Courgettes in cling-film? Conventional carrots? Luverly lippy? What do these things have in common? They may contain hormone-disrupting chemicals.
Living a convenience lifestyle, we might not think about the health implications of our make-up, shampoo, non-stick cookware, or plastic food trays. We know organic food is healthier, but might not want to pay more for pesticide-free provisions. However, our lifestyles affect how our bodies function. Countless common products - from nail varnish to lunch boxes to conventionally grown produce - contain endocrine disruptors.
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that alter hormonal functioning. The endocrine system naturally releases hormones, which tell different tissues how to behave. When hormone-disrupting chemicals enter the body, even at very low doses, they mimic natural hormones and block or bind hormone receptors. Thus, creating garbled messages and wreaking havoc. Hormone-sensitive organs (i.e. breasts and reproductive organs), the immune system and the nervous system are particularly vulnerable. Very concerning are the potential effects these chemicals can have on foetuses, babies and children, including impaired genital development, obesity and lifelong reproductive problems.
Xenoestrogens are a sub-group of endocrine disruptors with oestrogen-like effects. Oestrogen is a hormone present in both sexes. It is important for bone health, blood clotting and reproduction. The body regulates oestrogen production through complex biochemical pathways.
When xenoestrogens enter the body through food, air, water, drugs, or skin, they increase total oestrogen-like activity, resulting in oestrogen dominance. This throws the delicate endocrine orchestra off-key as our bodies' natural oestrogen, progesterone, DHEA, testosterone and other hormones are blocked and unable to function correctly. Xenoestrogens do not biodegrade but are stored in our fat cells. This accumulation has been implicated in hormone-related cancers, infertility, endometriosis, early puberty, miscarriage, obesity, diabetes and premature ageing, among other conditions.
For a list of common hormone-disrupting chemicals, see here. Their presence in skin care, industrial products, plastics, foods, building supplies and insecticides hints at our widespread exposure to them.
We can't always control our environment. We can semi-avoid gasses from printers and copiers, for example, but not necessarily from carpets. New cars, petrol fumes and pesticide drift are also culprits. Next time, we'll look at how to avoid common sources of hormone-disrupting chemicals.
For some information in this blog, I have relied on Amy LaRue, 'Xenoestrogens - What are they? How to avoid them' (2013) and Organic Excellence website.
Further reading: A recent study warns of over 175 dangerous chemicals found in food packaging, linking them to cancer, fertility problems and birth defects. See MailOnline's article here.