More than any period in our history, health-conscious individuals need to be keenly aware of their surrounding environment and, more specifically, the “toxic load” inherent within many of the products, foods, and conditions in which we live. No, I’m afraid it is not as simple as it used to be—today it takes more than simply eating right and staying active to create longevity and true health.
Increasing research is coming forward that sheds light of how the most basic, customary products within this modern civilization can conflict with our internal physiology and, in particular, our hormone health. Below is an overview of a few of the most common concerning products, how they negatively impact endocrine function, and some specific tactics & alternatives you can employ to reduce or eliminate these concerns altogether.
While endocrine disruptors can affect both female (estrogenic) and male (androgenic) hormones, this post is mostly focused on the estrogenic impact many of the compounds below. It is no secret that when it comes to both men and women, average testosterone production is steadily declining while estrogen levels are on the rise. In fact, the average male’s testosterone has been shown to be steadily dropping over the past two decades (study here). The exact cause of this decline is unclear, but many scientists are looking closely at the constant contact with the specific chemical compounds often referred to as ‘environmental estrogens’ ever present in our everyday lives as contributing factors to this scary trend.
Whether resulting from elevated levels of natural estrogen in the body (i.e. estradiol) or from the environmental estrogens listed below, endocrine imbalances are more common today than any time in history. The result is unintended manipulation of our hormonal health as these environmental estrogens tip the scale of hormonal balance between estrogen and testosterone. While the environmental estrogens found in today’s personal care products, plastics and foods do not act exactly the same as actual estrogen does in the body, they do have the ability to bond to estrogen hormone receptor sites in the body all the same creating estrogenic effects and a general decrease in our average androgenic state. Further, there are several sub-classifications of xenoestrogens and estrogen-mimickers that can wreak havoc on hormone health and, for men in particular, our general anabolic potential. In fact, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, endocrine disruptors can also have an impact on neurology, development, and immune function (article here).
What is scary is how these xenoestrogens and estrogen-mimicking compounds actually create toxicity in the body. Essentially, hormones in the body work when a hormone locks into its particular hormone-receptor site on the cell membrane. When this particular hormone binds to its respective receptor site, the hormone’s functions can then (& only then) be expressed. For example, it is only when testosterone actually "locks" into its bond with a testosterone receptor site that hormone expression then occurs. So, it is not just how much of a hormone you have but also how densely available your hormone-receptors are that reflect true hormone expression (hormone receptor sites will be the topic of another blog altogether).
Xenoestrogens & estrogen mimickers are chemical compounds from outside the body that have the ability to bind with an estrogen receptor site, hence, having the net effect of additional estrogen within the body. While this may be a simplification of the endocrine systems’ bodily reaction—you get the main point.
Add to this phenomenon the fact that estrogen levels are already at an all-time high due to average body fat levels being higher today and we have a very concerning matter. Remember, the more fat a person carries, the more aromatase enzyme is released by these fat cells. Aromatase is the enzyme responsible for converting testosterone into estrogen. Further, excess estrogen has been linked to several pretty scary issues, including certain types of cancer (study here) as well as increased rates of tumor growth for certain cancers.
The vicious cycle……
Estrogen increases --> testosterone decreases --> weight gain --> more estrogen --> repeat…
Throw in reduced insulin-sensitivity and we have a national health epidemic whereas 1 in 3 children born after the year 2000 are now expected to develop Type II diabetes.
So what are the most common xenoestrogens in our environment and how do we go about removing them? Let’s start with a list of the most common sources of environmental estrogens:
Common Environmental Estrogens
- Parabens: various forms exist, common in cosmetics, shampoos, toothpastes, and shaving gels. However, perhaps the most deleterious effects have been linked to sunscreen, so always find paraben-free options or just closely gauge sun exposure.
