The world we live in today is a chemical world – the average modern person has 200 foreign chemicals in their body at any given time.
Everywhere you look, everything you touch and everything you eat has chemicals. Some of these chemicals are not harmful but a lot of them are harmful, even dangerous. Some chemicals have unknown effects because they have not been studied throughly, while others are proven to be linked to all sorts of health issues, from allergies to cancer and anything in between.
Our children and pregnant women are a lot more susceptible to these chemicals and this is why it’s important to minimize their exposure to toxic chemicals. I always tell my friends, we can’t avoid all toxic chemicals but we can for sure minimize their exposure if we keep our home, the products we put on our bodies and our food as toxin-free as possible.
The most concerning group of chemicals, in my opinion, are endocrine disruptors. In this post I’ll explain what they are, why are they harmful and how you can make small changes that will minimize your exposure to them.
What Are Endocrine Disruptors?
In simple terms, endocrine disruptors are chemicals that disrupt our endocrine system.
They are chemicals that interfere with our hormones, and like all of the foreign chemicals found in our bodies – they can come from anywhere. Personal care products, plastics, household cleaners, and food are all potential sources of hormone disrupting toxins.
In order to comprehend why a chemical that interferes with our hormones is bad, we must understand the role our hormones play in our bodies.
Endocrine System 101
Hormones affect nearly every function of your body from one degree or another: growth, sleep, sexual function and reproduction, mood, and more. We have a number of different hormones at work, each produced by a system of glands throughout the body.
- The pineal gland is located in the brain and is responsible for the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep patterns.
- The pituitary gland is located at the base of the brain stem. It is responsible for producing growth hormones, dopamine, oxytocin and many other hormones.
- Thyroxine, which regulates metabolism, and other thyroid-regulating hormones are produced by the thyroid. The thyroid is located in the anterior throat, and it is also responsible for the increase of calcitonin in the bloodstream when calcium levels rise to inhibit the release into the bloodstream. This hormone is also responsible for many “unexplained” weight issues people might suffer from.
- The parathyroid glands located in the neck produce parathyroid hormone, which stimulates the release of calcium from the bones in response to decreased levels of calcium in the bloodstream.
- The adrenal glands, located above the kidneys, produce testosterone in both sexes. It also produces stress-related hormones, including aldosterone and cortisol.
- The ovaries and testes perform similar functions by producing sex hormones. The ovaries of a females are internal and produce estrogen and progesterone. The testes of the male are external, producing testosterone.
- The islet cells of the pancreas are responsible for the production of insulin and glucagon, both of which regulate blood sugar.
- The thymus and hypothalamus are both organs indirectly involved with the endocrine system. The hypothalamus is the portion of the brain that links the endocrine system to the nervous system. A part of the lymphatic system, the thymus also produces hormones that assist in endocrine function.
As you can see our hormones regulate all the functions in our bodies and they make sure our bodies are healthy and working properly. If a chemical starts influencing your regular hormonal activity, an imbalance can happen that can lead to more serious health issues.
The Role of Hormones
Throughout childhood and adolescence, hormones direct growth and development. Hormone imbalances in children can lead to problems with bone development, which can cause injuries and osteoporosis later in life. Even diabetes is another manifestation of hormone irregularities in children.
At puberty, adolescents begin producing sex hormones, triggering the development of adult sexual organs and behaviors. Males start to develop facial hair and a deeper voice, as well as genital growth. Girls begin to develop breasts and menstruate.
Hormones are critical in the formation and growth of our children and this is why it should be a priority to minimize their exposure to endocrine disruptors as much as we can.
Hormones continue to play a large role in our health throughout adulthood. On a daily basis, hormones regulate:
- Energy levels
- Stress response
- Overall health
Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance
Hormonal imbalance throws off the endocrine system and it can manifest in a number of ways. If too much or too little of a certain hormone is secreted, issues can pop up. Hormonal balance ensures that these processes function the way they’re supposed to.
One common example of an hormonal imbalance is hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. The first one means your thyroid is overactive and the later means your thyroid is under-active, causing different health issues depending on which of these hormonal imbalances a person has.
Diabetes is another example and is the most common endocrine disease in the U.S. This occurs when there is too little of the hormone insulin – or when the body isn’t using insulin correctly. Insulin regulates the way the body processes glucose, or sugar. When insulin is out of balance, blood sugar issues occur. Hypoglycemia, on the other hand, occurs when too much insulin is produced, leading to low blood sugar.
These are two common examples of how a hormonal imbalance affects our bodies. It is important for our bodies to have the right balance, too little or too much of something is not good for our optimal health and can lead to serious and complicated health issues.
Other manifestations of hormonal imbalance include:
- Sexual problems such as infertility, loss of libido, and erectile dysfunction can occur when there are imbalances with the sex hormones.
- Chronic fatigue can appear as a result of many types of hormonal imbalance.
- Inappropriate adrenal response can manifest as anxiety and/or depression.
- Mood swings, breast tenderness, and weight gain in the abdomen, hips, and thighs signal estrogen dominance.
