When trying to achieve a healthier lifestyle dietary and exercise change tend to get most of the attention. But, there’s another step you can take for a healthier life– reducing your intake of toxic chemicals. In particular, chemicals known as Endocrine Disruptors (EDs) confuse your body by increasing or decreasing the production of various hormones. EDs can imitate hormones and interfere with their signaling, causing your hormones to do things they shouldn’t and causing a number of health issues including cancer, fertility problems, slow cognitive development, changes in metabolism, and immune disorders.
Knowing these risks should jolt us into avoiding EDs, but this isn’t always so easy a task. This group of chemicals includes Bisphenol-A or BPA, organophosphate pesticides, mercury and lead. They may sound scary, but these toxins can be found in a surprising number of products you use everyday including face wash, plastic water bottles, perfume, laundry detergent, cleaning products, make-up, dairy, sunscreen and plastic toys. It may be impossible to live an entirely ED-free life, but here are some tips to reduce your toxic load.
How to Avoid Endocrine Disruptors in Your Kitchen
- Use glass containers to store food in the pantry or fridge.
- Although some plastic containers may be labeled as microwave safe, always use glass or ceramic dishes when heating your food.
- Don’t use plastic wrap when microwaving, as EDs can drip into your food. To keep food covered, try using a non-metal pot lid or a ceramic plate.
- Non-stick cookware is made with a coating that contains EDs, so opt for cast iron or stainless steel for your pots and pans or look into chemical-free nonstick cookware.
- Keep endocrine disruptors out of your beverages by using glass drinking glasses and stainless steel water bottles. It is especially important that young children do not drink from plastic bottles as they are more susceptible to the effects of EDs.
- Swap your plastic cooking utensils, cutting boards and strainers for products made with sustainable bamboo.
- For dishwasher use, look for an eco-friendly detergent, as many standard brands are packed with chemicals. Steer away from detergents that contain phosphates and fragrances, and use as little soap as possible to get your dishes clean.
- Anti-bacterial soaps and cleaning products contain many endocrine disruptors. Opt for green versions of these products or stay on the safe side by making your products with non-toxic ingredients such as castile soap, lemon and vinegar.
How to Avoid Endocrine Disruptors in Your Fridge & Pantry
- Buy local and organic foods as much as possible. Factory-farmed items are laden with pesticides and herbicides while their organic counterparts are more likely to be ED free.
- When eating packaged foods stick to those in boxes and cartons rather than cans, unless they’re marked BPA-free. Almost all canned food is contaminated with EDs because of the coating used on the inside of the can. Even the plastic bags inside of cardboard boxes can be coated in harmful chemicals, so make sure to read the labels of all your grocery items before heading to the checkout line.
- Remove plastic wrap and packaging from foods before storing them. Switch food from plastic to glass containers to prevent EDs from leaching into your food while it sits in your fridge.
- Avoid buying teas and sodas in plastic bottles and try brewing your own tea and drinking from glass, ceramic or stainless steel.
- When eating meat, look for products made from organic grass-fed animals raised without antibiotics or hormones. Animals from factory farms are exposed to environmental toxins, which get stored in their fat and passed on to people when you eat it.
- Also avoid factory-farm and processed poultry items which carry the same risks as meat. Opt for organic, free-range eggs and chicken. These top-notch products can be expensive, so just make sure to stick to the hormone and antibiotic free products when shopping on a budget.
- Check out the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15– the Environmental Working Group’s list of fruits and veggies that have been grown with minimal exposure to toxic pesticides— so you know what produce to buy.
12 Hormone Altering Chemicals and How to Avoid Them
➔ What is it? BPA (short for Bisphenol A) is a chemical used in plastics and coatings that imitates the sex hormone estrogen.
➔ Why is it bad? The body identifies the synthetic hormone as the real thing, leading to a variety of problems including infertility, breast & reproductive cancers, obesity, diabetes, and early puberty.
➔ How can I avoid it? Choose fresh rather than canned food, as almost all cans are coated with BPA. Say no to receipts, which are printed on a thermal paper coated with BPA. Avoid plastic products such as those marked with ‘PC’ (for polycarbonate) or recycling label #7. Don’t microwave food in plastic containers. More info here.
➔ What is it? Dioxin is a chemical formed during many industrial processes when chlorine or bromine is burned in the presence of carbon & oxygen.
➔ Why is it bad? Studies have shown that exposure to dioxin in the womb and early in life interferes with male and female sex hormone signaling, which affects sperm quality and lowers sperm count later in life. As dioxins build up in the body over time, they become powerful carcinogens and cause damage to the immune & reproductive systems.
➔ How can I avoid it? Dioxin is hard to avoid because the widespread industrial release of the chemical has caused much of the American food supply to be contaminated. Eating fewer animal products can reduce exposure, as these are the foods most likely to be contaminated.
➔ What is it? Altrazine is a highly toxic herbicide widely used in the cultivation of corn crops in the U.S. As a result, it is also a major contaminant of drinking water.
➔ Why is it bad? Researchers have found that even low levels of atrazine exposure have turned male frogs into female frogs with completely viable eggs. If that’s not enough to scare you, some research has linked atrazine to breast tumors, delayed puberty and prostate inflammation in animals, and even prostate cancer in people.
➔ How can I avoid it? Buy organic produce. Invest in a water filter certified in removing atrazine. A guide to water filter shopping can be found at www.ewg.org/report/ewgs-water-filter-buying-guide/.
➔ What is it? Phthalate is a chemical used in the manufacturing of plastics, primarily to soften PVC.
➔ Why is it bad? The body has a natural mechanism that signals when a cell should die. While this is healthy and normal, phthalates have been shown to prematurely trigger this ‘death-inducing signaling’ in testicular cells. In addition to early cell death, studies have linked phthalates to hormone changes, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes and thyroid irregularities. Yikes!
