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Environmental Oestrogen’s – what are they, their dangers and how to avoid them

Environmental Oestrogen’s – what are they, their dangers and how to avoid them


You’ve probably heard about the toxic effects of BPA present in our plastic water bottles. This environmental oestrogen has been linked to breast cancer, infertility and polycystic ovarian syndrome.

But did you know that there are a number of other chemicals hiding in the foods we eat, the skin care products we use and the water we drink, that can act much in the same way (as BPA), messing up our hormonal systems and putting us at risk of disease?

That’s right, on a daily basis we are constantly exposed to environmental oestrogens a.k.a hormone disruptors. They’re everywhere. So let’s discuss the most common ones, the risks and how to avoid them.

What are environmental oestrogens?

Oestrogen (or estrogen) is one of the main female sex hormones produced naturally by the ovaries. It plays an important role in the female reproductive system, the development of female sexual organs, menstruation and other metabolic processes, such as bone growth.

However, all around us, there are many environmental oestrogen mimickers. These substances, although chemically different from natural oestrogen, mimic our own natural hormones and attach themselves to our cells’ receptors, taking over the natural oestrogens’ functions. Ultimately resulting in hormone imbalances within the body.

What impact do environmental oestrogens have on our health

When our hormones are out of balance, we start to feel chronically tired, moody, irritable, brain-fogged, and experience sore joints, hair loss, dry skin, and weight loss resistance, leaving us feeling just plain un-sexy!

Environmental oestrogens are also to blame for menstrual disharmonies such as PMS, mood swings, painful periods, breast tenderness, bloating, insomnia, and irregular menstrual bleeding.

Because they are not biodegradable and are stored in our fat cells, environmental eostrogens can build up rather easily and have been indicated in many serious health conditions, including:

  • Breast, Prostate and testicular cancer
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and ovarian cysts
  • Diabetes
  • Infertility
  • Endometriosis
  • Early-onset of puberty
  • Miscarriages
  • Obesity (by altering metabolism, fat cell signaling, glucose uptake, inflammation, and appetite)
  • Disrupted immune function
  • Disrupted bone health, cardiac function, and mental status

And even very small amounts can have an effect. Our hormonal systems are so sensitive that even miniscule exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals at key points of development could set us up for disease later in life. We’re talking exposures measured in the parts per trillion. To put that into context, it’s not even a drop of water dispersed throughout an Olympic sized swimming pool.

The 9 most common environmental oestrogens and where they are found

So to prevent hormonal disruption it is important to know which products we use in our daily lives contain the highest levels of environmental oestrogens, in order to avoid them as much as possible.

Here’s a list of 9 of the most damaging and prominent environmental oestrogens.

1. Oestradiol in tap water

Official Research shows that due to pollution from oestradiol, half of the male fish in our rivers are changing sex! And this includes the river Thames, which supplies drinking water for London.

Unfortunately much of our tap water is contaminated with oestradiol, an environmental oestrogens that is excreted from the urine of the 2.5 million women in the UK who take the contraceptive pill. Oestradiol (one of the primary ingredients used in the contraceptive pill) is 50 to 100 times more powerful than natural oestrogen.

Official Research shows that due to pollution from oestradiol, half of the male fish in our rivers are changing sex! And this includes the river Thames, which supplies drinking water for London.

How to counter it?

  • Try to drink filtered water wherever possible and do check if your filter removes pharmaceutical drugs! I recommend investing in an activated carbon filter or better yet (if you can afford it) investing in integrating a reverse osmosis filter into your home.

2. Phthalates found in beauty products, plastics, food packaging and cleaning agents

The three phthalates most commonly used in personal care products are diethyl phthalate (DEP), which is found in scented products, including perfumes, deodorants, soaps and shampoo, and di-n-butyl phthalate (DnBP) and di-isobutyl phthalate (DiBP), which are used in nail polish and cosmetics.

Did you know that a scent which lasts longer than 15 minutes may actually be toxic to your reproductive system because of the phthalate content?

Note that environmental oestrogens entering the skin go directly to tissue without passing through the liver for detoxification. So they are 100% absorbed by the body and can be 10 times more potent than those consumed orally.

Phthalates are also used to increase the flexibility, transparency, longevity and durability of plastic products. Therefore they are often found in the packaging of children’s toys, paints, household cleaning products and food packaging.

It is impoprtant to point out that phthalates are not chemically bound to the product. Therefore, they are readily released into foods, liquids or air via heat, humidity or prolonged exposure

How to counter it

  • Do not heat food or water with plastic in the microwave. Avoid drinking coffee or other hot liquids in Styrofoam cups. Store your food in glass containers whenever possible.
  • Look out for make up and beauty products that do not contain phthalates in their ingredients list; some of my favourite brands that use only safe ingredients include Tarte cosmetics, Kopari and Malin and Goetz.
  • When it comes to fragrances, its quite likely that your favourite perfume does contain phthalates.  Did you know that a scent which lasts longer than 15 minutes may actually be toxic to your reproductive system because of the phthalate content? Consider using essential oils.
  • Consider making your own non-toxic cleaning products.

3. Parabens in personal care products and cosmetics

Parabens are widely used by cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries as preservatives and antibacterial agents. They can be found in deoderants, shampoos, creams, soaps, toothpastes and make up.

The parabens used most often in personal care products that you should look out for are methyl, ethyl, butyl and propyl paraben.

How to counter it

  • Again like with phthalates be aware of the ingredients in your hygiene and beauty products!

