Xenoestrogens, Estrogen Dominance and Hormone Balance
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Emma Pollon-MacLeod, ND
What Are Xenoestrogens?
Now that the groundwork for hormonal regulation has been set, let’s dig deeper into the hormones that are found outside of the body and explore their impact on human health.
Xenoestrogens are estrogens found outside of the human body that are structurally and functionally similar to estrogen aka 17β-estradiol. As such, they mimic estrogen by binding to estrogen receptors (ERs) with multiple degrees of strength and selective capability.
Xenoestrogens can be either naturally occurring or synthetic. The former are known as phytoestrogens. These are fairly abundant seeing as they are commonly eaten foods such as soy and other legumes, flax, whole grains and certain fruits and vegetables.
The latter are synthetic, mostly man-made substances that are used in industrial, chemical processes and also include pharmaceutical estrogens and are often referred to as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Because they are able to interact with ERs in a variety of ways, xenoestrogens can have significant impacts on human health. Their ability to mimic and interact with ERs is reasonably concerning, seeing estrogen, like all hormones, needs to be in balance at all times. This “Goldilocks Factor” calls for concentrations to be “just right” and not too high or low at any given time. So when foreign estrogen enters the body when there is no deficiency, concentrations become too high which leads to estrogen excess. Lastly, if you recall from the last article, estrogen promotes cell growth and division making it a double-edged sword; thus, certain problems can arise when it goes unchecked.
Read Part 1 now. Click here.
What Is Estrogen Dominance?
Estrogen dominance is a term used to describe the aspect of hormonal imbalance wherein estrogen levels are in excess. Although it is not classified as a medical condition, it is an extremely relevant concept in the context of xenoestrogen and EDC exposure. Simply put, estrogen can actually be in excess or in “dominance” even in estrogen deficiency because when it comes to sex hormones, all of them need to be in balance with each other, not just within set individual ranges. Therefore, if progesterone is too low, then estrogen will “dominate” even in deficiency. That said, one could argue that chronic and significant exposure to xenoestrogens and EDCs creates estrogen dominance because your body is full of foreign, synthetic estrogen. This not only impacts estrogen levels and overall functioning, but contributes to how the body assesses total estrogen which affects the status and functioning of progesterone and testosterone. Unfortunately, pharmaceutical estrogens also contribute to this, which is why it is critical to understand the total impact of xenoestrogens and EDCs on health so informed decisions can be made if medical estrogen is required.
Sources of Xenoestrogens and Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
As a result of our highly modern, yet industrialized world, xenoestrogens and EDCs are found pretty much everywhere and there is a growing body of evidence of their carcinogenic activity. They have also been linked to hormonal and metabolic dysfunction and may adversely affect mood. It appears that the more we evolve as a species, the more complex our daily lives and world become. As such, it is important to understand risk and take active steps to reduce exposure through appropriate lifestyle changes. I know this may sound like a lot of work, but it is easier than you think to make healthy, impactful changes and today’s article is going to show you how!
It’s All About Food
Unfortunately, our food supply is one of the most common sources of xenoestrogen and EDC exposure, seeing they come in the form of pesticides and herbicides which are the backbone of conventional agricultural practices. Although some have been banned, these particular varieties are still found throughout the food supply.
How To Reduce Chemical Exposure From Food Sources:
Firstly, eat organic, biodynamic, locally/greenhouse-grown, pesticide and herbicide-free produce where and when possible. Unfortunately, these options are not always available and accessible. However, seeing that fruits and vegetables are the bedrock of optimal health, eating conventional is better than not eating them at all. Moreover, there are steps that can be taken to reduce pesticide and herbicide residue from conventionally grown sources. The first step is to check out the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen list.
Try and buy produce in the aforementioned forms and eat conventionally grown foods lower on the list. It is also suggested to peel produce to reduce exposure, but the peels are where all the magic is, so be sure to properly wash your produce to reduce residue. Believe it or not, researchers have confirmed that simply washing conventionally grown produce under running water, while thoroughly rubbing and agitating it can reduce exposure. Furthermore, it appears that a 10% saltwater dilution is the most effective. Both vinegar and baking soda are also effective, so please refer to this well-researched Huffington Post article for more details on these methods. Because animal proteins can’t really be washed clean, be sure to buy organic, free-range, grass-fed and support farmers that have healthier practices in place. Ditch the industrialized stuff and focus on a whole food, plant-heavy diet packed with fiber, resistant starch and fermented foods with a low glycemic approach.
Also, start growing your own food! You don’t have to own a backyard to do so either. There are a variety of things that can grow in windows and options that allow you to grow produce in small spaces. Stress is also at an all-time high, so join a community garden, foster new, local relationships and get your hands dirty!
Lastly, seeing we are made up of mostly water, the quality of the water we are consuming needs to be increased as well. Unfortunately, although our municipal water supplies are generally safe, they are not necessarily as pure as they could be, so consider a high quality water filter. Effectively filtered water is a game-changer.
