The hormone Estrogen is a boon to femininity. It influences the life of a woman in myriad ways. The tone and luster of our skin, our height and appearance, the health of our blood vessels, the metabolism of fat in our body, maintenance of our bone mass, regulation of our bowel motility, status of our immune system and most important – our fertility area few functions orchestrated by estrogen in our body. Not to mention, this is just the tip of an iceberg. The list of all the functions of estrogen in the body of a woman is near to endless.
This was about the natural estrogen that our body synthesizes depending on our needs. There are sources of estrogen in our living environment too . They are called as xenoestrogens. And these affect us as much as the natural estrogen does. But unlike their natural counterparts, exposure to xenoestrogens can cause serious disturbances and diseases in our body.
We live in a world of petrochemicals, and come in contact with hundreds if not thousands of these products in our everyday lives. Our homes are heated with petroleum oil, and our cars run on petroleum fuel. Plastics, medicines, and food containers all contain petroleum byproducts, this including xenoestrogens.
Xenoestrogens from such sources can cause breast cancer, uterine cancer, fibrocystic breast disease, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, uterine fibromas, heavy periods, and infertility too. The early onset of menarche ( beginning of the menstrual cycle) and early sexual maturity in girls has been attributed to early exposure to xenoestrogens. As you know, the long-term consequences of early menstruation are a lengthy lifetime exposure to estrogen, with an increased risk of hormone-driven cancers such as breast and uterine cancer.
The biggest source of xenoestrogens are the pesticides sprayed on grains, fruits and vegetables that we consume everyday. They are highly estrogenic and some experts suggest that an average American ingests near about a pound of pesticide per year!
Pesticides have tendency to bio-accumulate. That is, they get stored in the fat cells of fish, poultry and livestock that feeds on pesticide rich feeds. Their concentration keeps mounting till they reach the top of the food chain, where ultimately we consume them.
Another major source of xenoestrogens is the growth hormones given to livestock and poultry, most of which contain fat-soluble estrogen. When we consume those animals or their milk, we ingest that estrogen.
Organochlorides like dioxin (a by-product of chlorine when it is burned or processed), PCB’s, PVC’s, and some plasticisers are just a few of the many man-made chemicals that act like estrogen in our bodies. Many others have the effect of interrupting our normal endocrine function, hence the term “endocrine disruptors.”
Products associated with plastics such as bis phenol A and pthalates. Bis phenol-A was originally designed for use a synthetic estrogen replacement. It was found to work quite well as an antioxidant to prevent plastic from breaking down in the sunlight. Bis phenol-A is used in drinking water bottles, plastics used in baby bottles, plastics used to pack food, and some dental composites. Pthalates along with excess estrogen given to chicken used as food were suspected to cause girls as young as 18 months to begin to menstruate in Puerto Rico between 1970 and 1980. Pthalates are found also in cosmetics, shampoos, hair dyes and more.
Preservatives used in skin lotions, shampoos, and body lotions such as the parabens that include methyl paraben, ethyl paraben, propyl paraben, butyl paraben. Researchers from the Department of Biology and Biochemistry department of Brunel University in the United Kingdom have conducted a study and found that alkyl preservatives (methyl-, ethyl-, propyl- and butyl paraben) are weakly estrogenic. The European Union has asked the European Cosmetics and Toiletry industry about these new findings and the implication for breast cancer. These preservatives are found in the vast majority of skin an body lotions, even in natural progesterone creams. Anything absorbed through the skin is 10 times the concentration of an oral dose. (See http://www.ewg.org for more information on toxic cosmetics.)
Xenoestrogens, in addition to being highly estrogenic, are fat-soluble and non-biodegradable. That means they are here to stay; you can’t get them out of your body (or off the planet Earth). Xenoestrogens accumulate in our fatty tissues (breast, brain, and liver) and cause “estrogen dominance”, with all its symptoms and diseases. Billions of pounds of these substances are applied to our fruits and vegetables every year in the form of chemical fertilizers and sprays. Because xenoestrogens do not go away, when you eat the fruit or vegetable you generally get a small amount of these substances.
For the most part, our bodies are amazingly resilient. We are hard-wired to resist threats to our equilibrium. What our bodies are not designed for is exposure to the many endocrine disruptors in our environment, abundantly and consistantly.
What We can do?
Avoiding xenoestrogens is important to our overall hormonal health for all of us including our men and children. Including organic produce, poultry and dairy products in your food is the best to way to ensure that you are not consuming xenoestrogens from pesticides and other chemicals.
Consuming foods that interferes with the absorption of xenoestrogens and blocks them is another effective solution. Veggies like broccholi are rich in Indole 3- carbinol (I3C). The Indole 3 carbinol (I3C) found in broccoli, interferes with xenoestrogens. I3C increases the good estrogen (2-hydroxyestrone) to bad estrogen (16-alpha-hydroxyestrone) ratio by increasing the detox enzyme CP450 in the liver.
Skin is the largest organ of our body, which acts like a huge sponge absorbing most of the things that we apply on it. 90 % of the oral dose of a drug may be filtered out through the liver, but the topical absorption by skin most of the times bypasses the liver. Which says that skin may absorb chemical at dangerously high levels. So be careful with what you put on your skin.
So beware, most of the cosmetics which are labeled as ‘natural’ are still loaded with chemicals! Hence while purchasing cosmetics, read their labels carefully and check for any above listed sources of xenoestrogens. Go over organic skin care products over the chemical concoctions.
Most importantly being informed about the xenoestrogens and their potential sources is the best way to protect ourselves and our families from their hazards.