Unseen Enemies: How Xenoestrogens in Everyday Items Disrupt Your Hormones

Hormone-disrupting xenoestrogens are synthetic and natural compounds found in a wide range of consumer products that can wreak havoc on your health. It is crucial to know where these harmful chemicals come from, how they can affect you, and how to reduce their consequences. Don’t be a victim, and take protective action to save your health.

Xenobiotics are synthetic and plant compounds in our environment that are not natural to the human body. The term “xenos” derives from the Greek word for foreigner or stranger. The xenobiotics that have a particular similarity to estrogen are called xenoestrogens, also known as endocrine-disrupting compounds. They mimic the hormone estrogen but are not useful for normal hormone function. Xenoestrogens are found in a wide range of consumer products, from plastic toys to sunscreens.

Synthetic estrogens (e.g., ethinyl estradiol) and natural phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) are most likely to affect you or a loved one and add to the estrogenic excess syndromes. Also, be aware of other synthetic xenoestrogens that are widely used industrial compounds in many applications from insecticides to plastics to paints and building materials. These include PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls); BPA (bisphenol A); phthalates (e.g., polyvinyl chloride); and the insecticides DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane), endosulfan, kepone, dieldrin, methoxychlor, and toxaphene.

When looking into this issue, one question often asked is to what extent xenoestrogens affect humans. We know that xenoestrogens block normal estrogens from functioning, and they can strongly mimic estrogen and cause hormonal effects, too. We already know from many published studies that they have changed the sexual expression in offspring of animal wildlife populations.

DDT exposure is linked to the sterility of the Florida panther due to its predation on animals exposed to DDT. It has also affected male alligators that have smaller than normal genital organs and female alligators that ovulate with multiple nuclei in some of the surplus eggs. In the Great Lakes area, residual DDT and PCB concentrations are high, and thought to be the cause of changes in the sexual expression of various fish species (feminization and hermaphroditism in males). Hermaphroditism (both male and female sexual organs) showed up in herring gulls, terns, and bald eagles after feeding on fish exposed to DDT and PCB.

Signs of this problem are showing up in humans as well. In America, most girls now reach puberty nearly three years sooner (by age 12 to 13) than occurred at the beginning of the 1900s. About 27 percent of African-American girls in the United States exhibit signs of puberty by age 7; 95 percent of them do by age 10. Moreover, there has been a dramatic worldwide increase in testicular cancer among men in their 20s and 30s, suspected to be from exposure to xenoestrogens before birth (intrauterine). In England and Wales, there was a 55 percent increase between 1979 and 1991. In Denmark, there was a 300 percent increase in testicular cancer from 1945 to 1990. In women, there are increased rates of breast cancer. In 1950 only one woman in 20 developed the disease. Today, the incidence is one in eight.

Estrogen excess (including xenoestrogens) from any source can promote cancer.

Even though in the early 1970s, DDT was banned from use in the United States, it continues to be manufactured in this country and marketed abroad. There, it is sprayed on produce that is then sold back to U.S. supermarkets.

DDT’s principal metabolite is DDE (dichloro-diphenyl-dichloroethylene), a xenoestrogen that lingers in human body fat deposits for decades. This may be a reason why many people lose weight and then begin to feel worse (when the chemical is released from body fat).

Here are ways you can suspect xenoestrogens to show up in your life:

  • Beef: Hormones are given to beef cows to stimulate weight gain.
  • Eggs: Estrogen is given to chickens to increase egg production.
  • Milk: Growth hormone is given to dairy cows to increase milk production, which has estrogenic effects.
  • Fish: When taken from the Great Lakes and other contaminated areas, fish have xenoestrogen residues.
  • Pollution: You may ingest pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides from the air and water (as well as food).
  • Microwaved food: The high heat of microwaving causes chemicals to leach from foam containers, plastic wrap, or plastic bottles.
  • Household items: Cleaning chemicals, perfumes, colognes, and even toys can be sources.
  • Petrochemicals: Inhaling gas and diesel fumes exposes you to estrogenic compounds.
  • Industrial pollutants and contaminants: These are released into the environment.

Therefore, when you think of Barbie dolls, food wrap, and spermicides, remember that they all have something in common: xenoestrogens. They all can theoretically cause low sperm counts, precocious puberty, or even breast cancer.

Incorporating foods and supplements that have the effect of lowering your exposure to xenoestrogens into your diet is one of the best ways to mitigate their harmful effects. By staying informed about the sources of these hormone-disrupting chemicals and taking steps to minimize your exposure, you can protect yourself and your loved ones from the dangers they pose.