Protect against environmental hazards
The past half-century has witnessed the large-scale production, use, and disposal of man-made chemicals into our environment. Most of the synthetic chemicals produced in the U.S. lack adequate testing to determine their long-term health effects in humans. But numerous studies show that human exposure to pesticides, solvents, herbicides, insecticides, certain plastics, and manufacturing byproducts in our environment can cause adverse health effects. Since these products interfere with our internal hormonal balance, we call them hormone-disrupting compounds.
A hormone disrupter is any substance that alters normal endocrine levels or activity in the body. Synthetic chemicals can disturb the normal activity of thyroid and other hormones, including estrogen, by binding directly to hormone receptors; activating these receptor sites; and creating a chain of events similar to what would happen if the hormone itself were binding to the receptor. One of the problems is that they stay on the site too long and your body does not know how to remove it.
These toxins may also bind with and occupy the receptor, blocking normal hormonal activity. Or they may interfere with proteins that regulate the activity of hormone. This kind of hormone disruption is associated with the development of breast cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, and fibromyalgia, to name just a few conditions.
We are exposed to hormone-disrupting compounds in our everyday lives, often without knowing it. Pesticide residues are common on fruits and vegetable-unless certified organic. Nonorganic animal foods often contain added hormones and antibiotics. Certain fish have high levels of mercury and dioxins.
Even some of the more flexible plastic containers in which many foods and condiments are packaged and stored can leach out harmful chemicals. Hormone-disrupting compounds are found in both well water and city water, providing yet another daily means of exposure. Other culprits include commercial household cleaning products, conventional cosmetics, perfumes, dry cleaning solvents, carpeting, vinyl floors, copy machines, furniture glues, air fresheners, mattresses, shampoos-and the list go on.
The Greatest Risks
Here are some environmental toxins linked to adverse health effects:
Need To Detox?
- Dioxins are byproducts of industrial incineration and combustion. Also produced by the manufacturing of chlorine-containing pesticides, wood preservatives, and paper, dioxins persist in the environment for years and accumulate in the fat of farm animals that eat contaminated feed or water. Linked by some studies to endometriosis, these toxins appear to disrupt endocrine function, causing imbalances.
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PBB's) are used in coolant, lubricants, and insulation for electrical equipment as well as in paints, dyes, and rubber. PCB's accumulate in human fat-and in the food chain. Found in rivers and lakes, these toxins weaken the immune system, damage neurological development, and behave like estrogen in the body.
- Bisphenol A is a compound in some plastics. It can leach into foods and the environment. Bisphenol A produces estrogen like effects making it a possible contributor to immune suppression, and some cancers.
- Phthalates are added to plastic to make them strong, soft, and flexible. These toxins are also used in carpet backing, paints, glues, insect repellents, hair spray, nail polish, and even in toys, where they make their way into our bodies through ingestion, inhalation, and skin absorption. Phthalates hormone-disrupting effects have been found to suppress ovulation and estradiol production and to contribute to a condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome.
- DDT the pesticide and its metabolite DDE have been banned in this country since 1972, but their effects still linger in our environment, accumulating in adipose tissue and in the food chain. An insecticide used in agriculture and mosquito control, DDT has estrogen effects.
- Formaldehyde is another toxic compound. Traditionally used as a laboratory preservative, it has made its way into our homes. Formaldehyde is used in some shampoos, conditioners, and cosmetics as well as in construction materials, cleaning supplies, carpeting, drapes, upholstery, paper products, and plastics. Its fumes can cause depression, fatigue, poor memory, headaches, asthma, cough, skin rashes, and other problems. Formaldehyde has also been linked to reduced fertility and spontaneous abortion (miscarriage).
Normally, our bodies are equipped to metabolize and eliminate toxins through the process of detoxification. But when we are daily bombarded with so many chemicals from so many sources, our bodies can become overburdened. Luckily, we can use diet and supplements to assist our bodies in breaking down toxins and supporting natural hormone balance.
Certain foods support liver metabolism and detoxification. The family of cruciferous vegetables (including broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, collards, and cauliflower) contain liver detoxifying nutrients that help to speed toxins out of the body. Flaxseed and psyllium husk powder offer fiber that binds toxins and supports the bowel in eliminating them.
Herbs also support the liver: milk thistle, dandelion root, burdock root, beet root, fenugreek, greater celandine, juniper, and fringe tree. Natural detox teas combine many of these herbs such as "Daily Detox Tea" from M.D. Labs, "Detox A.M. Wellness Tea" from Celestial Seasonings and "Liver Detox Tea" from Herbalfitness.
Amino acids, the basic building blocks of proteins, are necessary for detoxification of environmental pollutants. Glutathione, cysteine, glycine, glutamine, taurine, and methionine are important for detox. Whey protein powder is a convenient source of glutathione. Many soy and rice protein powders have amino acids added to them, so check the labels. Selenium, vitamins C and E, and alpha lipoic acid are antioxidants that protect us from toxin overload. A good multi-vitamin/mineral formula such as "Multi-Vitamin Natures Way" and "Twinlab Mega 6" also provides necessary cofactors for liver detoxification.
Any individual experiencing chronic health problems or a hormone-related condition is wise to seek the help of a qualified health care professional who specializes in this. Don't be afraid to seek "alternative health care practioners". Some of them have much more formal education in this than conventional medical practioners.
While it's nearly impossible to completely eliminate these toxic compounds from our lives, we can educate ourselves and protect against toxic overload. Also important, we can help to educate others and get involved to make our planet a safer place for all.
It's easy to become overly anxious about the amount of toxins to which we are exposed to ever day. But who wants to live in a bubble? Instead, we can educate ourselves in ways to minimize our exposure to these compounds and how to support the body in metabolism and eliminating toxins. Avoiding hormone-disrupting compounds begins simply with the choices we make at home and the store, increasing the demand for safer alternatives.
- Buy certified organic fruits and vegetables grown without the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, sewage slude (a lesser-known source of toxins), or hormones. When you can and according to your budget. Think of it as a great investment.
- Select fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables whenever possible, limiting canned foods.
- Choose grass-fed, hormone-free meats, eggs, and dairy products (organic when possible), and avoid eating animal fat, because of the possibility of high concentration of chemicals.
- Eat fish low in mercury and fat, since toxins accumulate in the fat of fish. Also avoid: tilefish, tuna, farm-raised salmon, swordfish, shark, king mackerel, red snapper, orange roughly, and trout.
- Buy naturally chemical-free soaps, detergents, and cleaning supplies.
- Use natural pest control instead of pesticides and herbicides for your lawn, and adjust your mind about what looks beautiful.
- When remodeling, ask for earth-friendly, or "green," building supplies.
- Drink filtered water out of glass or ceramic containers, and store and cook foods in glass, whenever feasible. Buy glass stored foods and recycle.
- Avoid PV or vinyl (which contains plasticizers), PS or Styrofoam (suspected carcinogens and hormone disrupters), and other resins (including PC).
- Buy a box of surgical gloves or a good pair of rubber ones and use them if you are in doubt about any liquid, solvent that easily gets absorbed through your skin.
Natural Progesterone (Progensa 20)
Menopause Formula (PhytoBalance)
Milk Thistle(Liver Health)
- Detoxify or Die by Sherry A. Rogers, MD ($22.95, Prestige, 2002)
- Having Faith by Sandra Steingraber ($14, Berkley, 2003)
- Living Downstream by Sandra Steingraber ($14, Vintage, 1998)
- Our Stolen Future by Theo Colburn, PhD ($15, Plume, 1997)