Hormones are produced by the endocrine system and play an essential role in regulating activities throughout the body such as hunger, sleep, mood, and much more. Yet many of the foods we consume and the products and substances we come in contact with on a daily basis contain certain types of estrogen, which can disrupt our hormonal balance resulting in weight gain, changes in sex drive, brain fog, insomnia, and yes, allergies, hives, and other inflammatory conditions. What are endocrine disruptors and how can you maintain a healthy balance?
Phytoestrogens and Xenoestrogens
Estrogen is a critical hormone in female sexual health and reproduction, playing a key role in many bodily functions. Excess levels of estrogen, particularly in the form of phytoestrogens and xenoestrogens, can wreak havoc on a whole host of bodily functions. But what are these endocrine disruptors?
Phytoestrogens – These are naturally occurring compounds that are similar to the natural estrogens produced in the female body, but are derived from plants such as vegetables, fruit, some grains, and legumes. When phytoestrogens are consumed, the body’s estrogen receptors treat them as if they were its own estrogen, which can disrupt normal hormonal function and balance. For people who have estrogen deficiency such as women in perimenopause or menopause, phytoestrogens can be beneficial. However, consuming phytoestrogens in high levels carries some health risks.
Xenoestrogens – This type of “foreign” estrogen is a class of synthetic or naturally occurring chemical compounds that are defined as endocrine disruptors. These environmental toxins can bind to the body’s estrogen receptors and increase estrogenic activity. We come into contact with most xenoestrogens in the form of car exhaust, industrial pollutants, pesticides, cigarette smoke, some cosmetics and other personal care products, and certain household cleaning products.
Main sources of phytoestrogens
Soy and soy-based products – These are among the prominent sources of phytoestrogens and there is much debate about whether soy is actually healthy or harmful to hormonal health.
Conventionally produced dairy and meat – Estrogens are one of the most concentrated hormones in cow’s milk and other cow-derived dairy products. Approximately 60-80% of estrogens in the standard American diet come from dairy products. Antibiotics and growth hormones are widely used in livestock, which can increase estrogen levels. Eating grass-fed dairy and beef can help avoid getting too many phytoestrogens.
Alcohol – Consuming even a small amount of alcohol has been shown to elevate estrogen levels in both men and younger (pre-menopausal) women.
Main sources of xenoestrogens
Xenoestrogens are commonly found in plastics, pesticides, and a host of other personal care and household products. One of the most well-known xenoestrogens is bisphenol A (BPA), a synthetic compound added to plastics and is also present in air, dust, and water. BPA leaches into food and liquids and is well documented as an endocrine disruptor.
Avoid These Xenoestrogens
While it’s widely known that BPA should be avoided in consumer products, there are many alternative materials being used in products that are hormone disruptors.
- BPA plastics (water bottles, disposable cups, plastic wrap, food containers)
- Parabens (methyl, propyl, butyl)
- PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl)
- Spermicide (nonoxynol-9 on condoms)
- Sunscreens (chemically derived SPF)
- Tap water (unfiltered)
Be aware of what you’re putting in your body
As a doctor of functional medicine, Dr. Z takes a holistic approach to helping each patient live a healthier life. “In our functional medicine practice, we focus on treating the underlying cause of the problem, not just the symptoms.” This approach involves making healthy lifestyle choices and being aware about the quality of the food and drink you consume, how it’s cooked, how it’s stored, what you’re putting on your body, and what you’re breathing in the air. Here are just a few tips:
- Eat organic and non-GMO foods
- Store food in glass containers
- Invest in a glass or stainless-steel water bottle
- Never heat food in a plastic container
- Use BPA-free canned goods
When it comes to addressing hormone-related health concerns, be sure to contact a healthcare professional. At AAPRI’s Center for Functional Medicine, we’re here to help you find the root cause and get effective treatment. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.