceuticals, botanicals, pharmaceuticals, and lifestyle interventions to increase the mobilization, biotransformation, and elimination of toxic compounds in the body.” (12)
At Advanced Functional Medicine we can test hormone and toxin levels through a variety of methods:
- Saliva testing, especially for cortisol and DHEA stress hormones.
- Urine testing to check stress hormones, sex hormones and mineralocorticoids.
- Blood testing for thyroid, autoantibodies, insulin, lipids, inflammatory markers, oxidative stress markers, toxin levels, IgE & IgG allergy testing, nutrient levels etc.
- Genetic testing is helpful to evaluate individual tendencies that impact production and breakdown of hormones which guides the approach.
- Evaluating nutritional needs to support hormone production.
- Advanced stool studies to look for gut related issues and source of potential inflammation and reabsorption of estrogens.
- Investigating dietary history to help to identify foods that may be creating inflammation and hormone imbalance.
How we can help
At Advanced Functional Medicine, we can assess and measure hormonal function and dysfunction to ensure that endocrine disruptors are not overly impacting your health and wellbeing. With testing, we can identify the root cause and restore function to the whole system with improved overall health outcomes.
Through lifestyle, diet, nutritional and botanical treatments, we can minimise the impact of endocrine disruptors and help you get back to living life to the fullest.