In our last post, we talked about what environmental estrogens (xenoestrogens) are, where they’re found, and why they’re harmful. They’re in everything from the water we drink to the food we eat and are known endocrine disruptors. They can adversely affect everything in our bodies from physical development to reproductive health to immune response. It sounds scary and it is, but there are actions you can take to protect your health and the health of your family.
First, let’s put environmental estrogens in historical context, contrasting life today with life a century ago. A hundred years ago we ate mostly whole fruits and vegetables that came from local farms and were organic before organic was a thing. Meat and dairy were produced on a smaller scale that didn’t use the unsanitary conditions that large commercial ranches use today, nor did it require antibiotics to stave off disease or hormones to speed growth (case in point: it now only takes a chicken six weeks to reach full size, versus four months in 1940). The feed most cattle eat today contain grains laced with pesticides — another major source of xenoestrogens. Times have changed, and those us of living in the developed world are confronted with environmental estrogens multiple times per day.
What can we do to protect ourselves? The good news is: quite a lot! There are a few major changes you can make that will eliminate a significant portion of your xenoestrogen exposure, plus several smaller steps you can take over time to further eliminate exposure. Whether you tackle the whole list or only one or two items, the important thing is to do what you can to eliminate environmental estrogens from your daily life.
- Buy organic meat and dairy. Most commercially raised livestock and dairy cows are injected with growth hormones to speed growth and increase size. One of the best changes you can make to your diet is to buy the best meat and dairy you can afford. Organic meat and dairy means no antibiotics or growth hormones were used. It also means the feed for those animals must be certified organic, so no persistent pesticides or chemical fertilizers are allowed. SMALL STEPS: Focus on buying organic versions of what your family eats most. That might mean organic beef or chicken, and if your family drinks a lot of milk, switch to organic there, too.
- Eat organic produce. Pesticides, particularly atrazine, are some of the most dangerous endocrine disruptors. Buying organic is the only way to ensure your produce is free from pesticides. If you can’t afford or find organic produce, make sure to rinse all fruits and vegetables really well before consuming them. SMALL STEPS: Fruits and vegetables with peels tend to be better at protecting themselves from pesticide residue (provided you wash them well), so first try buying organic berries, apples, tomatoes and potatoes.
- Filter your tap water. Yes, your local water utility filters your water before it reaches your tap, but xenoestrogens are still present from manufacturing runoff, medications and other contaminants. If you can afford it, the healthiest option is a reverse osmosis filtration system, which does the best job at removing the most contaminants. If that option is too pricey, a good activated charcoal filter will work well. SMALL STEPS: If you can’t afford to buy a reverse osmosis filtration system, some companies will rent them to you for a low monthly fee instead.
- Avoid BPAs. Yes, BPA still exists. It can be found in the lining of metal food cans, in many plastic bottles, and in disposable plastic food storage containers. The safest course is to avoid using any of these products at all. Reusable glass or metal water bottles are safer for you and better for the environment. The same goes for glass or ceramic food containers. And because heating these plastics encourages BPA leaching, you should never put these plastics in the microwave or dishwasher. Any plastic water bottles left in the sun (or your hot car) should be tossed. And be wary of BPA alternatives — research suggests they are no better than BPA. SMALL STEPS: If you always struggle with what to ask for on your birthday, why not suggest glass food containers or a reusable metal water bottle?
- Clean up your beauty routine. Phthalates and parabens are used in a wide range of cosmetics, shampoos, perfumes and lotions. Phthalates have been linked to thyroid disruption. Because these items come into direct contact with the skin, they aren’t detoxified by the liver. This means any harmful ingredients will have more potency in your body. Read your labels and only choose makeup and beauty products that are phthalate- and paraben-free. It’s also best to avoid anything that includes the ingredient “fragrance,” because there’s no telling what that means! SMALL STEPS: No need to ditch all your beauty products at once. Instead, as you use them, replace them with safer products that don’t contain any phthalates, parabens or “fragrance.”
Everyone should do what they can to limit their exposure to environmental estrogens because the effects of endocrine disruptors may not be apparent for years or even decades — this is especially true for children. Do what you can today to ensure your health tomorrow.