Obesity… diabetes… cancer… PCOS… infertility… hypothyroidism…
These common conditions may seem unrelated. But the truth is that they share a common denominator – and one that is often overlooked. All of these conditions can be caused or worsened by hormonal imbalances, also known as endocrine disruption.
Your endocrine system is a complex network of glands, organ and tissues that secrete hormones.
Hormones are simply chemical messengers. They send signals from one part of the body to another, with instructions to carry out vital functions that affect growth, metabolism, reproduction, immune health and more.
Your endocrine system is extraordinarily sensitive. Many tissues can detect hormonal signals even in concentrations as low as trillionths of a gram. This level of sensitivity can be an advantage when it comes to detecting chemical messages from within your body.
Unfortunately, however, our modern world is filled with compounds that mimic the signals from hormones and can disrupt the delicate balance of your endocrine system.
Known as endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) these sneaky chemicals wreak havoc by:
- Mimicking the action of natural hormones like estrogen and testosterone, setting off similar chemical reactions in the body.
- Blocking the receptors on cells that receive hormones, preventing actions by the body’s natural hormones.
- Altering the body’s manufacture, transport, metabolism and excretion of hormones.
Because of the interconnected nature of your hormonal system, an imbalance in just one area can set off a chain reaction – like a line of dominoes falling.
PHOTO: Modern farming of high yield crops usually means an abundance of herbicides, pesticides, and gmo in the mainstream food supply.
How Hormone Disruptors Make Their Way into Your Body
As we have just discussed, hormones aren’t just produced inside your body. They are also introduced by the foods you eat and the chemicals you ingest or come into contact with (including those you may rub on your skin in various body care products).
In our diet, we upset our hormonal harmony in two ways:
- By eating animal foods (dairy products, meats, eggs, fish) that have been treated with synthetic hormones and…
- By ingesting or absorbing endocrine disruptors that come from pesticides in conventionally grown produce, plastics used to store and heat food, non-stick pans, chemicals in personal care products, as well as chemicals found in farm-raised fish and conventional animal foods.
And while you might think you’re not getting too many of these sneaky compounds, the truth is the average American consumes pounds of hormones and hormone-mimics each year!
And while these toxins are quickly absorbed, they are very slow to go.
That’s because they accumulate in fatty tissue and slowly drip out their “hormonal instructions” over a long period of time. And because women naturally have a higher level body fat, we are more prone to the perils of endocrine disrupting chemicals.
The good news is that there’s a lot you can do to avoid these harmful chemicals… and even detoxify from them.
Common Hormone Disruptors (and Where They’re Found)
From cans and bottles, to personal care products, fragrances, cleaning agents, pots, pans and more – endocrine disruptors are everywhere!
And if you think “a little won’t hurt”… think again. These hormone-mimics are bioactive in extremely miniscule amounts and can be highly toxic to the human body.
When it comes to personal care and household cleaning products, opt for products made with natural and organic ingredients. When it comes to food, here are the main endocrine disruptors that can make their way into your meals (and then I’ll show you seven steps to reduce your exposure):
Bisphenol-a (BPA): Found in plastics with recycling code 3 or 7, as well as can liners and other packaging that leaches into foods and beverages. BPA has been linked with fertility problems, cancer, thyroid dysfunction and more.
DDT: While this organochlorine has been banned since 1972, the 1.8 million tons that were used still persist in nature and continue to pollute the food chain. DDT is also still used on crops in other countries, which are then exported back to the U.S. This chemical impacts reproductive development, thyroid function, and the risk of hormone- dependent cancers. Exposure in the womb can increase a child’s risk of childhood obesity.
Dioxins: These compounds accumulate in humans and animals due to their affinity for fat. Dioxins enter our bodies almost exclusively from food, specifically through the consumption of farmed fish and conventional meat and dairy products. Because these compounds are difficult to expel, they accumulate up the food chain. Dioxins are highly carcinogenic and known to cause birth defects. They also promote acne, damage the nervous system, cause thyroid disorders, reduce immune function and play a role in diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Organophosphates (OPs): These chemicals are found in many insecticides and herbicides. They are powerful endocrine disruptors and are highly neurotoxic, even at low levels of exposure.
Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs): These chemicals are used to make materials stain and stick resistant. PFCs are endocrine disruptors and are closely linked to the development of tumors. PFCs are found in non-stick pans, as well as grease-resistant food packaging and paper products (such as microwave popcorn bags and pizza boxes).
Phthalates: Most prevalent in personal care products, including nail polish, shampoo, fragrances, lotions, insect repellants and also plastics.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): Prior to their ban in the 1970s, this group of chemicals was used in a myriad of industrial applications. PCBs bio-accumulate in animals and people and are especially high in farm-raised fish. PCBs can cause endocrine disruption, gene transcription errors, cancer and thyroid disruption.
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE): These contaminants impair development of the nervous system and are potent endocrine disruptors (particularly on estrogen and thyroid hormones). PBDEs are most commonly found in conventional meat and dairy products and farm-raised fish.
PHOTO: USWM sustainably managed pastures featuring some very happy grass-fed, grass-finished animals.
Reducing Hormone Disruption
Unfortunately, because these compounds are so widespread, it’s impossible to avoid them completely.
But with a few small changes, you can do a lot to reduce your exposure and detox from these harmful hormonal disruptors…
- Go Organic, Grass-Fed and Wild: Choosing foods produced as nature intended, and without pesticides and hormones is vital to avoiding endocrine disruptors in the food supply.
- Avoid Plastic – Choose Glass: Eliminate plastic food storage containers and plastic bottles. Opt for glass whenever possible – an inert and inexpensive option.
- Avoid Cans: Instead of BPA-lined cans, choose foods packaged in glass whenever possible.
- Upgrade Your Cookware: Toss out non-stick cookware. Opt for cast-iron, high-quality enameled cast-iron (like Le Creuset), or stainless steel.
- Choose Green Personal Care and Household Products: Avoid chemically fragranced body care products and harsh household chemicals. Turn to natural, non-toxic alternatives.
- Eat a Low Sugar, Ancestral Diet: Reduce sugar in your diet – from all sources – to protect your endocrine system and slow the aging process.
- Sweat to Reduce Your Body Burden: Exercise and enjoy an infrared sauna to open elimination channels and help your body to remove toxic hormonal mimics.
ED NOTE: Kelley Herring is the co-founder of Wellness Bakeries, makers of grain-free, gluten-free, low-glycemic baking mixes for cakes, cookies, breads, pizza and much more. Kelley’s academic background is in biology and chemistry and for the last 15+ years, she has focused on the study of nutritional biochemistry…and the proven powers of compounds in foods to heal the body.
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