By the time I was in my early thirties I was diagnosed with endometriosis and uterine fibroids, and had developed benign breast cysts, multiple food sensitivities, digestive issues, an underactive thyroid, and later adrenal fatigue. Talk about a major hormonal mess! I now understand what the common links were between these conditions, and part of the underlying problem was being in an “estrogen dominant” state. Estrogen dominance or imbalance happens when levels of estrogen are higher than they should be, or are high in relationship to the counterbalancing hormone progesterone. So what does this have to do with environmental toxins?
Many of the chemicals we are exposed to every day are considered to be hormone disruptors, and those include a class called xenoestrogens which are chemicals that specifically interfere with or mimic estrogen in our bodies. According to the National Institute of Environment Health Sciences,
“Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects … A wide range of substances, both natural and man-made, are thought to cause endocrine disruption, including pharmaceuticals, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT and other pesticides, and plasticizers such as bisphenol A. Endocrine disruptors may be found in many everyday products– including plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides. The NIEHS supports studies to determine whether exposure to endocrine disruptors may result in human health effects including lowered fertility and an increased incidence of endometriosis and some cancers. Research shows that endocrine disruptors may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are forming.”1
- Bisphenol A (BPA) lines 80% of canned foods and juices in the U.S. and is found on most cash register receipts. It’s linked to obesity, cancer, infertility, thyroid disorders, and other diseases.
- Soft plastics, cosmetics and even most air fresheners often contain phthalates, another known hormone disruptor.
- In a 2005 study2, the Environmental Working Group found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in the umbilical cord blood of infants born in the US.
- It is estimated at least 30% of childhood asthma and 5% of childhood cancers are a result of chemical exposures.3 Young children are especially vulnerable to chemicals due to their sensitive systems during early growth and development.
It’s thought that because of these early and ongoing exposures there is a strong link between environmental chemicals and the development of endometriosis and other conditions like fibroid tumors, breast cysts, PMS, and breast cancer. But there are many simple shifts you can make to minimize you and your family’s exposure to these potentially damaging toxins.
Tips to minimize chemical exposure
- buy organic foods as much as possible and choose grass fed meat and wild caught fish to lower the amount hormone exposure
- produce can be soaked and washed thoroughly with a tablespoon of Bragg’s apple cider vinegar mixed in a large bowl of water
- avoid canned foods because they contain BPA in the liners. Focus on eating more fresh and frozen foods or look for brands with non BPA lining
- filter your drinking and bath water or use http://www.findaspring.com to see if there is local spring water available near you
- avoid foods or drinks that are stored in hard plastics, especially those that are labeled #7 (indicating polycarbonates)
- heat foods in glass containers instead of in plastic, as heating plastic can cause the chemicals to leach into the food and store foods in glass containers. You can easily recycle glass jars and containers
- hand wash plastics instead of exposing them to the high heat in the dishwasher
- use glass or stainless steel drinking bottles and baby bottles instead of plastic. You can also buy glass or stainless steel straws and re use them instead of plastic or paper straws
- choose non plastic lunch kits for kids. The ECO lunchbox is a great example
- replace non-stick cookware with stainless steel, cast iron, or glass cookware as non-stick coatings release toxic chemicals when heated
- get familiar with the Environmental Working Group website and research their recommendations for natural and non-toxic products. A great resource to check cosmetics is EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database
- as the saying goes “if you can’t eat it, don’t put it on your skin”! This includes makeup, deodorants, hair products and skin care. A simple move can be to change your body moisturizer to pure cocoa butter or shea butter, with a few drops of essential oil. Find natural sun screen lotions for children. Your local health food stores usually carry natural cosmetics and personal care products
- use organic unbleached feminine hygiene products and baby diapers
- say no to cash register receipts, or wash after handling them
- wash any new clothes before wearing, to clean off chemicals
- use natural cleaners or make your own from simple ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. Check out this video on how to use these everyday kitchen ingredients. EWG has a great guide for the best commercial non-toxic cleaning products
- use wool dryer balls instead of dryer sheets or fabric softeners. You can put a few drops of quality essential oils on wool dryer balls and give your laundry a fresh scent
- plants in your home will help filter contaminants in the air as will a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter
- switch to natural alternatives to avoid using pesticides and chemical fertilizers in your yard, and leave your shoes at the door to avoid tracking in everything that may be lurking on the bottoms!
- when you’re ready to replace things like mattresses and furniture, look for natural fabrics that have less flame retardants, like cotton and wool
- use a fabric shower curtain instead of vinyl
- choose kids products and toys that are labeled BPA free; avoid those marked with a “3” or PVC
It may not be practical to change over all products at the same time, but as you replace things, move towards the more non-toxic versions. Working on minimizing exposures to hormone disruptors is a key piece of managing not only endometriosis and pelvic pain conditions, but overall health.
1 http://www.niehs.nih.gov: Endocrine Disruptors
2Environmental Working Group: The Pollution in Newborns, A benchmark investigation of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides in umbilical cord blood, July 14, 2005
3Environmental Health Perspectives, Volume 110, Number 7, July 2002: Environmental Pollutants and Disease in American Children: Estimates of Morbidity, Mortality, and Costs for Lead Poisoning, Asthma, Cancer, and Developmental Disabilities
Mercola.com: Documentary Reveals the Dangers of Everyday Chemicals, October 25, 2014
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences: BPA Factsheet, August 2010