If you’re not sure whether or not hormonal issues are causing symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms and request blood work to determine if you have any hormonal imbalances. A comprehensive hormone panel will be able to show you if your body is producing the right amounts of hormones.
How endocrine disruptors affect our hormonal system
There are many types of endocrine disruptors and they have many, many different names. Some examples are: parabens, phthalates, atrazine, arsenic and BPA.
According to the EPA:
Disruption of the endocrine system can occur in various ways. Some chemicals mimic a natural hormone, fooling the body into over-responding to the stimulus (e.g., a growth hormone that results in increased muscle mass), or responding at inappropriate times (e.g., producing insulin when it is not needed). Other endocrine disruptors block the effects of a hormone from certain receptors (e.g. growth hormones required for normal development). Still others directly stimulate or inhibit the endocrine system and cause overproduction or underproduction of hormones (e.g. an over or underactive thyroid).
Endocrine disruptors fool your body into thinking that a specific hormone was produced by your own body and your body responds to it. Each endocrine disruptor can affect the body in a different way and a lot of times the effect has harmful effects.
Endocrine disruptors have an accumulative effect on our bodies. You may think that using a body lotion with an endocrine disruptor is not a big deal since it contains so little of this toxic chemical but if you add to that all the other toxic chemicals that you’re exposed to throughout many years, it’s a recipe for an unwanted health issue.
Hormonal imbalances are not always noticed right away because they build up little by little in our bodies and this is why it’s important to just avoid as many endocrine disruptors as you can.
Most Common Endocrine Disruptors
According to the Environmental Working Group these are the worst endocrine disruptors that are found in every day products. Here are some products that are known to have high levels of endocrine disrupting chemicals:
- Fire retardants
- Some plastics
- Heavy metals
- Mercury in fish
- PFCs – nonstick cookware
- Conventionally farmed foods and meats
- Food packaging
- Canned foods
- Personal care products
- Cleaning products
- Bank and register receipts
How to avoid endocrine disruptors
There’s good news – as more becomes known about the effects of endocrine disruptors, more options for non-toxic products are becoming accessible. Choosing more natural products when it comes to everything from skincare products, to food and household goods can decrease your exposure to endocrine disruptors.
Here are some simple-to-follow guidelines that can help you decrease your toxic load:
Your home is the only environment you have 100% control over and the place where we spend most of our times. A great way to reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors is by eliminating them from your home.
- Choose organic foods when possible, especially when it comes to the Dirty Dozen.
- Avoid flame retardant furniture and clothing, especially when it comes to your children’s clothing and your mattress.
- Use non-toxic cleaning products when cleaning your home, like Force of Nature.
- Avoid lead – have your home tested for lead, especially if it’s older and make sure you buy lead-free products.
- Use non-toxic cookware when cooking for yourself and your family.
- Filter your water using a high quality filter, like Berkey Water Filters, to make sure you’re removing all endocrine disruptors from your water.
- Don’t use pesticides in your garden or around your home. Try these natural ways instead.
- Purify the air you breathe in your home.
- Use alternatives to aluminum foil when cooking and baking.
- Avoid the use of plastic.
- Make sure you use non-toxic personal care products. The Skin Deep database is great place to look for products and find out if they’re toxic or not.
How to Promote a Healthy Endocrine System
On the other hand, it’s not all about avoiding chemicals when it comes to keeping your endocrine system healthy. There are also habits you can adopt that will promote hormone balance. For example:
- Eat foods rich in healthy fats, like avocados, grass-fed butter, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish.
- Meditate daily – even as little as 5 minutes per day is shown to reduce stress and anxiety – that’s great news for your adrenal glands!
- Eat foods rich in vitamin C, like cruciferous vegetables, leafy greens, and citrus fruits.
- Get regular massages to stimulate circulation.
- Exercise daily – this can be something as simple as a brisk walk or a short work-out that you do at home.
- Get plenty of vitamin D. According to a scientific statement issued by The Hormone Health Network, “Vitamin D is more than a vitamin. It really is a prohormone, a substance that the body converts to a hormone. The skin makes vitamin D after exposure to sunlight. The problem is that many people do not make enough vitamin D by exposure to sunlight or get enough through their diets.” Low vitamin D is linked to a number of health issues, including diabetes, obesity, muscle weakness, and heart disease.
Having a healthy endocrine system is essential for enjoying plenty of energy, fertility, mental health, and a good stress response. By following the advice on this post you’ll be able to minimize the exposure to endocrine disruptors in your family. Remember that all of us are at risk of health issues related to hormone disruption, but children and pregnant women are most susceptible to these harmful effects.
Keep your home as toxic-free as possible so your body doesn’t have to deal with an overload of chemicals that disrupt and mimic your hormonal system. By promoting your hormonal health, you’ll also avoid endocrine diseases that are on the rise.
Have questions? Join our Natural Mamas Community on Facebook where we can answer all your question and help you figure out what products are safer for your family.