Did you know the average person exposes themselves to hundreds of toxic chemicals every day, even if they don’t leave their house?
These invisible toxins are everywhere. They’re in the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe and the numerous products we use every day to clean our houses, as well as ourselves. Avoiding them altogether is impossible, but we can all take active steps to minimise our exposure and protect our wellbeing.
Chemicals are an essential component of our daily lives. Everything you can breathe, see, ingest or touch consists of chemicals. All matter, including us, is made of chemicals. However, some chemicals, known as endocrine disruptor chemicals (EDCs), can have harmful effects on the body’s endocrine (hormone) system.
Studies have linked exposure to EDCs with numerous health conditions. These include breast cancer, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), infertility, obesity, and reduced sperm count and quality.
Fact: There are estimated to be over 1000 artificial chemicals that have endocrine-disrupting properties.
Although the production of EDCs increased over 23 fold between 1947 and 2007, the long-term consequences on human health are only now beginning to be revealed. And it’s not looking good.
Is it just a coincidence that rates of infertility have simultaneously increased over the last 60 years? Or are the increasing levels of EDCs in our environment to blame?
What are Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals?
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are substances in our environment, food and consumer products that have harmful effects on the body’s endocrine (hormone) system. EDC’s can throw off your endocrine system in many ways. Mainly, they;
- Mimic hormones,
- Block hormones,
- Interfere with hormone production and/or
- Modify the body’s sensitivity to hormones.
Exposure to even low levels of EDC’s can have life-long consequences. It can not only affect the exposed individual but also their children and subsequent generations.
Although EDCs can affect our health at any age, we are particularly vulnerable when we are in our developmental stages: fetus, infant, or child. This is because the body’s endocrine system is very sensitive during this time, with even small changes in hormone levels known to cause significant developmental effects which can manifest into health conditions later on in life. Exposure to EDCs during these critical periods has been linked to decreased sperm count, infertility, obesity and much more.
How are we exposed?
It is almost impossible to avoid exposing yourself to EDCs as they are ubiquitous in the environment. They’re in the food you eat, the air you breathe, the water you drink and the products you use to clean your house, as well as yourself.
Below is a list of the most common EDCs and where you are most likely to come into contact with them.
|Common EDCs||Used In|
|Bisphenol A (BPA)||used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, which are found in many plastic products including food storage containers|
|Pesticides||Used as insecticides, fungicides, herbicides, and rodenticides|
|Dioxins||produced as a byproduct in herbicide production and paper bleaching, they are also released into the environment during waste burning and wildfires|
|Parabens||are a group of chemicals widely used as artificial preservatives in cosmetic and body care products|
|Perchlorate||a by-product of aerospace, weapon, and pharmaceutical industries found in drinking water and fireworks|
|Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)||used widely in industrial applications, such as firefighting foams and non-stick pan, paper, and textile coatings|
|Phthalates||used to make plastics more flexible, they are also found in some food packaging, cosmetics, children’s toys, and medical devices|
|Phytoestrogens||naturally occurring substances in plants that have hormone-like activity, such as genistein and daidzein that are in soy products, like tofu or soy milk|
|Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE)||used to make flame retardants for household products such as furniture foam and carpets|
|Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB)||used to make electrical equipment like transformers, and in hydraulic fluids, heat transfer fluids, lubricants, and plasticizers|
|Triclosan||may be found in some anti-microbial and personal care products, like liquid body wash and toothpaste|
There is mounting scientific evidence to suggest that even low doses of EDCs can cause health problems. They alter the function of many different hormones (including estrogen and testosterone), meaning their impact is felt throughout the body. They can disrupt metabolism, reproduction, growth, immune, and brain function.
Some of the most worrying health consequences of EDC exposure is its effects on male and female reproduction, with evidence suggesting that some EDCs can lead to:
- Decreased sperm quality and quantity
- Decreased fertility
- Abnormalities of male and female sex organs
- Early puberty onset
- Accelerated menopause
- Lengthened menstrual cycles
This evidence has lead scientist to believe that humankind’s increased exposure to EDCs could be an important factor causing the decreased fertility rates worldwide.
To prevent this article from becoming overly long, I have picked 5 EDCs from the list above to go into more detail about.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
Eight billion pounds of BPA are produced annually, making it one of the highest volume chemicals produced worldwide. BPA is used to make polycarbonated plastic. BPA can is found in the lining of our food and beverage containers, children’s toys, reusable plastic bottles, computers, CDs, as well as hundreds of other hard plastic items.
