Endocrine Disruptors: How Environmental Chemicals Affect Health.
As a continuation of my discussion about ways to support your body’s detoxification through nutrition, today I would like to talk about ways to reduce your exposure to environmental toxins.
It has become increasing clear that many chemicals used in our homes, our personal care products, and to treat food have adverse effects on our bodies. These chemicals found in pesticides, some plastics, lotions, soaps, shampoo, laundry detergents, home cleaning products, etc., have been found to have disruptive effects on the body.
More specifically they interact with the endocrine system. The endocrine system is a complex system comprised of the pancreas, thyroid and parathyroid, ovaries, testes, pituitary gland, hypothalamus and adrenal glands. These glands produce hormones that serve as chemical messengers in the body. They are responsible to regulating a wide variety of functions in the body including blood sugar, temperature, sexual maturation and mature functioning, calcium levels in the blood, milk production in women, growth, fluid balance and blood pressure to name a few. Environmental exposure to certain chemicals can be very disruptive to this chemical messaging system. They can cause certain hormones to increase or decrease, they can imitate them, compete for essential nutrients, interfere with signaling, accumulate in endocrine glands, and even tell cells to die prematurely. If the exposure is prolonged and/or concentrated the affect can manifest in a variety of symptoms.
One of the more sensitive endocrine glands is the thyroid. It is often the first to be effected by environmental chemical confusion resulting in low functioning resulting in symptoms like fatigue, hair loss, cold intolerance, constipation, depression, and weight gain. One of the main chemicals that interferes with the thyroid gland are perchlorates from rocket fuel. Perchlorate competes with the nutrient iodine needed for the synthesis of thyroid hormone. It gets into the water supply and can be best avoided by using a reverse osmosis water filter. It is difficult to avoid exposure to perchlorate in food but by making sure you get adequate amounts of iodine in your diet can counteract the negative effect of perchlorates on thyroid hormone production. Iodized salt is one way to get iodine in your diet. If your iodine level is very low, you may need a supplement until levels normalize. Phthalates can also disrupt the thyroid gland as well as lead to obesity, diabetes and male infertility. These are often found in personal care products disguised as “fragrances” and plastic food containers and wraps. To avoid make sure plastics are not labeled PVC #3, never heat food in plastic and avoid storing food in plastic, and check to see if your personal care products have phthalates.
Reproduction hormones are also commonly effected by environmental chemical exposure as well. Chemical compounds can mimic estrogens and lead to over stimulation of estrogen receptors contributing to infertility, endometriosis, heavy menstrual periods, early puberty, fibrocystic breast disease, and breast cancer. One such chemical is BPA. It used to be common in plastics but due to more recent acknowledgement of the danger it presents, it has been taken out of many products. To be sure you are not exposing yourself to BPA check to make sure the plastic product is marked BPA free and avoid plastics marked with a “PC,” for polycarbonate, or recycling label #7. BPA is sometimes used to line cans in canned food; avoid canned food as much as possible unless you know the canned food you eat has a BPA-free can lining.
Another contaminate that effect the reproductive system is dioxin. It is produced in many industrial processes and persists in the environment for a long time. The result is much of the food supply is contaminated with dioxin. Since it is long-lasting it bioaccumulates in animals. It is found in highest concentrations in foods such as meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. You can reduce your exposure to dioxins by limiting your intake of these foods.
Believe or not I have only scratched the surface on the environmental contaminates that effect human health. The important thing to remember is there are measures you can take to reduce your exposure. The Environmental Working Group is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that uses the latest research to guide consumers toward healthier choices to avoid environmental toxin exposure. They have many resource worth using to evaluate the products you use. While I did not go into all the reasons for the following advise here is a simple summary or things you can do to reduce your and your family’s toxic burden with links to The Environmental Working Groups resources:
- Drink filtered water: use a reverse osmosis process if possible. www.ewg.org/report/ewgs-water-filter-buying-guide
- Eat organic food: especially avoid eating the dirty dozen if they are not organic: peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes, spinach, lettuce, potatoes.
- Do not use artificial fragrances in your home or in personal care products. www.ewg.org/skindeep/ is a good resource to evaluate the safety of your care products.
- Take off your shoes before you enter your house. Many contaminates are brought into the home from your shoes.
- Do not heat food in plastic. Avoid buying food stored in plastic labeled #3, 6 and 7. Don’t store food in plastic as much as possible.
- Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
- Do not cook with non-stick cookware with plastic coating. Instead use cast iron (without or without ceramic coasting) or stainless steel.
- Avoid eating canned food unless you know the can is BPA free. http://www.ewg.org/research/bpa-canned-food
- Minimize eating animal products as much as possible. If you eat meat buy organic grass-fed beef. For fish safety refer to The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch https://www.seafoodwatch.org/-/m/sfw/pdf/guides/mba-seafoodwatch-central-guide.pdf?la=en
- Evaluate your home cleaner products for safety. http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners
- Support your body’s detoxification pathways through adequate water intake, daily sweating, and eating 5 servings of vegetables per day.
I realize knowledge about the chemicals in the environment and their effect on human health can be discouraging and overwhelming but there is hope. As more awareness around these issues grows consumers can drive the market with the purchases and decision they make. I’d love to continue the conversation about ways to decrease your exposure and address any concerns and questions you might have. I will be teaching more about these issues in the future so keep an eye out for classes to be posted on Facebook and posted at The Healing Sanctuary.
To your health!