What Are Endocrine Disruptors?

Think about how your daily routine usually starts. Do you wash your hair? Brush your teeth? Put on deodorant or perfume? Slap on some lippy or mascara?

Before you’ve even walked out the door you have potentially exposed yourself to over 200 different chemicals. And if you’re using commercial products, (often your conventional brands bought in supermarkets or pharmacies) many of these chemicals can be toxic and damaging to your hormone health. 

Sure, most of these ingredients are safety tested and passed by the TGA (therapeutic goods administration) before they go into your products but testing is predominantly based on acute reactions such as irritation and rashes not so much testing, screening and regulating of the bioaccumulation and long term impact on our health.

Fillers, preservatives, fragrance, ingredients that make a product feel smooth or silky- these are some examples of toxic compounds that are classed as endocrine disruptors or another word for this- xenoestrogens.

The endocrine system is your chemical messenger system between the brain, glands that produce hormones such as the adrenals/ovaries and the organs that the messages are sent to. An endocrine disruptor is anything that interferes with this messaging and leads to hormone imbalance.

These endocrine disruptors, are not only in the products we use but found in the environment and the foods we eat, they have the ability to disrupt hormonal regulation by mimicking hormone activity. As the chemical industry continues to grow in this modern world, we are unfortunately seeing a significant increase of oestrogen dominant conditions that derive from this exposure.

Symptoms such as acne, irregular, heavy or painful periods, breast swelling and pain, or more serious health concerns such as polycystic ovarian syndrome, fibroids and endometriosis and fertility issues. Unfortunately these are becoming so “common” that we feel like they are “normal”.

Our hormones are like little chemicals reacting to their environment, everything we consume, apply, do and even think can impact their balance and production, so by making educated and conscious choices we can influence the way they behave and therefore impact our health.

The most important products to consider are those coming into direct contact with skin and other mucus membranes so think cosmetics, skincare, toiletries and sanitary items as the most important to switch to low tox versions.

It is estimated that a woman will use over 11000 tampons in her lifetime. Commercial tampons and pads are bleached to look “clean” which causes some byproduct compounds called dioxins. These are powerful endocrine disruptors. There is a term used for acne that appears during or directly after the period CHEMACNE which is attributed to the absorption of these chemicals that are throwing hormones into disarray- organic non bleached tampons and pads, menstrual cups and period underwear are all safe alternatives.

Triclosan, an antibiotic commonly found in toothpaste and antibacterial handwash/body wash has been shown to interfere with thyroid signalling and male and female sex hormone signalling. Fluoride in toothpaste is also one to avoid as it blocks the absorption of iodine, essential for thyroid hormone conversion and oestrogen metabolism. Go for fluoride free tp that is free of triclosan

Endocrine disruptors aren’t just limited to the bathroom, so think about what’s in your kitchen and laundry as well. Cleaning products as an example, are something we can all change easily to lessen the impact on our health and the environment, bleach and ammonia based products are particularly harmful to hormones. Plastics, not just the infamous BPA but literally thousands of different toxic chemicals in plastics, are some of the most powerful endocrine disruptors, it has been found to accumulate in breast tissue but fortunately, can deplete significantly once the use of plastics in such things as canned foods, cooking utensils, drink bottles etc is ceased. There is a big movement currently on reducing single use plastics for the sake of the environment which is great, now add to that the health implications and its even more encouragement to make a change.

Some of the worst offenders to avoid:

petrochemicals which are an industry by-product used to increase spreadability, shelf life and distribute fragrance through  product. Look for ingredients ending in “ene” such as benzene, polyethylene, methylene.

Parabens and Phthalates – preservative and plasticiser used to increase flexibility of plastics often found in perfumes, hair spray, nail polish, cosmetics. Look for ingredients ending in paraben- eg. butylparaben and propylparaben and ingredients ending in “pthalate” such as DEP, BBP, DBP

Chemical sunscreen– chemical ingredient in sunscreen such as oxybenzone is a known carcinogen and potent endocrine disruptor. Opt for a physical sunscreen such as zinc oxide which acts as a physical barrier and has antioxidant properties.

For more details on ingredients check out Dr Peter Dingle’s book Dangerous Beauty

and visit the environmental working group www.ewg.org

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