Bisphenols are chemicals that are used to produce polycarbonates and epoxy resins, wherein bisphenol A is the most widely used. The most common sources of exposure are from the linings of canned foods and beverages, food packaging and single-use plastic containers.
Due to mounting evidence of their health impacts, Canada was the first country in the world to ban the use of BPA in infant products in 2008. Interestingly, although BPA exposure still appears to be considered low risk overall, and therefore not banned outright, the Canadian government just recently classified plastic as toxic under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. Moreover, many companies have taken steps to remove BPA from plastics, so progress is being made.
How To Reduce Exposure To BPA:
Although we cannot entirely remove plastic from our lives yet, reduction everywhere possible is an excellent place to start. Opt for stainless steel, glass and bamboo options for storage, etc. Also, familiarize yourself with the plastic symbols and avoid types 3, 6 and 7. Try and stick to hard plastics like types 2 and 5 if necessary. There is conflicting information on types 1 and 4, so do your best to avoid when possible seeing as they are often single-use. Be sure to never heat plastics in the microwave or dishwasher.
With respect to food and beverage containers, look for companies that do not use BPA as a lining. For example, Eden Foods has been using a plant-derived lining in their cans for years. Other companies such as Amy’s, NuPack and Bioitalia all use BPA-free cans, while Canadian Brand Cullen’s states that their cans are BPA non-intent, meaning that it is not added to any stage of manufacturing. They also only buy from Canadian organic farmers, keeping things more local. Tetra pack items are also free of BPA and its analogue BPS.
Although it can be hard to avoid canned foods, do your best to buy in bulk which allows you to further avoid BPA and reduce packaging altogether. An alternative to canned beans for those of us on the go is to soak and cook in large batches, then cool and freeze in glass jars. It takes a bit of practice and preparatory work, but once you get the hang of it, it is totally worth it. Your food costs also come down and you can save even more if you reuse glass jars from your grocery purchases.
Tricky Phthalates and Problematic Parabens:
Phthalates (pronounced “thalates”) are used to make soft plastics like polyvinyl chloride (PVC). Like bisphenols, they are also found in many other forms of plastics and packaging, but are also widely used in cosmetic and household products. For example, they are found in perfumes, lubricants, hair sprays, shampoos, soaps, nail polish and detergent. Although 6 types of phthalates have been banned in children’s toys and care items in North American and Europe, they are still widely regulated for use globally. Interestingly, phthalates are often found at high levels within personal care products, which in almost all cases are applied to the skin. Remember, your skin is your biggest organ, so what goes on, always goes in.
Parabens are preservatives that have been the standard for cosmetics since the 1950s. However, in the mid-2000s, they came under fire for being endocrine disruptors. This led the NHP industry to replace them with safe, highly effective preservative systems, yet many conventional cosmetics still use them today. Although they are considered “weak estrogens” they have been linked to serious hormonal disruption in young children and have been shown to disrupt the detoxification of estrogen, in turn leading to estrogen excess.
How To Reduce Exposure To Phthalates and Parabens:
This is actually a little easier than you may think because it simply requires a shift in how you perceive beauty regimes and skincare overall. For those who are really into minimalist, DIY living, the naked beauty approach may be an excellent place to start. This requires a bit of research, experimentation and high quality kitchen ingredients.
For example, raw apple cider vinegar is becoming more popular as a replacement to shampoo—even natural and organic ones. Interestingly, those who practice this say their hair and scalp have never been healthier.
A variety of face masks can be made from oatmeal, raw honey and plain fermented yogurt varieties as well. Then there is the “naked moisturizer” which believe it or not is raw oil and probably already in your kitchen. Although it may be hard to wrap your head around this, cold-pressed olive, avocado and coconut oils can do wonders for the skin. The reason for this is quite simple—skin does not need chemicals for preservation, but fat. We are primarily made up of water and fat, so effective hydration nourishes one of these factors, while raw oil nourishes the other. Think of our skin as leather. It needs to be conditioned, right? Well, up until chemicals were introduced, we have historically conditioned leather with natural oils!
Conventional beauty is starting to catch on to this as seen with the oil-serum rage that has been happening for the last few years. However, you really don’t need a complex oil serum for your skin to benefit and age more effectively and gracefully. It’s really all about what I like to call the “slide and glide” technique that makes the biggest difference. Simply ensure that your skin is moistened with water or a simple hydrosol toner before applying your oil of choice. This will ensure there is no “drag” which is what actually creates wrinkles! You literally shake off after the shower like a puppy, lightly pat dry and then apply your oil to your face and body. This will allow the oil to disperse evenly across the skin and absorb much more effectively leaving your skin supple and moisturized, not covered in a heavy layer of oil.
