Hormonal balance is important for the proper functioning of our endocrine (hormone) system. Hormones act as chemical messengers that regulate reproductive function and control pituitary glands, the thyroid and the adrenal glands. Many things can threaten to upset this balance, including xenoestrogens – synthetic hormones that mimic the ones produced by our body. Xenoestrogens are the result of high exposure to environmental toxins from car fumes, household cleaners, personal care products, and even food and drinks.
When xenoestrogens disrupt our hormonal balance, the endocrine system is unable to function properly, and may cause problems like painful periods, long menstrual cycles (36 days or more), breast lumps, endometriosis, fibroids, infertility and the spread of breast cancer cells, as well as male oestrogen dominance. In men, xenoestrogens could be the culprit of low libido, low sperm count or infertility, and andropause symptoms like mood swings, depression, weight gain, blood sugar imbalance, heart conditions, atherosclerosis, benign prostate hypertrophy and prostate cancer, usually affecting men around the ages of 40 to 55.
1. Switch to hormone-free meat and organic dairy products
Commercially-raised dairy and meat products in your regular supermarket are usually full of growth hormones and antibiotics. They are used to speed up the growth of livestock and increase the production of milk and eggs, in order to keep up with market demands.
Inevitably, residual hormones and antibiotics are found in these meat and dairy products. When it enters our system, our endocrine and gut function is disturbed. Removing commercial meat and dairy products is one way you can avoid these residual hormones and antibiotics.
2. Eat local and organic
Similar to commercially-grown meat and dairy products, commercially-produced fruits and vegetables are laced heavily with pesticides to prevent damage and disease. It also helps it to stay fresh longer and travel further.
Pesticides are carcinogenic and a rich source of xenoestrogens. Even if it might be cost-prohibitive, try to buy organic produce as much as possible. At other times, be sure to soak and wash your commercial fruits and vegetables multiple times before cooking and eating them.
3. Use fragrance-free beauty products made from natural ingredients
There is a wide spectrum of face and body products available in stores that people use everyday that are laden with cheap, fruity or floral fragrances. What we don’t realise is that these fragrances mimic oestrogen in our bodies, interrupting our natural hormone cycle.
Fragrance is also very “drying” to the skin, and will cause dryness and skin irritation. The best thing to do is invest in products that are fragrance-free and that use natural ingredients.
A good place to start is your local health food store. Read the ingredient list before buying. Try to buy beauty products that don’t have that many ingredients. Avoid products that contain artificial dyes, parabens and phthalates.
4. Rethink your householdcleaning agents
Eliminating chemicals in our environment isn’t just limited to our beauty routine. Air quality at home can often be more detrimental than the pollution we experience outside.
Mould, trapped mites and dust in our carpets contribute to the problem, but another big culprit is the products used to clean our homes every day.
Items like scented laundry detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets, scented dish soap and the many cleaning products that contain bleach and other harsh chemical agents that we use to clean our homes, all contain oestrogen-mimicking chemicals.
For laundry, substitute with unscented versions. Try natural product cleaners like vinegar, baking soda, and lemon or lime, to clean your home. There are many online recipes for making household cleaning products from natural ingredients. Give those a try.
5. Avoid using plastic containers
In terms of exposure to xenoestrogens, one of the worst conveniences we’ve incorporated into our lives is the widespread use of plastic. Not only is it used as water bottles and takeaway containers, even certain tea bags use plastic as part of their material.
Plastic contains bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that displays hormone-like effects on the body and has been associated with breast cancer.
One easy way to reduce your exposure to BPA is to limit your use of plastics and avoid heating foods in plastic containers, as heat causes BPA to further leach into your food. Change your bottles and containers to non-plastic ones as a start. Also, canned food should be avoided, as tins are often coated with BPA.
6. Skip birth control pills
Hormonal contraceptives can cause havoc to body’s natural balance, but surprisingly, the role of birth control pills, the patch, the shot, the implant, the ring and the hormonal IUD in disrupting the healthy functioning of the endocrine system are addressed the least. That’s because all these products are designed to be disruptive in order to prevent pregnancy.
Hormonal birth control is the most potent source of xenoestrogens as it goes right into your body and creates the most damage. Even if you change your diet and make lifestyle changes by avoiding plastics and household chemicals, the balance in your endocrine system will not be restored.
The best thing to do is to stop using hormonal contraceptives and to consider intrauterine contraceptives if you can, in order to minimise direct exposure to harmful, synthetic chemicals Here are 10 more ways to avoid overexposure to xenoestrogens:
1. Don’t use a microwave to heat up your food.
2. Cook foods in a cast iron, stainless steel or lead-free glass cookware, instead of non-stick cookware.
3. Avoid hot liquids in foam styrofoam cups.
4. Eat soy and ground flax seed in moderation because these have been known to have an oestrogenic effect.
5. Use stainless steel water containers, instead of plastic ones.
6. Minimise the use of harsh pesticides on your lawn.
7. Look for feminine products made from organic cotton and avoid any that contain dioxin.
8. Minimise your use of nail polish and any kind of solvent.
9. Invest in a water purification system for every water source in your house.
10. If you are trying to conceive, get pregnant or are breastfeeding, avoid inhaling industrial strength glue and other chemicals.
If you are experiencing hormonal imbalance, weight gain, acne, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, problems with fertility or reduced libido, then it’s best to consult a doctor who can advise you on nutritional supplementations and hormone optimisation to overcome the affects of the xenoestrogens holistically.
Star News paper. April 23, 2017
By Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar