We live in a highly estrogenic world today. Many women—and men—suffer from “estrogen dominance”, having too much estrogen relative to progesterone—and other hormones. Being in a chronically estrogen-dominant state is linked with an increased risk of hormone-dependent cancers, like breast cancer, as well as ovarian and uterine cancers.
Xenoestrogens are “foreign” (xeno) estrogens that contribute to estrogen dominance. How? Because xenoestrogens are similar to the molecular structure of estrogen, they can bind to our (human) estrogen receptor sites. When we are exposed to xenoestrogens (for example, when we eat them or absorb them through our skin), they add to the total amount of estrogen in our body…potentially tipping us into estrogen dominance. Xenoestrogens are stored in our fat cells; they are hard to detoxify—and they can contribute to weight gain.
Xenoestrogens are everywhere in our daily life—the food we eat, the water we drink, the makeup and skincare products we use, even in basic amenities, like soap, shampoo and toothpaste.
You can easily get a hyper dose of xenoestrogens simply by walking into big box stores, like Bed Bath and Beyond or Yankee Candle; these spaces are saturated with synthetic fragrances (a source of xenoestrogens). Personally, I avoid these types of stores because they give me a raging headache at first whiff.
Common everyday sources of xenoestrogens:
—Birth control pills and conventional hormone replacement therapy (HRT) both of which contain synthetic (not natural) estrogen.
—Conventionally grown produce because they are sprayed with insecticides and/or pesticides (both are xenoestrogens).
–Parabens. These are used as a preservative in many personal care products, including facial moisturizers, anti-aging creams, shampoos, lotions, hair care products and any product containing fragrance.
–Benzophenone. Found in nail polish, sunscreens, bath products; it is used to protect personal care products from deterioration from UV light.
–Tap water. A source of SO many chemicals; most obviously, chlorine and chlorine by-products, which are xenoestrogens.
–Plastics. Bisphenol-A (BPA) is found in plastic water bottles (esp polycarbonate water bottles), food storage containers and linings of metal cans.
–Artificial food additives. Including food preservatives, artificial colors and flavor enhancers. Yep, you’re going to find these in most processed foods, from boxed cereals to store-bought cookies.
–Phthalates. Used to soften plastics and used as a scent fixative; you’ll find it in shower curtains, food packaging, shampoos, perfumes and any product with “fragrance” in the label. Never heat food or drink with plastic in the microwave…this will give you a walloping dose of xenoestrogens!
What can we do to reduce our xenoestrogen exposure?
The first step is to cultivate awareness of where you may be exposing yourself to xenoestrogens. Then, as you are able, be mindful of making non-toxic food, water and product choices.
1. Birth control pills. Consider working with an integrative practitioner to explore the root cause of what may be causing your hormone imbalance(s) in the first place, whether it’s acne, irregular periods or PCOS. Your hormones have a delicate relationship with each other, and throwing synthetic hormones into the mix often confuses the issue—and can cause unanticipated side effects long-term. Unless birth control pills are absolutely the only recourse that you have, I highly recommend considering other forms of non-hormonal birth control.
2. Hormone Replacement Therapy. Consider talking to a knowledgeable integrative practitioner about bio-identical hormone therapy to see whether it may be beneficial for your symptoms.
3. Buy organic produce!
4. Read labels for all personal care products, including make-up/cosmetics. Buy only the cleanest options.
5. Minimize your use of plastics. Use glass, stainless steel and enamel to store and cook food, whenever possible.
6. Drink clean water. Use a quality filter for your tap water.
7. Minimize your intake of processed and packaged foods. If you are really craving cookies, bake them yourself.
8. Avoid / minimize processed foods because both the food and the container or wrapping in which it is packaged are both sources of xenoestrogens. Learnto cook a few simple dishes and rotate them during the week; this can go a long way towards reducing a high estrogen load.