The cousin to raw oil is plant wax and is commonly referred to as butter. Shea Butter is like magic for the skin and can also be used over the entire face and body if desired. For those who prefer a lighter oil on the face, butters are excellent around the eyes, on the forehead and around the mouth. It doubles as hair wax too. It also lasts forever because a tiny bit can go a long way when the skin is damp or moistened prior to application. Just be sure to warm the butter between your fingers before application. An excellent, local, female-owned, ethical option is Twenty20 Skin Care. Wildcraft, Etymologie and Province Apothecary are excellent options that range from minimalist, to medically formulated, active ingredient profiles. Derma E has been making clean, safe, body care products since 1984. They are committed to eco-ethical, sustainable beauty and offer an excellent product line.
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With respect to nail polish, makeup, perfumes and hairsprays, Pacifica takes the cake with their vast line of offerings. Their nail polish is very clean, uber colourful and actually lasts! Their makeup is reasonably priced and pretty awesome too. If you are into personal fragrance, they make some of the best, cleanest options out there; however, if you want to do a naked beauty fragrance, start wearing your favourite essential oils. Be sure not to wear citrus oils in the sun.
Aluminum salts are a class of xenoestrogens known as metalloestrogens and are the basis for the modern antiperspirant. Unfortunately, although there is data confirming aluminum’s adverse impacts on health, there is still a lot of controversy surrounding its toxicity. This is further compounded by the fact that antiperspirants are applied to the underarm area which is right next to sensitive breast tissue packed with ERs, wherein aluminum salts can bind and further disrupt estrogen metabolism. There are also a lot of lymph nodes located here, so substances applied locally could be carried to other parts of the body.
How To Reduce Exposure To Aluminum Salts:
This one requires another shift in thinking, trial and error and some mindfulness. Now, I have yet to meet a person who actually wants to be smelly, which is why the shift away from chemical antiperspirants can be very challenging for many. They work very well, which is why people use them. That said, natural deodorants can be very effective, you just have to figure which ones work best for you, hence the trial and error.
What works well for some in this category, does not work for others. Many people do very well with the deodorant crystal rock, while others do well on sprays, crystal roll-ons or deodorant creams. Personally, I find a mixture to be most effective, where one is used as a base and then another is used to reapply during the day. Yes, not all of us are unicorns who smell like roses rain or shine, so reapplication is a habit that is most likely required by many, hence the mindfulness. Although body odour is very natural, its potency can be reflective of the degree of toxic load one is carrying, so the more you clean up your diet, gut and lifestyle, the rosier you may become.
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An excellent company for natural deodorants is Green Beaver. They have been at it for a long time and paved the way for clean, effective deodorant. They have a variety of sticks and sprays to choose from and just recently came out with a natural, aluminum-free antiperspirant that seems to be doing well for users. They also make excellent sunscreens, lotions, hand soaps, hair care, toothpaste and baby care. Every Man Jack is a very popular male forward line with natural earthy, musky scent profiles. They also have a sister line called Own Beauty. Lastly, cream deodorants are very popular and now come in a stick form, which makes application much easier. Routine, Under Carriage, Schmidt’s and Native are all very popular options.
Shop our Personal Care Collection now at www.nutrichem.com
Resources To Support A Healthier Lifestyle
The David Suzuki Foundation website is packed with information on everything clean, green, non-toxic and DIY. From shampooing your hair less, to making your own toothpaste, this national treasure and his team got you covered.
Ecoholic—Adria Vasil has also been fighting the good fight for a cleaner, greener, healthier world for decades. Her site is packed with excellent information, tips and tricks. She is also a best-selling author, so pick up one of her books.
The Environmental Working Group not only shares great resources like the dirty dozen, but they have tons of information on how to take steps to reduce your exposure to toxins and improve your health along with the Earth’s.
Lastly, be sure to read labels carefully and watch out for “greenwashing.” This is becoming more of a common practice, where conventional companies are making claims to being “natural,” when in fact the products are far from. Indeed there are some conventional companies who are actively removing some of the aforementioned substances, but unfortunately, the remaining ingredients are still questionable. It will take some time before the conventional markets have a full shift with how they develop products. Until then, stick to buying your personal and home care products from dedicated natural health retailers wherein purchasing is taken very seriously. The above resources help you navigate greenwashing as well.
The Role of Phytoestrogens In All of This?
Phytoestrogens are a complex topic, so keep your eyes peeled for the next article where we will deep dive into their effects, and the efficient detoxification of estrogen. They have incredible health benefits overall, so start adding them to your diet, seeing their consumption may alleviate the load of xenoestrogens on your system. Be sure to consume them in moderation, because remember, it is all about balance. Lastly, soy is one of the most common sources of phytoestrogens in our modern diet; however, it is not only a complicated crop, but a controversial one. So definitely stay tuned for Part 3.
The above recommendations are excellent starting points to improve overall digestion and hormone health, but if you need some guidance consider working with our registered holistic nutritionist to get your diet cleaned up and gut reset. However, if you are ready to take your health to the next level, consider booking in with one of our team of experts for microbiome mapping and hormone balancing.
*This article is not intended to represent medical advice. Please contact a qualified health practitioner if you want to use any natural health products for specific health conditions. Furthermore, please note that the terms “female” and “male” are strictly used to represent biology and in no way reflect one’s gender identity or expression.
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