When our period rolls around each month, we care a whole lot about our hormones. We know that estrogen might be affecting our emotions, our moods, and the severity of our PMS symptoms. What we might not be thinking about is how hormones affect us every single day and that those hormones aren’t just inside our body but also in our environment.
Ever heard of xenoestrogen? It’s a synthetic or natural chemical that mimics estrogen. Your birth control pills contains xenoestrogen and later in life when women hit menopause, doctors might prescribe xenoestrogens in the form of hormone replacement therapy to ease the symptoms of menopause. In those two instances, xenoestrogens are helping us, but scientists are questioning what other xenoestrogens might be doing to our bodies.
The chemicals that make up xenoestrogens are also called endocrine disrupting chemicals or EDCs. Commonly found in plastics and pesticides, EDCs get into our bodies without us even knowing it. EDCs are in the linings of metal cans for canned goods, in the plastic of water bottles, the chemicals of pesticides, on furniture that’s been chemically treated in the manufacturing process, in the ingredients of our cosmetics, and even in the formulation of the paper used for your cash register receipts.
Environmental safety advocate Rachel Carson led a crusade in the 1960s against one kind of endocrine disruptor, DDT, in her book Silent Spring. We’ve known definitively since then that chemicals can take a toll on our bodies. Now, scientists are taking an even harder look at EDCs. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Studies, EDCs “may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.”
A scientific statement from an international group of researchers and doctors called The Endocrine Society cited “effects on male and female reproduction, breast development and cancer, prostate cancer, neuroendocrinology, thyroid, metabolism and obesity, and cardiovascular endocrinology.” EDCs have also been linked to allergies and asthma and the early onset of menopause.
Many scientists now see EDCs as a serious threat to public health, but EDCs are too prevalent to be outright banned. These compounds are even in our water. However, there are ways that you can make sure that EDCs affect you less.
Keep it clean
One of the easiest ways to get rid of germs, chemicals, and any other things we don’t want in our bodies? Wash your hands. Simple enough to remember when we can see the grime, but start thinking about what chemical grime you can’t see after handling the chemically-treated paper of your grocery store receipt. You lower the chance of ingesting those chemicals if they all get washed down the drain.
Keeping your house clean will also help. We track dirt into our homes, but we also track in chemicals. Dust with a damp cloth and also vacuum regularly, especially with a HEPA (high efficiency particulate air) filter vacuum. While you’re keeping your house ship shape, we can also introduce EDCs into our own homes without even realizing it. Consider making the switch from traditional synthetic cleaning products and using organic or old school cleaning methods. Vinegar, baking soda, and lemon could be your new killer cleaning combo without causing you harm in the process.
Go au naturel
We all want to look our best, but we shouldn’t do it at the expense of our health. Lotions, cosmetics, nail polish, and perfume commonly use a kind of endocrine disruptor called phthalates. These chemicals help dissolve substances and to make other substances softer or more pliable. Phthalates may be helping us look better, but making us feel worse. Many products now claim “organic” or “natural” labels, but to find out what’s truly in them, you might have to do some digging.
The Food and Drug Administration has a database from 2010 with a list of products that contain phthalates. Some retailers have also realized that they can help consumers make more informed choices. Try searching your favorite website for cosmetics purchases (big box, specialty, or otherwise) for “phthalate free” and see what comes up. Or check out the nonprofit Breast Cancer Action’s list of phthalate free products. Environmental Working Group, a DC based advocacy group, has started labeling products it deems as safe and free from many of the most harmful chemicals. See if your product makes the cut or if it might be time to switch up your routine.
Our food is also a big source of EDCs. You can’t avoid all these chemicals, but you will avoid some by buying organic foods. Can’t afford to go all organic? These fifteen foods are the least harmful to you if you buy them conventionally grown. Buying organic is one way to combat EDCs, but those chemicals are on more than just the pesticides on your veggies. Also consider the plastic you use in your kitchen. Swap out your plastic storage containers, that honestly you’ve probably been holding on to for too long anyway, and start using glass containers. Nix those canned foods containers which are lined with chemicals to keep the food from going bad and start buying dried beans and fresh tomatoes. It will add more time to your meal prep, but also potentially add more years to your life. If you want to know even more about EDCs, these are the twelve chemicals that cause the most trouble.
European advocacy groups and companies have been working on an EDC free Europe, but the United States has yet to take the same kind of stand. Take charge of your own health and find out what your city and state is doing to reduce the use of EDCs.