Hormones. They drive us crazy. We blame them for anything to do with PMT, pregnancy or teenage tantrums. Other than that, we mostly just ignore them.
But did you know that just about everything you do is dependent on hormones?
Hormones are like little messenger carriers dictating how much energy you have, how well you sleep, your weight & even how well you can fend off illness.
Like most people my journey to better health began with food – we are what we eat after all. But it wasn’t long before I released that my skin was also ‘eating’ whatever I put onto it.
After all your skin is your biggest organ and absorbs about 60% of whatever you rub onto it.
This pushed me to step outside the world of nutrition. That’s when I discovered a class of chemicals called endocrine disruptors.
Today I’m going to talk about what these are, where they are and easy ways to reduce your exposure to them (without driving yourself crazy!)
What are endocrine disruptors?
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that mess with our hormones.
They work by mimicking hormones and can make our own natural hormones go a little crazy. They can keep your body from using or absorbing a particular hormone, interfere with the messages your hormones are trying to deliver, or even hijack your hormone producing organs.
Why should you care?
Most of us use personal care products every single day, whether its shampoo, deodorant or foundation, without thinking about what these chemicals might be doing to your body, specifically your hormones.
Women use an average of 12 personal care products per day, exposing us to 168 unique chemicals from cosmetics alone.
Men aren’t far behind with their usage of products like toothpaste, deodorant, shaving cream, shower gels and lotions. This exposes men to 85 unique chemicals every day from cosmetics alone.
All that before you even leave your house.
What’s most concerning is that most of these ingredients have never been assessed for public safety. This led to the Environmental Working Group (EWG) creating a database called Skin Deep. Here the EWG analyse the ingredients in thousands of cosmetics. Here’s what they found;
34% of the first 60,000 products studied contained chemicals that are associated with cancer.
45% contained chemicals that are associated with reproductive & developmental toxicity.
60% of the products contained estrogenic chemicals. These are synthetic chemicals that mimic the hormone estrogen (I’ll explain why that’s not good further down).
In 2004 the EWG did a landmark study that found out that industrial chemical pollution begins in the womb. This study looked at the umbilical cord of newborn babies and found PCB and DDTs - chemicals banned over 30 years ago! They also found lead and mercury, along with components found in cosmetics such as parabens, phthlates, and synthetic musks.
Another study by EWG looked at teenage girls who now use an average of 17 personal care products per day. They tested 20 teens for 20 different cosmetic ingredients. They found 16 chemicals all known to alter hormonal levels.
What does this mean for your health?
Let’s look at the effects of two classes of chemicals commonly found in cosmetics; phthalates & parabens.
Phthalates are used as a plasticizer in nail polish and preservative in shampoos and moisturizers. Because of it’s estrogenic affect these chemicals have known to damage sperm in men, alter sex hormones and alter thyroid hormones in adults.
But the most worrying trend we are seeing today is the lowering of the average age of puberty in girls. In 1920 the average age of a girl getting her first period was 15.5 years, today it’s 10.5 years.
It’s now considered normal for 6 year old girls to show the first signs of puberty. This is seen in 10% of Caucasian girls.
As someone with two daughters this bothers me.
There are all kinds of health effects associated with early onset of puberty. The obvious ones are depression, unwanted sexual attention & increased risk of risky behaviour. There’s also an increased risk of diabetes and obesity.
Also, the increased exposure to estrogen over the lifetime of a woman means that there could be an increased risk of breast cancer. 1 in 8 women will experience breast cancer in their lifetime.
The good news is that there’s growing awareness of the damaging effects of the toxic synthetic chemicals in personal care and household products.
In 2010 President Obama’s Cancer Panel (April 2010) found that
“The percentage of cancers caused by toxic chemical exposure is grossly underestimated.”
“Americans are facing grievous harm from largely unregulated chemicals in the air, food and water.”
We hear so much about over-regulation when it comes to the government in every aspect of our lives but not when it comes to cosmetics. Infact companies (that are legally bound to make profits for their shareholders) are deciding what is safe for us.
Common endocrine disruptors
Here’s a quick rundown on some of the most common hormone disrupters and where you’re likely to find them.
Atrazine: This herbicide is sprayed on crops to control weeds and grass. It can be found in drinking water.
Bisphenol A (BPA): Despite improved labelling due to public outrage over its use, the supermarket shelves are still loaded with BPA items. It’s common in all kinds of hard and soft plastic including plastic bottles, baby pacifiers and toys, the inside lining of some canned foods, the coating on receipts you get in stores, recycled plastics, dental sealants and in the water, dust and air.
Dioxins: Found in fish, seafood, meats, eggs and cheese, this byproduct of industrial processing gets released into the air and settles on the soil making it’s way into our water and plant life.
Fire Retardants: A class of chemicals used to make household and commercial goods less flammable such as fabrics, plastics, surface coatings, furniture and baby products.
Parabens: Used as a preservative in personal care products, such as deodorants, creams and shampoos.
Perchlorate: This industrial chemical is in rocket propellants, fireworks and road flares, and can end up in drinking water.
Perfluorinated Compounds (PFCs): A class of chemicals used to repel stains. It’s also found in food packaging and non-stick cookware.
Pesticides: Used in farming and food production to kill insects or organisms that harm or eat the crops.
Phthalates: Chemicals found in scented personal care and household products such as perfumes, nail polish, household cleaners, carpeting and in plastics.
Banned substances: Arsenic, DDT, glycol ethers, lead, mercury, PCBs have been banned since 1980, but are still present in our food chain.
Easy ways to reduce your exposure to hormone-harming endocrine disruptors
Eat organic. Where possible choose food that has been grown organically and not sprayed with endocrine disrupting pesticides and fertilizers.
Wash all of your fresh produce. Yes, even if it’s organic produce (although organic is going to be a damn sight better than non-organic, it doesn’t always mean 100% free from chemicals and you don’t know where cross contamination has occurred). I make my own produce wash using; 1 part water, 1 cup of white vinegar, 1 tbsp of baking soda and 20 drops of any citrus essential oils. Here’s more about the brand of oils I use.
Take care of your thyroid and liver. These are your frontline endocrine organs. Eat plenty of enzyme-rich food (enzymes are destroyed by cooking at high temperatures) and try adding a liver detox to your seasonal healthcare routine (you’ve got one of those, right!)
Use essential oils to support your endocrine system and keep those hormones in check. Here’s my favourite hormone-balancing, stress-busting rollerball blend: 12 drops sandalwood essential oil, 10 drops clary sage essential oil, 8 drops bergamot essential oil, 8 drops lavender essential oil, 4 drops ylang-ylang essential oil, carrier oil of choice (fractionated coconut oil or sweet almond oil).
Clean your drinking water. Filters like a simple activated carbon jug filter or reverse-osmosis (which is what I use) will get the most of the nasty stuff out of your water.
Eat more plants (& less animal foods). A lot of chemicals end up in greatest concentrations in meat, fish, seafood and other animal products (even organic ones). Limiting these will greatly reduce your intake of endocrine disruptors. On the other hand increasing your intake plant foods that will help you flush toxins from your body–not add to them.
Swap out harmful cosmetics & household cleaners for home-made or low-tox options. Detox your home & skincare routine by getting rid of mystery chemicals and cleaners, dangerous plastic containers, pesticides, sprays, and fragrances lurking in your cupboards. You can make your own (this is easy if you have essential oils) or opt to buy something more natural. You can refer to the EWGs skin deep database to see how your favourite cosmetics score on their toxicity scale. If you can’t find your product, there’s a nifty feature where you can enter all the ingredients yourself, hit the button and the EWG calculator works it out.
Vacuum your home. Many endocrine disruptors are found in dust. Use an air filter to catch them and eliminate the rest with a HEPA filter vacuum.
User fewer plastics. Most plastics are at risk of leaching out chemicals, including not only drinking bottles, but children’s toy, plastic wrap and various recycled plastic items. Store food in glass containers and opt for wooden or cloth toys for kids where possible (I find this one the toughest, last time I checked I didn’t see too many wooden toys in Toy R’Us! But #progressnotperfection)
Avoid non-stick cookware. Instead opt for stainless steel, cast iron, titanium or ceramic pans.
I hope you now feel empowered to make some changes.
Remember my favourite motto PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION.
While it might be true that we live in an increasingly chemical world, it is also true that there are more and more non-toxic alternatives available (and it’s never been easier to start making your own, it’s cheaper too.) Every time you put your money into a buying a safer product you’re casting your vote for more!