12 Chemicals That Are Screwing Up Your Hormones
The world can be a toxic place sometimes, can't it? While technological innovations have in many cases made our lives better (see: Vitamix), "progress" can often bring unwanted toxins into our homes and lives.
That's why it's important to arm yourself with information about what sort of chemicals may be making their way into your body. Fortunately, the Environmental Working Group this week released its Dirty Dozen List of Endocrine Disruptors, 12 hormone-altering chemicals that can be found in everything from drinking water to cleaning products. So keep an eye out for these bad boys, and protect yourself from a hormonal roller coaster ride!
BPA — otherwise known as Bisphenol A — is used to make certain kinds of plastics, and can also be found in thermal receipt paper and some canned goods. The EWG suggests steering clear of receipts, while the FDA recommends that those who want to limit BPA exposure should avoid plastic containers with the recycling numbers 3 or 7 on them.
This is the name of a highly toxic group of chemicals found all over the world—both in nature, and also as byproducts of manufacturing—basically, everywhere! 90% of our exposure to dioxins is from eating animal products, which is why the EWG recommends limiting consumption of animal products in order to reduce intake. Dioxins can increase stress hormone levels, hurt your immune system, and they can cause liver damage and skin lesions. Because these toxins can be found in human breast milk, it's a good idea to eat a varied diet, to minimize your exposure to any one toxin.
Everyone knows arsenic is poisonous, right? So why is it in our food and water supply? Arsenic can impair the way your body processes sugar, so the EWG says it's a good idea to get a high-quality water filter that eliminates arsenic.
Yikes — it turns out there's a lot of hormone-disrupting junk running straight from your faucet and into your glass. Atrazine is a widely used pesticide, which means it often sinks into the ground and contaminates drinking water. That would be OK — if it didn't cause chemical castration! That's right: atrazine has caused feminization and chemical castration in frogs, an effect that applies in varying degrees to all vertebrates. So stick to pesticide-free produce, and buy a good water filter!
Ah, our old friend phthalates. Many MindBodyGreen readers are familiar with this toxin class, members of which are found in common beauty products and plastic containers. But did you know that phthalates can induce apoptosis in immune system cells? In plain speech, phthalates can destroy part of your immune system, so toss any lotion or cream that contains them!
Fire retardants (PBDEs)
Yes, that's a picture of butter for the slide that says "fire retardants." Why? Because compounds called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are used as a fire retardant, have made their way into our groundwater, thereby contaminating our food and water supply. That's all fun and games — until your thyroid function suffers and the weight of your sexual organs changes. Unfortunately, these chemicals are so widespread that the EWG believes legislative action will be required to curb their effects.
This is another example of a substance everyone knows is poisonous, yet it's still a problem in houses with old, lead-containing paint. The takeaway from the EWG in this case is to proceed with extreme caution when removing old paint, and to (again) purchase an excellent water filter.
We have one word for you: biomagnification. The one positive aspect of mercury's well-known status as a neurotoxin is that many of the world's political leaders have finally recognized mercury's damaging effects, and have signed the Minamata Convention to reduce pollution caused by this heavy metal.
While 147 nations signed, there's one notable absence: the United States. Well, maybe the neighbors will pick up the slack; both Canada and Mexico agreed to the terms of the Convention. For now, try to avoid large fish, like tuna and swordfish, to reduce your risk of exposure.
Perfluorinated chemicals are the seemingly magical substances that put the "nonstick" into your nonstick pans. PFCs are extremely resistant to biodegradation, and (among a host of other effects) can lead to lower birth weights for infants. The EWG suggests skipping nonstick products altogether.
The Environmental Working Group links these pesticides to chemical weapons designed by Nazis, but there's no need to reference the National Socialist Party to see how damaging organophosphates can be. While organophosphates have received less research attention than some of the other items on this list, early reviews suggest that these compounds can have neurotoxic effects on children. As always, it's best to avoid food that's been sprayed with pesticides.
A freshly painted, clean home is nice, but is it worth reduced sperm motility? A 2008 study linked glycol ethers — a common solvent in paint and some household cleaning products — with low sperm count. The EWG recommends avoiding products with ingredients like 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME).
Perchlorates aren't just components of rocket fuel: they're also in fertilizers and groundwater! This is a bummer for your thyroid, which perchlorates can attack, in turn messing up your metabolism.
There's good news and bad news. The bad news is that perchlorates are pretty much everywhere; the good news, according to the EWG, is that you can protect yourself by ensuring you maintain a healthy iodine intake. Seaweed is a great source of iodine.