BPA leaches into our food and water, meaning that the majority of us ingest it daily. It’s unsurprising then that a recent study looking at over 2500 individuals found BPA in 92.6% of their urine samples.
BPA has even been found in human amniotic fluid, neonatal blood, the placenta, cord blood and human breast milk. This is a scary revelation as we are our most vulnerable during development (i.e., fetus, infant or child). As such, early-life exposure to EDCs have been linked to developmental abnormalities and may increase the risk for a variety of diseases later-in-life.
In adults, increased BPA exposure levels have been linked with various diseases, health outcomes, and medical conditions. To date, these include:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Cardiovascular Disease
- Alter liver function
- Premature Delivery
- Impaired Immune Function
- Impaired Thyroid Function
- Impaired Brain Function
Dioxins are highly toxic compounds that are produced as a by-product in some manufacturing processes, notably paper bleaching and the manufacturing of some herbicides and pesticides.
90% of us are exposed to dioxins by eating food, particularly animal products. When an animal (including us) absorbs dioxins from food or the environment, it is stored in fat cells for an estimated 7 to 10 years. Therefore, dioxins accumulate in the food chain, as well as in our own bodies. Meaning, the higher up the food chain, the higher concentration of dioxins you are exposed to.
Studies have demonstrated that long-term exposure to dioxins is linked to an increased risk of:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Ischaemic heart disease
- Acne-like skin disease (chloracne)
- Reproductive dysfunction
- Immune dysfunction
Parabens are a group of artificial chemicals widely used as artificial preservatives in cosmetics, beverages, food and pharmaceutical products. Common parabens are methylparaben, butylparaben, ethylparaben, and propylparaben. Often more than one paraben is used in a single product.
Most of us absorb parabens through our skin via the makeup, moisturisers, hair-care products and shaving cream that we use. Therefore, it is unsurprising that studies have found parabens in nearly every urine sample taken from adults in the USA, regardless of demographic. What’s more, a higher concentration of parabens has been found in samples from women when compared to men. This is probably because, on average, women use more personal care products than men, which are the most significant contributor to paraben exposure.
Regulatory boards like the food and drug administration (FDA) still deem the use of multiple parabens safe and without health risks. However, growing evidence from animal models has raised concerns about their hormone-disrupting effects and the impact of paraben on health and cancer risk.
Parabens can act like the hormone estrogen in the body, which can cause numerous male and female reproductive issues if imbalanced. Studies have shown that parabens have the potential to impact reproductive development, fertility and birth outcomes.
There is also concern that parabens can play a role in breast cancer development, with a recent study finding that low doses of butylparaben combined with other chemicals increase the growth of breast cancer cells.
To date, we know that parabens can:
- Interfere with the production of hormones
- Disrupt hormone signals
- Decrease male sperm count
- Lower male testosterone levels
- Decrease in female fertility
- Decrease menstrual cycle length
- Increase risk of early birth
- Decrease birth rate
- Accelerate the growth of breast cancer cells
- Alter gene expression
- Harm reproductive system of males and females
Phthalates are found in millions of products, including toys, personal care products, packaging, food and beverage containers, medical devices, household appliances, and electronics.
Pthalates can get into our bodies by direct contact or indirectly through leaching into other products, like our food and beverages.
Phthalates interfere with the production and functioning of testosterone. As such, people exposed to high levels of phthalates have been found to have reduced levels of testosterone compared to people with lower exposure. Baby boys exposed to phthalates in their mother’s breast milk have below-average levels of testosterone.
Studies have linked pthalate exposure to:
- Reduced fertility
- Abnormal sperm count
- Testicular damage
- Increased risk of miscarriage
- Increased risk of birth defects
- Abnormal development of the reproductive system in males
- Increased risk of breast and testicular cancer
Triclosan is an ingredient added to many consumer products intended to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. It is added to some antibacterial soaps, body washes, toothpastes, and some cosmetics.
There is good evidence to suggest that the overuse of products with triclosan can contribute to bacterial resistance in the same way we are cautioned against the use of antibiotics. Triclosan accumulates in your fat cells and is now detectable in breast milk, blood and urine samples.
