Dirty Dozen: 12 Hormone-Altering Chemicals and How to Avoid Them

Author: Dr. Gary Huber, DO

Date: Jan, 2015

Published by The Environmental Working Group. Common chemicals that you come in contact with every day may be altering how well your hormones work and overall risk for disease in general. Learn how to avoid them.

I have abbreviated this article for presentation here but you access it online at:

http://www.ewg.org/research/dirty-dozen-list-endocrine-disruptors

 

I have abbreviated this article for presentation here but you access it online at:

http://www.ewg.org/research/dirty-dozen-list-endocrine-disruptors

There is no end to the tricks that endocrine disruptors can play on our bodies: increasing production of certain hormones; decreasing production of others; imitating hormones; turning one hormone into another; interfering with hormone signaling; telling cells to die prematurely; competing with essential nutrients; binding to essential hormones; accumulating in organs that produce hormones.

Here are 12 of the worst hormone disrupters, how they do their dirty deeds, and some tips on how to avoid them.

BPA

This synthetic hormone acts like estrogen in the body. BPA has been linked to everything from breast and others cancers to reproductive problems, obesity, early puberty and heart disease, and according to government tests, 93 percent of Americans have BPA in their bodies!

How to avoid it? Avoid all plastics in general. Definatley avoid plastics marked with a “PC,” for polycarbonate, or recycling label #7. Not all of these plastics contain BPA, but many do – and it’s better safe than sorry when it comes to keeping synthetic hormones out of your body. Many food cans are lined with BPA. Say no to receipts, since thermal paper is often coated with BPA. For more tips, check out: www.ewg.org/bpa/

Dioxin

Dioxins are very long-lived, they build up in the body over time. They are powerful carcinogens and can also affect the immune and reproductive systems. Dioxins can disrupt both male and female sex hormone signaling. Recent research has shown that exposure to low levels of dioxin in the womb and early in life can both permanently affect sperm quality and lower the sperm count in men during their prime reproductive years.

How to avoid it? That’s pretty difficult, since the ongoing industrial release of dioxin has meant that the American food supply is widely contaminated. Products including meat, fish, milk, eggs and butter are most likely to be contaminated, but you can cut down on your exposure by eating fewer animal products.

Atrazine

Atrazine is an herbicide and studies have shown that even low levels can turn male frogs into females that produce completely viable eggs. Atrazine is widely used on the majority of corn crops in the United States, and consequently it’s a pervasive drinking water contaminant. Atrazine has been linked to breast tumors, delayed puberty and prostate inflammation in animals, and prostate cancer in people.

 

How to avoid it? Buy organic produce and get a drinking water filter certified to remove atrazine. For help finding a suitable filter, check out EWG’s buying guide: www.ewg.org/report/ewgs-water-filter-buying-guide/

 

Phthalates

More plastic problems. Phthalates can kill testicular cells, lower testosterone levels, lower sperm counts, cause birth defects in the male reproductive system, contribute to obesity, diabetes and thyroid irregularities.

 

How to avoid it? A good place to start is to avoid plastic food containers, children’s toys (some phthalates are already banned in kid’s products), and plastic wrap made from PVC, which has the recycling label #3. Some personal care products also contain phthalates, so read the labels and avoid products that simply list added “fragrance,” since this catch-all term sometimes means hidden phthalates. Find phthalate-free personal care products with EWG’s Skin Deep Database: www.ewg.org/skindeep/

 

Perchlorate

Perchlorate, a component in rocket fuel, contaminates much of our produce and milk. Perchlorate competes with iodine and reduces thyroid hormone levels and alters your thyroid hormone balance.

 

How to avoid it? You can reduce perchlorate in your drinking water by installing a reverse osmosis filter. (You can get help finding one at: www.ewg.org/report/ewgs-water-filter-buying-guide) As for food, it’s pretty much impossible to avoid perchlorate, but you can reduce its potential effects on you by making sure you are getting enough iodine in your diet. Eating iodized salt is one good way.

 

Fire retardants

In 1999, Swedish scientists studying women’s breast milk discovered endocrine-disrupting chemical found in fire retardants, and the levels had been doubling every five years since 1972! These chemicals, known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, have since been found to contaminate the bodies of people and wildlife around the globe – even polar bears. These chemicals can imitate thyroid hormones in our bodies and disrupt their activity. That can lead to lower IQ, among other significant health effects.

How to avoid it?   Consider use of mattresses that don't contain fire retardants. One company called “NaturePedic” makes organic mattresses that don't contain fire retardants because the natural materials don't burn like traditional mattresses. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, Dr Huber recommends a sealed system, check out the “Nilfisk GD 930H” , which can cut down on toxic-laden house dust as well as mold spores. Avoid reupholstering foam furniture; take care when replacing old carpet (the padding underneath may contain PBDEs). Find more tips at: www.ewg.org/pbdefree/

 

Lead

Lead harms almost every organ system in the body and has been linked to a staggering array of health effects, including permanent brain damage, lowered IQ, hearing loss, miscarriage, premature birth, increased blood pressure, kidney damage and nervous system problems. Lead also disrupts hormone production and function.

 

How to avoid it? Crumbling old paint is a major source of lead exposure, so get rid of it carefully. A good water filter can also reduce your exposure to lead in drinking water. (Check out www.ewg.org/report/ewgs-water-filter-buying-guide/ for help finding a filter.) And if you need another reason to eat better, studies have also shown that children with healthy diets absorb less lead.

 

Arsenic

Arsenic can cause skin, bladder and lung cancer. It also alters hormone function especially in the glucocorticoid system that regulates how our bodies process sugars and carbohydrates leading to weight gain/loss, protein wasting, immunosuppression, insulin resistance (which can lead to diabetes), osteoporosis, growth retardation and high blood pressure.

 

How to avoid it? Reduce your exposure by using a water filter that lowers arsenic levels. For help finding a good water filter, check out EWG’s buying guide: www.ewg.org/report/ewgs-water-filter-buying-guide/

 

Mercury

Mercury-contaminated seafood. Pregnant women are the most at risk from the toxic effects of mercury, since the metal is known to concentrate in the fetal brain and can interfere with brain development. Mercury is also known to bind directly hormones altering menstrual cycles. The metal may also play a role in diabetes, since mercury has been shown to damage cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, which is critical for the body’s ability to metabolize sugar.

 

How to avoid it? For people who still want to eat (sustainable) seafood with lots of healthy fats but without a side of toxic mercury, wild salmon and farmed trout are good choices. Avoid getting silver fillings. Filter your home drinking water. Avoid vaccines with thimerosal (mercury).

 

Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)

Perfluorochemicals are used in non-stick cookware and are widespread, found in 99% of Americans. They don't breakdown in nature which means that even though the chemical was banned after decades of use, it will be showing up in people’s bodies for countless generations to come.

 

This is worrisome, since PFOA exposure has been linked to decreased sperm quality, low birth weight, kidney disease, thyroid disease and high cholesterol, among other health issues. Scientists have found that it can affect thyroid and sex hormone levels.

 

How to avoid it? Skip non-stick pans as well as stain and water-resistant coatings on clothing, furniture and carpets.

 

Organophosphate pesticides

Neurotoxic organophosphate compounds produced by the Nazis for us in chemical warfare were never used. But American chemists used the same technology to develop a long line of pesticides that target the nervous systems of insects. Despite many studies linking organophosphate exposure to effects on brain development, behavior and fertility, they are still among the more common pesticides in use today. Organophosphates interfer with testosterones ability to communicates with cells, lowering testosterone levels and altering thyroid hormone levels.

How to avoid it? Buy organic produce and use EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which can help you find the fruits and vegetables that have the fewest pesticide residues. Check it out at: www.ewg.org/foodnews/

 

Glycol Ethers

Shrunken testicles: Do we have your full attention now? This is one thing that can happen to rats exposed to chemicals called glycol ethers, which are common solvents in paints, cleaning products, brake fluid and cosmetics. Worried? You should be. The European Union says that some of these chemicals “may damage fertility or the unborn child.” Studies of painters have linked exposure to certain glycol ethers to blood abnormalities and lower sperm counts. And children who were exposed to glycol ethers from paint in their bedrooms had substantially more asthma and allergies.

 

How to avoid it? Start by checking out EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning (www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/) and avoid products with ingredients such as 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME).