You might have heard about the “delicate balance” of nature—a theory that suggests that even a small change, like a change in the size of an animal population, can send negative ripple effects throughout the entire ecological system. The same rings true for the human body and the havoc that hormonal imbalances can cause a multitude of systems in our own delicate ecosystems.
While these imbalances can be caused by many things, some of the most threatening are substances called hormone disruptors (or hormone disruptors) and their impact on your endocrine system. Pervasive in modern life, hormone disruptors are chemicals that can alter, mimic, or block hormone production.
Why Altering the Endocrine System is Playing With Fire
The endocrine system is a big deal. It’s an information superhighway of hormone-producing glands that release mini chemical messengers (hormones) and that play a vital role in all phases of development, metabolism, and reproduction. In other words: the endocrine system affects almost every organ and cell in the body.
Once released from the glands (which includes the pituitary gland, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, adrenal glands, pancreas, and sex glands), hormones travel throughout the body, connecting with target receptors and produce changes on the cellular level. A big deal indeed.
So, when hormonal imbalances occur, it’s because there’s too much or too little of a hormone in the bloodstream. In fact, even small hormonal imbalances can cause side effects throughout the body.
Powerful Imitators: Sneaky Hormone Disruptors
Under normal circumstances, your system works by allowing hormones and other compounds to bind to receptors and induce certain functions or states. The reason hormone disruptors wreak so much havoc in the body is that they are brilliant hormone imitators. Hormone-disrupting chemicals block these natural hormonal signals by sneakily binding to receptors and causing responses in the body much stronger than those we would have naturally produced.
When chemicals like these get introduced into your system they have a chemical structure shaped in just the right way so that it fits snugly into a hormone receptor, and kick-starts whatever reaction that receptor is responsible for. Some of these over-blown reactions can include: altering metabolism, signaling glucose uptake, increasing appetite, irregular periods, hair loss, increased hair growth, fatigue, and memory loss.
Disruptive & Pervasive—Here’s Where to Find Them
The challenging part about hormone disruptors? They are everywhere. And not just that, part of what makes hormone disruptors so dangerous is the fact most of us are exposed to multiple such chemicals each day. That product you just sprayed to clean the bathroom? Hormone disruptors. That receipt the cashier just handed you? Hormone disruptors. Your lovely nail polish? Hormone disruptors. The cutting board you lovingly prepared the family meal on? Hormone disruptors.
Plastic goods, cleaning products, non-stick cookware, personal-care products, fragrances, food packaging, and even tap water—the list goes on. But before you lose all hope, there are many simple changes you can make to avoid or minimize you and your family’s exposure.
But first, here’s a short list of some common toxic ones and what you can do to avoid them:
- Bisphenol (BPA)— found in plastics, food packaging, the lining of many food/beverage containers.
- Phthalates—found in fragrance, PVC plastic, toys, and plastic wrap.
- Flame retardants—found in mattresses, furniture, car seats, and electronics.
- Pesticides—found in food, water, soil, and air.
- Parabens—found in deodorant, antiperspirant, moisturizer, sunscreen, and makeup.
- Phthalates—found in cosmetics, cleaning products, food packaging, and detergents.
- UV Filters—found in cosmetics and sunscreen.
- Dioxins—found in meat and feminine hygiene products.
- Perfluorinated chemicals—found in food packaging and non-stick cookware.
Yikes, So How Do I Avoid These Chemicals Like the Plague?
It’s easy to feel like avoiding endocrine disruptors is a hopeless cause but it’s not. Here are some other strategies and ways to reduce exposure and manage your wellbeing when you do come into contact with endocrine disruptors (whether you realize it or not!):
- Would You Like a Receipt? Ahhh, no thanks—decline paper receipts or ask if they can be emailed instead.
- Makeup Bag Makeover—start to swap out your cosmetics with natural makeup alternatives.
- Do a Medicine Cabinet Cleanse—do a spring clearout of toxic bathroom products.
- Clean Your Cleaners—look for eco versions of your current cleaning products (or make them yourself!)
- Can the Canned Foods—To side-step BPA, steer clear of canned foods or, if you must buy them, look for cans marked “BPA-free.
- Water it Down—install filters into your drinking water, home facets (including bath and shower), and reduce contaminants otherwise found in water supplies.
- Reduce Plastics—avoid plastic food containers and water bottles and swap them out for stainless steel, ceramic or glass.
- Detox & Hydrate—Saunas, drinking tea, exercise, yoga, meditation, filtered water, and intermittent fasting are all ways to detox and hydrate your body naturally (plus they’re fun!).
- Check the Label—Check the ingredients and labels of every product before you buy it and if getting to the bottom of what’s actually in something is difficult, err on the side of caution.
- Choose Organic—avoid conventionally grown produce and buy organic food where you can. Especially the “dirty dozen”. Also, buy GM-free food to avoid plant foods (such as canola and soy) that are tolerant to pesticides.
- Fragrance-Free—One artificial fragrance can contain hundreds of potentially toxic chemicals. Avoid perfumed personal care and household products and look for products that are scent-free.
- Screen Your Sunscreen—Choose sunscreens with physical blockers, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
- Ban Anti-Bacterial—Avoid “antibacterial” soaps and use natural soap and water instead.
- Let it Stick—Look for PFOA-free, rather than Teflon, non-stick cookware. And if you have any Teflon cookware that’s peeling away, bin it.
The fact is: any system in the body controlled by hormones can be derailed by hormone disruptors. And while it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity and pervasiveness of the problem, continuing to making your wellbeing a priority already puts you well ahead of the game. Just like your hormones, small changes can add up to big impacts and prying disruptive chemicals out of your life is simpler than it seems if you’re willing to keep your eyes open for them and continue making healthy choices where and when you can.