The use of triclosan has been linked to:
- Abnormal endocrine system/thyroid hormone signalling
- Weakening of immune system
- Children exposed to antibacterial products at an early age have an increased chance of developing allergies, asthma and eczema
- Uncontrolled cell growth
- Developmental and reproductive toxicity
Whilst avoiding EDCs altogether is near impossible, you can take active steps to minimise your exposure. Avoiding the use of plastic containers and bottles, buying organic fruits and vegetables and ensuring you’re using toxin-free cleaning and personal products are just a few ways you can massively reduce your exposure.
After I finished my research for this article, I was shocked at how many invisible toxins I was exposing myself to daily. As a result, I overhalled my household items and chucked out all the products laced with EDCs and replaced them with toxin-free alternatives.
Read the label
Like me, most of you probably have numerous items in the house containing one or more of the above EDCs. You probably won’t want to chuck everything out and start all over again. Therefore, one of the best things you can do is minimise any new EDCs you bring into the house. To begin, before you buy any new cleaning products or personal products, read the labels.
You might be thinking that sound like a lot of work. However, I was recently introduced to the most helpful app ever, called Think Dirty. The app allows you to scan your household items, like your cosmetics, and it’ll bring up a list of the ingredients, including whether it contains any “Dirty” ingredients. Honestly, this was a lifesaver, and I’d recommend it to anyone trying to cut back on their EDC exposure.
You can’t eliminate all plastic, but you can take some easy steps to reduce your plastic use. Swap plastic storage containers with glass or stainless steel; if you keep plastic ones, don’t use them to store fatty foods, and never microwave them. Replace plastic bags with reusable ones, and plastic cling film with a beeswax-coated cloth. Choose hardwood blocks and cotton baby dolls over plastic ones. In short, anytime you’re in the market for something plastic, research whether safer alternatives exist. Don’t forget, just because something is BPA-free doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s safe. Often BPA is replaced with another toxin, like BPS, which isn’t any safer. Therefore, trying to find plastic-free alternatives to items is your best bet.
Filter your water
Drinking tap water out of a glass will reduce your exposure to BPA and other chemicals in cans and plastic bottles. But tap water contains a wider range of EDCs, and therefore, I highly recommend investing in a filter jug. They’re inexpensive and, when used correctly, very effective at minimising peoples exposure to EDCs and other nasty toxins.
Watch what you eat
If it’s feasible, eat as much organic food as possible because they contain fewer pesticides than non-organic produce. Additionally, buying some organically sourced fruits and vegetables is more important than others. Some of the “dirtiest” fruits and vegetables with the highest pesticide residue include:
Whether you buy organic or not, make sure to thoroughly wash your fruits and vegetables before peeling them, as this will help wash away any residue toxins away. Avoiding food and beverages packaged in plastic where possible is also a good way to minimise your exposure to EDCs. Another tip is to consider what you’re cooking your food in. Many non-stick pans (Teflon) are coated with the EDC polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). PTFE is a known carcinogen, disrupt hormone balance and affect fetal development. Therefore, replace non-stick pans with stainless steel or cast iron ones instead.
Cleaning our houses regularly to minimise air pollutants travelling around in dust particles is important. However, using the wrong cleaning products could inadvertently be causing you more harm than good. Opt for toxin-free brands or try making your own cleaning products at home; it’s actually not that difficult or time-consuming and can save you money and protect your health.
Rethink Skincare & Cosmetics
There are a lot of nasty chemicals hiding in the products we use on a daily basis. Read the label to avoid chemicals like parabens, sodium laureth sulfate, and oxybenzone. Check the labels of your:
- Body wash
- Hair-care products
- Shaving cream
Make sure to opt for “fragrance-free” cleaning and personal care products. Most fragrances have “secret ingredients” which means they do not have to tell us exactly what goes into making them. This means they can get away with hiding EDCs and not labelling them on the bottle.
Endocrine Disruptors are ubiquitous in the environment. They’re in the food we eat, the water we drink, the personal products we use day and night, and the cleaners we use in the house.
Whilst we can’t eliminate our exposure to these harmful chemicals, we can minimise it. Choosing toxin-free products, minimising your plastic use, going organic, and filtering your water are just a few methods you can use to “clean up” your home and prioritise your wellbeing.
If you found this helpful, please share with your friends and family to help build our community of strong and beautiful women.