4 common hormone disrupting chemicals (& how to avoid them)
Are you trying to conceive?
Trust Full Circle Prenatal: this post is a must-read. Even if you are not trying to get pregnant, this information is for all humans living in our modern world.
We need to talk about endocrine disruptors (aka “hormone disruptors”).
Unfortunately, they are common and quite pervasive in every aspect of our lives. You can’t completely avoid them unless you are living off the land in some remote part of Siberia. (And actually, studies recently found that the world’s largest lake in Siberia contained some level of chemical contamination from an old Russian paper plant, so… also, Siberia is cold. No thanks.)
We can’t completely avoid exposure to endocrine disruptors, but it’s important to try to minimize our exposure to them.
Once we define what they are, we will touch on the “4 Ps”, or four main products and places you'll encounter endocrine disruptors. Then, we'll cover what to do when you cross paths with these chemicals so you can implement our strategies and steer clear.
What exactly are endocrine disrupting chemicals?
Endocrine disrupting chemicals can have estrogenic, androgenic, antiestrogenic, or antiandrogenic properties. This means they can:
- Disrupt your sex hormones by messing with metabolism
- Obstruct the dialogue between your genetic and nongenetic pathways
- Interfere with hormonal feedback regulation and neuroendocrine cells
- Change DNA methylation
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. These are core, essential functions of the body that have to be working in anyone, but especially if you are trying to conceive.
The impact of endocrine disruptors can be multigenerational.
Yes, you read that correctly! It’s why we at Full Circle Prenatal are so passionate about educating on this topic. By now, you're probably a little nervous, but remember: the solution isn’t to move to Siberia or to completely overwhelm yourself (or your budget) by changing everything about your lifestyle all at once.
Let's break down some of the biggest offenders and look at practical strategies to limit your exposure.
So what are the 4 Ps?
Some of these might seem obvious. Some might be a total surprise.
The 4 Ps are:
- Personal care products
All of these things are essentially endocrine disruptors. We know what you're thinking. If endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can interfere with hormones, it's a little scary that you can find them hiding in a number of everyday products, especially considering that they can take such an enormous toll on your health. Not only can the 4 P’s negatively impact your hormones, but they can also impact your body’s natural detoxification system, nutrient metabolism, gut health, mental clarity, cognition, and affect the development of different diseases.
How frequently do you encounter plastics, pesticides, pollution, and personal care products?
Probably a lot, right? (And it’s honestly probably even more than you think.) Because of how frequent our exposure is to these things, it can sometimes feel a little overwhelming to tackle this problem. Below, we go into each of the 4 Ps, highlight what they are and how they impact your health, and explain how you can minimize your exposure without overhauling your entire life.
One of the most well-known chemicals found in plastic is Bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA is an industrial chemical that has been used to make plastics and resins since the 1960s. BPA is problematic because it mimics estrogen in the body. It can cause tons of damage by disrupting hormones, harming your reproductive system, and negatively impacting brain development and metabolic function. This industrial chemical has also been linked to cancer and other serious disorders. And, while BPA is dangerous for everyone, the developing fetus and babies are the most vulnerable age groups when it comes to BPA’s toxic effects.
BPA is hiding everywhere.
You can find BPA hiding in products like canned food, glass jars, bottle lids, aerosol cans, beverage cans, and coffee cans. That said, it’s not a reasonable goal to completely eliminate exposure to BPA. However, the EWG provides steps you can take to reduce exposure to BPA:
- Replace canned foods with fresh, frozen or dried foods
- Limit the number of packaged foods you eat
- Never heat food in the can. Always transfer it to a stainless steel pot or pan or glass – no plastic
- Avoid canned beverages like seltzer. The lining of these cans typically contains BPA and the carbonation combined with the acidity of some of the added flavoring may cause the BPA to leach into the liquid. (Try sparkling mineral water in glass containers or consider the soda stream, which even has a glass carafe model)
- Surprising non-plastic source of BPA? Receipts! Yep, thermal printed receipts (i.e. just about all sales receipts) are printed using BPA. This can transfer to your hands and be absorbed through the skin. If you need to take a receipt, make sure to wash your hands thoroughly especially before eating
A note on "BPA-free"
Unfortunately, as concern about BPA has grown among consumers, the industry has adapted by creating new (likely equally dangerous) chemicals to replace it that have yet to be studied. So stick with the above tips to avoid BPA and its replacements.
Minimize plastic exposure:
- Avoid microwave food in plastic containers! Instead, use glass, stainless steel, ceramic, or wood containers to store food
- When you do buy prepared foods, try to buy in glass over plastic when possible, especially acidic foods like tomatoes
- Avoid plastics that are marked 3 (PVC or vinyl), 6 (polystyrene foam), or 7 (can contain BPA). Choose safer plastics marked as 1, 2, 4, and 5
- When you’re on-the-go, try not to use disposable plastic water bottles, straws, and coffee cups with plastic lids. Instead, drink from glass or stainless steel containers (this is our favorite non-toxic to-go coffee/tea mug!)
Most people don’t realize that so many different pesticide residues hide in so many places! Pesticides are commonly found on conventionally grown produce. This is true even after it’s been washed or peeled.
There’s a lot of research to support the fact that pesticides can negatively impact fertility and pregnancy outcomes. For example, this study found that higher consumption of high-pesticide residue fruits and vegetables was associated with lower probabilities of pregnancy and live birth following infertility treatment.
Minimizing pesticide exposure can go a long way in protecting and promoting your fertility.
Every year, the EWG compiles a list of the 12 most pesticide-infested and the 15 least pesticide-infested fruits and veggies. Below are the “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” for 2020. You can get an updated version on their website for future years!
- Sweet corn
- Frozen Sweet Peas
- Honeydew Melon
Minimize pesticide exposure:
- Try to eat local, organic food. This will help reduce your exposure to pesticides. If organic is too pricey, buy the fruits and veggies with the lowest pesticide levels (from the "clean fifteen") and avoid the most contaminated ones (from the "dirty dozen")
- Wash fruits and vegetables before consuming them. You can find great, safe-to-use produce washing solutions at your supermarket or your local health food store. Just be sure to check the ingredients!
- Use toxin-free methods to control insects. If you choose a chemical-based commercial insecticide or pest control treatment, you might be introducing chemicals into your home that are more dangerous than the insects or pests you’re trying to get rid of! The EWG points to a few good resources for toxin-free pest control
This is more than the outdoor smog you think of when you hear the word “pollution". Pollution is anything that reduces air quality in your environment. This includes things like air fresheners, candles, plug-in and spray bottle room deodorizers, perfumes, etc. Removing air fresheners from your home is a super simple way to minimize air pollution.
Unfortunately though, these toxins can't be completely avoided out in the real world. They’re everywhere. In fact, you’ll start to notice how common they are in public spaces once your nose adjusts to not having them in your home!
Minimize pollution exposure:
- Ditch your air fresheners. Go around the house and collect all of your bottles of air freshener, plug-ins, candles, perfumes, etc. and just get rid of them! Instead, you can use things like essential oil diffusers, or even boiling water with spices, which is more cost-effective
- Get some plants for your home. Plants have the ability to take in some of the particulates in the air and process them into oxygen via photosynthesis. Plus, the microorganisms in the soil are responsible for a significant amount of their cleaning effect. Some popular air-detoxifying plants are dracena, spider plants, sword ferns, and peace lilies
- Spend time in nature. This is especially important if you live in a city with high population density. Make it a point to get outside and expose yourself to fresh air often
4. PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS
This is a big one, especially for women, who, on average, use 12 products containing 168 unique ingredients every day (men, by comparison, use 6 products daily with 85 unique ingredients, on average). Take a look at the ingredients in your lotions, make-up, perfume, shampoo, conditioner, deodorants, etc. There are a couple of major offenders to watch out for that are known hormone disruptors: phthalates and parabens.
The fallacy of "fragrance"
The word “fragrance” on the ingredients list is often just a mask for other hidden chemicals. Believe it or not, the cosmetics industry can get away with this. The EWG explains how they do this very well:
“When you see 'fragrance' on a personal care product’s label, read it as 'hidden chemicals'. A major loophole in the FDA’s federal law lets manufacturers of products like shampoo, lotion, and body wash include nearly any ingredient in their products under the name 'fragrance' without actually listing the chemical. Companies that manufacture personal care products are required by law to list the ingredients they use, but fragrances and trade-secret formulas are exempt.”
As previously mentioned, two of the most common and problematic toxins found in personal care products (and are often hiding under the term “fragrance”) are parabens and phthalates. Parabens, a group of endocrine disrupting chemicals, act as a preservative in personal care products, pharmaceuticals, and food products. Phthalates, another endocrine disrupting group of chemicals, are used in plastics, solvents, and synthetic fragrances.
Minimize exposure to toxins in personal care products
- Choose natural products. Read ingredients and stay on your toes! The EWG has an app called Skin Deep where you can search their database. It has thousands of products that you can scan while you're in the store and check their rating before you purchase!
- Consider switching to safer, high-performing clean beauty products. There are a lot of options on the market now at a range of price points: Beautycounter, Follain (for a store that offers many clean brands), Dr. Hauschka, Tata Harper, Osea, Rosebud Woman, and many more (including DIY recipe options!)
What's the takeaway?
The 4 Ps: plastics, pesticides, pollution, and personal care products are endocrine disruptors that can have a massive impact on your health.
Even though it can feel a little overwhelming to start decreasing your exposure to these toxins, it can be very beneficial, especially if you are trying to conceive. Doing so can support your endocrine system, your body’s natural detoxification system, nutrient metabolism, gut health, mental clarity, cognition, help prevent the development of different diseases, and lead to a healthy pregnancy.
The best-kept secret is that reducing exposure to the 4 Ps isn't actually all that challenging! Choose from the easy swaps highlighted above and get the most bang for your buck when it comes to cutting down on your exposure to toxins. Start by implementing one or two actionable strategies, and go from there.