- BPA (bisphenol A): the most well known of these chemicals, the various BPA’s in existence essentially make plastics harder. Eliminate all water/drink bottles made out of plastic—including those claiming to be “BPA-free” as BPA is not the only endocrine disruptor in plastics. This especially goes for kids’ drink containers and also the plastic containers you store you food and leftovers in. Instead, invest in a quality metal drinking thermos (details below) or water jug and buy glass Tupperware containers for your food.
- Phtalates: Commonly utilized to increase the pliability in plastics, phthalates are extremely common in all scented air products, ranging from bathroom sprays to air fresheners and most commercial perfumes. Ironic that the scents of colognes and perfumes, intended to attract the opposite sex, actually contain estrogenic qualities….
- Phytoestrogens: Occur naturally in plants that have hormone-like activity. Of the most common food products, soy is unfortunately the greatest source of phytoestrogens. Likewise (and far more unfortunate), the hops in beer are also a strong source of phytoestrogens, also contributing to an anti-androgenic state.
- Triclosan-containing soaps, detergents & toothpastes. This includes most of the common variety anti-bacterial soaps that we all use today.
- Benzophenones: also within sunscreens and particularly cashiers’ receipt ink. Say ‘no thanks’ the next time the cashier offers you your receipt.
- Pesticides/herbacides: Another reason to buy organic. If you work with/around pesticides, take serious precaution to protect against regular contact with your skin.
Understandingly, this may seem like a lot of information and/or work to fully implement. After all, it’s one thing to be aware of the problem and another entirely to actually implement changes to your life and household. Don’t feel overwhelmed—the point here is not to scare or suggest you turn your house upside down. Instead, let’s observe the 80/20 rule whereas 20% of the possible changes will likely yield 80% of the health and hormonal benefits. Below are my recommended places to start.
Again, rather than preach on about dozens of things one could do, I have instead focused on the top 5 impactful changes every man & woman should consider to greatly reduce environmental estrogens. To help make the switch for certain personal care products, I’ve included convenient Amazon links to some well-reviewed alternatives that I recommend.
5 Ways to Reduce Environmental Estrogen
- First and foremost, make the switch over to a metal or glass drinking container and ditch the plastic water bottle. Here is a link to an awesome metal thermos I drink from. Seriously, it’s awesome. My goal is to drink about 4 of these a day (in general, aim for 75% of your body weight in ounces each day).
- Change out your standard anti-bacterial shower soap to a paraben & triclosan/triclocarban free alternative. Here is one I like that utilizes tea tree oil instead as a natural antibacterial and antifungal agent.
- Give up all soy products. If you take soy protein, switch to a quality whey. If you enjoy soy sauce, switch to this coconut alternative. If you eat tofu, well then I just gave you an excuse to stop eating that tasteless, squishy, spongy, hormone-sapping crud once and for all (your welcome!). Hey, it was a lousy source of protein to begin with.
- Switch over to organic fresh produce whenever possible and especially for products where you eat the skin. For example, I don’t always eat organic bananas or avocadoes but I usually trade up for the tomatoes and leafy greens. Either way, be extra diligent about rinsing thoroughly whether organic or non-organic.
- Convert to paraben-free personal care products. Here are a few alternatives:
Finally, if you are unsure whether a product you’re using has a heavy ‘toxic load’, check out the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep search engine as a handy dandy tool to double-check. You can enter several of your personal care products to quickly get an estimate of toxicity levels.
By implementing a few of the suggestions above, you greatly reduce any outside impact on your hormonal health—especially estrogen & testosterone ratios. Not only does this reduce or eliminate environmental estrogens and increase general anabolism, it has numerous other health benefits as well.
If you found this article helpful, please like & share with others! Together, we can reduce the level of modern toxicity and be in control of our endocrine health. Likewise, if you found this informative, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter over at nattylife.com and follow the NattyLife Facebook page so you can receive additional information regarding hormonal health, fitness, and nutrition. I come out with new blog posts frequently and promise not to spam or send you anything not helpful or that isn’t backed by current research.