Toxins are any substances that can pose danger to the human body. About 85,000 synthetic chemicals are registered in the United States (1). With 1,000 or more new chemicals made annually (1). Only 5% of them have been tested for their effects on human health (1)!
Toxins can be categorized either as heavy metals, petrochemicals, xenoestrogens, or pesticides. Xenoestrogens are referred to “endocrine disruptors” which means they can alter our hormones! Commonly they have estrogen-like effects where they act like estrogen would in our body, which contributes to “estrogen dominance” or excess estrogen. They impact our hormones in other ways too, such as increasing or decreasing production, imitating the way they act in the body, and interfering with hormone signaling. They can also compete with essential nutrients or bind to essential nutrients in our bodies which will impact our nutritional status.
Individual factors such as genetics, environmental exposure, diet, and lifestyle all impact how well someone can excrete the toxins that we are exposed to. All environmental toxins are fat-soluble, which means we store them in our fat cells. If your body cannot detox well, it can create a build-up of toxins in the body eventually increasing our risk for toxicity symptoms and disease.
There is also confusion between xenoestrogens and phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are plant- derived and natural xenoestrogens., they are chemically different and have a lesser effect. You do not need to eliminate them, some of them could possibly even be beneficial. Your intake frequency and quantity of phytoestrogen foods can be monitored for those with (or at high risk for) estrogen related cancers. Flax, yams, sage, red clover, and soy products are all examples of foods that naturally contain estrogen. Fermented soy foods are the best choices, excess soy or conventional soy products could be problematic.
The “Dirty Dozen” of Xenoestrogens (2-8):
- Mimics estrogen in our body. It has been linked to everything from cancer (particularly breast), reproductive problems, obesity, early puberty, and early heart disease.
- Found in: hard plastic food containers (baby bottles, reusable cups, plastic dishes, pizza boxes), receipt paper, dental sealants, recycled toilet paper, and the lining of metal food and beverage cans (soda cans, canned foods, canned liquid infant formula).
- According to government tests 92% of Americans have BPA in their bodies
- Disrupt the sex hormone signaling in both males and females (which can impact sperm quality and reproduction) and are carcinogens (promote cancer). They also impact our immune and reproductive systems.
- Found in: unfortunately a lot of our food supply due to the consistent industrial release and builds up as we go up the food chain. Products such as meat, fish, milk, eggs, and butter are most likely to be contaminated.
- Linked to breast tumors, delayed puberty, and prostate inflammation in animals. Some research has linked it to prostate cancer in people.
- Found in: the majority of corn crops from the United States and a contaminant in our drinking water
- Can trigger cell death in testicular cells, lower sperm count, make sperm less mobile, and cause birth defects in the male reproductive system. Also linked to hormone changes, obesity, diabetes, and thyroid irregularities.
- Found in: large majority of plastic packaging (food packaging, shower curtains, children’s toys, and other common items)
- It can get into the foods when it is exposed to fats and oils- so think about that hot food when you order takeout, yikes!
- Can interfere with thyroid hormone production by competing with iodine. High levels will alter thyroid hormone balance which are important to regulate our metabolisms and are critical for brain and organ development in children.
- Found in: conventional product and milk
- Did you know that perchlorate is also a component in rocket fuel?
- Able to imitate and disrupt thyroid hormones, leading to lower IQ levels and other significant health effects.
- Found in: flame retardants used in plastics, foams, building materials, electronics, upholstered furnishings (car seats, couches, mattresses), padding under old carpets.
- Harms almost every organ system in the body and linked to broad range of health effects (brain, reproduction, kidneys, nervous system, etc.). Can disrupt hormones involved with the body’s major stress system.
- Found in: old paint, water, bright plastic toys from China, dust, soil, car batteries, radiators, some ink, older mini blinds, ceramic glazes, crystal.
- In smaller doses can cause certain cancers (skin, bladder, lung) and can interfere with hormone signaling. Specifically hormones that regulate how our bodies process sugars and carbohydrates. In large doses it is fatal.
- Found in: water and soil, which means our food supply.
- Did you know it is banned in other countries?
- Can bind directly to a hormone involved in women’s menstrual cycles and ovulation. In pregnant women it can concentrate in the fetal brain and interfere with brain development. Also plays a role in diabetes by damaging the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin
- Found in: air, ocean, seafood
- Linked to decreased sperm quality, low birth weight, kidney disease, thyroid disease, and high cholesterol
- Found in: non-stick cookware, stain and water-resistant coatings (clothes, furniture, carpets)
- It is resistant to biodegradation, which means it does not ever break down in the environment
- Can interfere with communication between testosterone and cells, lower testosterone levels, and alter thyroid hormone levels. Also linked to effects on brain development, behavior, and fertility
- Found in: produce
- One of the most common pesticides used. Another reason to buy organic!
- Can impact fertility. Some studies have linked continued exposure to blood abnormalities, lower sperm counts, more asthma and allergies (8).
- Found in: solvents in paints, cleaning products, brake fluid, cosmetics.
Tips on Reducing/Eliminating Xenoestrogen Exposure
- Choose organic and high quality meats. Avoid commercially-raised meats, commercial dairy products, and products that contain bovine growth hormone
- Go for fresh foods instead of canned as often as possible
- Drink and shower in only filtered water. Use reverse-osmosis filtered water or filter your own water
- Switch to clean laundry products
- Use a simple detergent with less chemicals or make your own
- Air out fresh dry cleaning or find a “green” dry cleaner
- Use white vinegar or dryer balls to replace dryer sheets and fabric softeners
- Use essential oils or soy based candles instead of commercial air fresheners
- Transition beauty products (shampoos, lotions, soaps, cosmetics, toothpaste) to non-toxic alternatives
- Phone Apps: Think Dirty
- Websites: Environmental Working Group (“Skin Deep”), EcoWatch
- Avoid heating plastic or drinking out of plastic cups and containers. Use glass or ceramics whenever possible to store food
- Use natural pest control and organic soil (in gardens and in home plants). Avoid use of pesticides, synthetic chemicals, and herbicides
- Avoid plastic children’s toys and plastic wrap
- Consider using a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to help cut down on toxic house dust
- Johns LE, Ferguson KK, Meeker JD. Relationships Between Urinary Phthalate Metabolite and Bisphenol A Concentrations and Vitamin D Levels in U.S. Adults: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2005–2010. J CLIN ENDOCR METAB. 2016;101(11):4062–4069. DOI: 10.1210/jc.2016-2134
- Chevrier J, Harley K, Bradman A, Gharbi M, Sjodin A, Eskenazi B. “Polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants and thyroid hormone during pregnancy.” Environ Health Perspect. 2010; 118:1444-1449.