4. Triclosan in Hygiene products

Triclosan is a bacteria killer that is added to hygiene products to fight bacteria, moulds and yeasts and to prevent odour. It is used in certain soaps, toothpastes, mouthwashes, deodorants, shaving gels, moisturisers, make-up foundations and acne treatments. For example, Boots, Waitrose and Tesco antibacterial handwashes contain triclosan, as do Colgate Total, Macleans Precision Complete Care and Mentadent P.

Triclosan has been re-marketed as Biofresh, Microban, Irgasan, Lexol, Ster-Zac, and Cloxifenolum, so look out for these.

How to counter it

  • Again like with phthalates be aware of the ingredients in your beauty and hygiene products!

5. Oxybenzone in Sunscreen

The environmental oestrogen oxybenzone also known as benzophenone -3 (BP-3), acts as an excellent UVA and UVB blocker, and is subsequently used in sunscreens, lip balms, and other sun protection products. For example brands like Neutrogena, Coppertone and Banana Boat all use oxybenzone.

And remember as I said earlier environmental oestrogens entering the skin are 100% absorbed by the body. So it is literally like rubbing hormone cream all over yourself!

How to counter it

  • Make sure you are reading those labels!

 6. BPA and BPS in plastics

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is one of the most common environmental oestrogens found abundantly around us. It is present in printed shopping receipts, the lining of canned food, plastic bottles, plastic containers, cutlery and contact lenses.

BPA is used as an additive, rather than an integral component of the material. This means that when plastic bottles or containers are exposed to regular wear and tear or heat (i.e., in transport or a hot car or a hot yoga class), the outer layers of plastic can break down and leach quickly into your water or food.

Bottled water companies are increasingly using BPA-free plastic. However most BPA-free plastics are likely to contain BPS, an environmental oestrogen similar to BPA, but one that hasn’t yet received the attention and publicity that BPA has.

How to counter it

  • Use glass or stainless-steel bottles and containers instead of plastic.
  • Do not ask for receipts at the stores if not required.
  • Prepare fresh meals, avoid boxed ones and processed foods.
  • Avoid plastic cutlery.
  • Avoid canned food which are lined with a plastic coating.
  • Be wary of products that read “BPA free”, as its substitute BPS is equally harmful.

7. Dioxin in animal fats (food) and female hygiene products (tampons & sanitary pads)

Dioxins are released into the environment during combustion processes (such as forest fires, exhaust emissions and fire places), pesticide manufacturing and chlorine bleaching.

The primary pathway for human exposure comes from our diet, through the consumption of animal fats. Dioxins are deposited on plants and taken up by animals and fish as they feed and thus enter the food chain. And due to their high affinity for fatty substances they accumulate in the fatty tissue of the animal.

We are also exposed to dioxin every time we use a tampon or sanitary pad. How do tampons and pads get that ultra-white “clean” look? Usually chlorine bleach, which creates toxic dioxin! What’s more is that products like tampons and pads have contact with vaginal mucous membranes, which are designed to be highly absorbent. Because this area is filled with blood vessels and lymphatic vessels, it’s primed to deliver whatever it encounters to the entire body through the circulatory system.

How to counter it

  • Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  • Try to eat local organic foods whenever possible.
  • Start using tampons and pads made of organic cotton or other natural materials instead; these are a lot more available than you may think even Boots and Holland and Barrett carry organic tampons and pads!

8. Isoflavones in foods that contain soy

Isoflavones are plant compounds that can mimic the hormone oestrogen. The research linking high Isoflavone levels to breast cancer is still very mixed and some people argue that as they are ’natural; our gut bacteria can break them down. Moreover the question arises how come in Asian cultures, where people eat a lot of soy from a young age, there are lower rates of breast cancer?

I’ve come to the conclusion that different types of soy have different effects on the body. Your body may process the natural soy in tofu, miso, and soy milk differently than the kind that’s added to processed foods. The soy protein isolate found in supplements, protein powders, and meat substitutes is usually stripped of nutrients, such as fiber. It’s also a more concentrated form of soy, so you’re much more likely to get a high dose if you’re having protein shakes and soy hot dogs than if you’re eating edamame.

How to counter it?

Opt for organic soybeans, edamame, tofu and soy milk.

Stick with a moderate amount, of about one servings of whole soy a day:

  • 1 cup of soy milk
  • 1 ounce of soy nuts
  • 3 ounces of tofu
  • Half a cup of edamame

9. Oestradiol and Ethinylestradiol(EE) in the Contraceptive pill and conventional hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

Yes oestradiol is the environmental oestrogen discussed above that is changing the sex of the male fish in our rivers! Need I say more….

How to counter it?

  • Consider using another contraceptive method that does not come with so many health hazards.
  • For ladies who use birth control pills as a way to regulate their periods, I can tell you that this is not a viable long-term solution, and it often does not address the underlying root causes of the imbalance. I encourage you to look into your lifestyle, identify potential areas of imbalance, and correct them by creating healthier habits.

Final thoughts

It is not possible to avoid or eliminate every harmful thing in our environment. What we can do though, is be informed and try our best to live a simple, balanced and natural life.

Lastly, the liver plays a major role in the detoxification of toxins entering our body. So take care of your liver; eat the best quality, freshest organic food you can afford. Stay active and get your sweat on. Eat more detoxifying foods like green tea, chia seeds, turmeric, and leafy greens specifically cruciferous vegetables.



author: Tania Weil

Tania Weil - Fitness Coach

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