Do you remember back in high school biology learning about hormones and their role in the human body? I sure do. I loved it and found everything about the endocrine system deeply fascinating. That being said, I knew zero about how synthetic chemicals we ingest, slather on our body, breathe in, or simply touch can alter this system or modify our hormones.
The bad news is that we are constantly coming into contact with hormone-disrupting (or endocrine-disrupting) chemicals on a daily basis.
No matter what life stage you are at whether you are trying to conceive, already pregnant, or perhaps you have a child going through puberty or you are going through menopause, young or old, female or male - these exposures to EDCs (endocrine-disrupting chemicals) matter.
In this post, I'm going to take you on a journey to give you a deeper understanding of the impact of EDCs and then share with you the top ways you can avoid them. But first...
What is the endocrine system?
The endocrine system is composed of glands (thyroid, pituitary gland, ovaries, testicles, pancreas, adrenal glands and more) that secrete chemical messengers (your hormones) that interact with specific targets (receptors). These interactions lead to the regulation of a vast set of functions, including growth, development, reproduction, energy balance, metabolism and body weight regulation.
What are hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers that bring information to your cells to stimulate an action. They are like the courier driver delivering important information for changes to happen. Usually, we only think of hormones when we are PMS'ing but hormones regulate everything from your mood, to your behaviour, your reproductive processes and all your metabolic processes.
What are endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) aka hormone disrupters?
EDCs are exogenous (that means they come from outside the body) chemicals that interfere with the delicate harmony and the action of your hormones. They are substances found in the environment such as the air, water and soil, found in the food you eat, your personal care products, microplastics which are literally everywhere, and they mess with your endocrine system. You are exposed to them every single day.
What is their effect?
They can have a whole array of consequences on your body because they mimic, change and may increase or decrease hormones. Research studies have linked them to numerous adverse human health outcomes including cancer, reproductive impairment, neurological disorders, and obesity.
EDCs can alter sperm quality and fertility, cause abnormalities in sex organs (we see this effect in marine life impacted by EDCs), endometriosis, PMS, early puberty, altered nervous system function, growth, neurological and learning disabilities, and more.
Where are EDCs found?
There are around 85,000 man-made chemicals and so far, we know about 1000 of these are EDCs. However, chemical companies do not have to "prove" they are safe.
Unfortunately, there is no one supplement to fix it all nor is there one food to erase the damage of EDCs. The best solution is awareness and avoidance. Know where they are found and do your best to avoid them.
11 ways to avoid hormone-disrupting chemicals (EDCs)
1. Wash your hands with plain soap. This is especially important before preparing or eating food. Receipts and thermal paper, anti-bacterial soap, fragranced soap and even hand sanitizer contain EDCs.
2. Pass on the perfume. You already know how I feel about fragrance whether that be perfume or cologne because they are abundant in hormone-disrupting phthalates to get that signature scent. While you're at it, pass on the scented room sprays, laundry detergent, or dryer sheets. Phthalates have been found to interfere with the production of testosterone which is essential for male fertility and mood, as well as relevant for hormonal balance in women. Phthalates are in hundreds of products beyond fragrance. To smell nice, use essential oils and natural personal care products void of fragrance. Note: We do not use fragrance in any of our skincare, body care or hair care products.
3. Vacuum often and dust regularly. Research shows that household dust is the main source of flame retardants in homes. Unfortunately, babies and toddlers have some of the highest levels of PBDEs (flame retardant chemicals) likely due to putting toys in their mouths that have dust on them or from a mother's breastmilk if she has a high concentration of them (you should still breastfeed though as the benefits outweigh the risks).
Research shows that these chemicals escape from electronics, couches, baby products, clothing, and collect in your household dust. Note that furniture from 2013 and older is full of flame retardants. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, make sure have good ventilation in your home, and dust with a damp cloth so you're not making the dust become airborne.
4. Choose organic food whenever possible. Synthetic pesticides which are ripe with EDCs are prohibited in organic farming. I have some great tips for shopping organic on a budget and growing some of your own food!
Additionally, billions of tons of RoundUp are sprayed yearly on crops such a soy, corn, wheat, lentils and oats in Canada and around the world. The main ingredient in Round-Up is glyphosate and studies have found it is a hormone disrupter too.
5. Avoid canned foods. While they can be cheap and convenient, canned foods can be a source of BPA, a well-documented hormone-disrupting chemical. BPA is found within the lining of cans. Some brands have a "BPA-free" lining and will identify this on the label. For convenience, a much better choice is buying frozen fruits and veggies! I always keep stock of peas, corn and frozen broccoli so I can use them in a pinch in recipes if I don't have fresh ones.
7. Limit the use of plastics. While it may not be possible to completely eliminate plastic from your life, there are some steps you can take to limit them.
No matter what, be sure to avoid #3 and #7 plastic as they contain BPA or phthalates.
Avoid soft plastic such as vinyl (PVC) as it is full of EDCs - think flooring, wallpaper, placemats, picnic blankets, children's toys, shoes, bags, purses, jackets (vegan leather is often pvc), earbuds and more. Choose stainless steel or glass for food storage and never heat anything in the microwave in plastic! But you already knew that right? ;)
Replace plastic lunch bags with reusable ones such as silicon, replace plastic wrap with beeswax wraps and choose wood over plastic when it comes to toys. I realize a lot of this is easier said than done, but when you have awareness, then you can make a positive change.
8. Use a water filter. This is essential to remove pesticides, microplastics, and heavy metals like arsenic and lead which are all hormone-disrupting chemicals. Not all filters are created equal and a simple carbon filter just isn't enough to remove those contaminants. I have an amazing and very affordable filter for drinking water. You can read about it in this post here.
9. Choose natural beauty products. The conventional beauty industry is a dirty one with lots of secrets and they don't want you, the consumer to be informed. There are numerous hormone-disrupting chemicals found in personal care and beauty products from parabens to fragrance to phthalates and more.
I have been dedicated since 2013 to bringing you clean, toxin-free, effective personal care products totally free from any hormone-disrupting chemicals. You can check out everything we have to offer (haircare, skincare, body care, teas, and more) and know that it's safe from infancy and beyond.
10. Choose eco household cleaners. This one is tricky because companies do not have to disclose their full list of ingredients which leaves you a bit in the dark. There's a whole bunch of concerning EDCs that are used in cleaning products. However, there's a lot you can do with essential oils in the home! The only liquid cleaner we use is our toilet bowl cleaner and that's an eco brand.
11. Ask your pharmacist if your medication contains EDCs. Research has found medications, both prescription and over-the-counter drugs contain hormone-disrupting chemicals such as parabens and phthalates.
I have given you a lot of information to think about and I trust this information empowers you to make better choices for yourself and your loved ones!