➔ How can I avoid it? Avoid plastic containers, children’s toys, and plastic wrap made with PVC (marked by recycling label #3). Phthalates are also found in some personal care products, so avoid items labeled with added “fragrance,” a sneaky term that can mean hidden phthalates. Find phthalate-free personal care products at www.ewg.org/skindeep.
➔ What is it? Perchlorate is a component of rocket fuel that has been identified by EWG and government test data as a contaminant of produce & milk- yeah, doesn’t sound good to me either.
➔ Why is it bad? When perchlorate enters the body, it competes with iodine, a nutrient the thyroid gland uses to produce thyroid hormones. Ingesting too much perchlorate can cause a thyroid hormone imbalance. Keeping these hormones in balance is important because they regulate metabolism in adults and are crucial in brain & organ development in infants and young children.
➔ How can I avoid it? Keep your drinking water perchlorate-free using a reverse osmosis filter. Filter buying guide can be found at www.ewg.org/report/ewgs-water-filter-buying-guide. It’s difficult to avoid the perchlorate found in food, but the effects can be neutralized by making sure you get enough iodine. Using iodized salt is a good way to get this nutrient.
➔ What is it? Fire retardants contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs.
➔ Why is it bad? PBDEs imitate thyroid hormones and disrupt hormone activity. PBDE activity has been seen in people and wildlife around the globe- even in polar bears! These chemicals lead to significant health effects including lowered IQ. Although use of these chemicals has been phased out, they remain incredibly persistent in the environment and will continue to cause damage for many years.
➔ How can I avoid it? This is another chemical that is difficult to avoid, and should inspire companies and laboratories to do more thorough testing on future chemicals before they are used publicly. In the meantime, use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to eliminate toxins from the house and take care when removing carpet or reupholstering furniture as PBDEs may have been used in foam padding. Find more information at: http://www.ewg.org/pbdefree
➔ What is it? Lead is a toxic heavy metal that is particularly harmful to children.
➔ Why is it bad? Lead exposure harms nearly every organ and is linked to a host of health complications- brain damage, lowered IQ, hearing loss, miscarriages, premature birth, increased blood pressure, kidney damage and nervous system problems. Lead has also caused lowered sex hormones in animals and disruption of the hormone signaling that regulates the stress system in humans, making it harder for the body to handle stress.
➔ How can I avoid? Keep your home clean and well maintained, as crumbling old paint can be a source of lead exposure. Use a quality water filter to eliminate lead from drinking water. Eat healthily, as studies have shown that children with a better diet absorb less lead.
➔ What is it? Arsenic is a toxic chemical element and a contaminant of our food and drinking water supply.
➔ Why is it bad? Arsenic poisoning may sound like plot twist in a murder mystery, but this toxin is causing real world damage as well. While ingesting enough arsenic will certainly kill you, low levels of exposure are also damaging, causing skin, bladder and lung cancer. Arsenic also interferes with hormone functioning in the glucocorticoid system which is responsible for the processing of carbohydrates and sugars. Disrupting this system can cause weight gain/loss, protein wasting, immunosuppression, insulin resistance (which can lead to diabetes), osteoporosis, growth retardation and high blood pressure.
➔ How can I avoid it? Arsenic levels in drinking water can be reduced with a water filter. Find a water filter buying guide at www.ewg.org/report/ewgs-water-filter-buying-guide/.
➔ What is it? Mercury is a naturally occurring toxic metal that has been released to the air and ocean, primarily through coal burning, and can now be found contaminating much of the seafood supply.
➔ Why is it bad? Mercury is toxic, especially for pregnant women as it concentrates in the fetal brain and interferes with brain development. Mercury also binds to a hormone that regulates the menstrual cycle and ovulation, and thus inhibits normal hormone signaling. This toxin can also lead to diabetes because it damages pancreatic cells that produce insulin.
➔ How can I avoid it? Lower seafood consumption and stick to wild salmon and farmed trout, which are less likely to be contaminated.
Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs)
➔ What are they? PFCs are widespread chemicals used in making non-stick cookware. These chemicals can be found in 99% of Americans and are so persistent that one PFC called PFOA has been deemed “completely resistant to biodegradation,” meaning it will never break down in the environment and will continue to affect people for generations.
➔ Why are they bad? PFCs have been linked to a variety of health effects including diminished sperm quality, low birthweight, kidney and thyroid disease, and high cholesterol.
➔ How can I avoid them? Avoid using non-stick cookware and water-resistant coatings on clothing, furniture and carpets.
➔ What is it? Organophosphate compounds were originally developed by the Nazis for chemical warfare during World War II, but were never used. After the war, American scientists used the same chemistry to create a line of pesticides, still commonly used today, that affect the nervous system of insects.
➔ Why is it bad? Studies have linked organophosphate exposure to damaging effects on brain development, behavior and fertility. The chemicals also interfere with testosterone to cell communication, leading to lowered testosterone and altered thyroid hormone levels.
➔ How can I avoid it? Buy organic produce. Check out the EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Produce without Pesticides for more information on choosing the right fruits and vegetables: www.ewg.org/foodnews.
➔ What are they? Glycol ethers are solvents used in paints, cleaning products, brake fluid and cosmetics
➔ Why are they bad? Glycol ethers shrink testicles in rats, and effect humans as well. The European Union reports that glycol ethers affect fertility and unborn children. Studies of painters have found that their exposure to ethers caused blood abnormalities and lowered sperm count. Children who were exposed to the chemical through the paint in their bedrooms had significantly higher rates of asthma and allergies.
➔ How can I avoid them? Avoid cleaning products with 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME) as ingredients, and check out the EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning at: www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners.