I try to keep things light here on Down to Earth Mother, but there are some things that just FREAK me out. This issue is one of them – and it’s not some crackpot, left-field theory, this is something the world’s leading health body is freaking out about too: hormone-disrupting chemicals.
There are three reasons you should start paying attention to this issue right now:
- These chemicals are most dangerous during developmental periods: conception, pregnancy, early childhood, puberty, menopause.
- They are associated with cancers, behavioural and developmental issues, early puberty and fertility problems.
- They’re friggen everywhere.
I know this last point makes you want to stop reading and/or hide in a cave, but please stay with me because you can significantly reduce your family’s exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals with a little awareness and a few simple tweaks to your lifestyle.
What are hormone-disrupting chemcials
The World Health Organizations calls them endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, and I predict you will start to hear a lot more about them in the next couple of years. You’re already familiar with one – BPA – which I’ll talk about more in a moment. Basically, an EDC is a chemical found outside the body that mimics or alters the endocrine (hormone) system and causes health problems in a person, their offspring and even future generations. Often, these health problems don’t become apparent until years down the track.
Although we don’t pay them much attention, our hormones play out a constant balancing act to keep our bodies healthy and disease-free, these chemicals mess with that balance.
The World Health Organization in 2012 released a report on hormone-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, that basically says “here be dragons”. The report says many endocrine-related diseases and disorders are on the rise across the world, including low semen count in men, the incidence of genital malformation such as non-descending testes in baby boys, “adverse pregnancy outcomes” such as low birth weight and pre-term bubs, behavioural disorders associated with thyroid malfunction, endocrine-related cancers (breast, endometrial, ovarian, prostate, testicular and thyroid), obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Could all this be attributed to the thousands of chemicals we’re exposed to every day?
Six hormone-disrupting chemicals to avoid
According to the World Health Organization, close to 800 chemicals are known or suspected to be capable of interfering with hormone function, however only a small number of these have been tested. Even more frightening: “The vast majority of chemicals in current commercial use have not been tested at all.”
EDCs are in our bedding, personal-care products, food, lawns and air-fresheners. We are all walking around with traces of now-banned substances in our blood because of an oopsie by governments and chemical companies. The World Health Organization says it’s keeping an eye on this issue, but in the meantime it’s up to us to protect ourselves and, crucially, our children, as much as we can.
Here are six of the most common hormone-disrupting chemicals and how you can avoid them:
Found in anti-bacterial handwashes and popular toothpaste brands. Interferes with thyroid function, which could lead to neurological behavioural problems. Ditch all anti-bacterial personal-care products – numerous studies have shown that soap and water is just as effective – check the active ingredients in your toothpaste and switch if necessary.
Found in soft-plastic toys, fragrances including perfumes and air-fresheners, body lotions, hand creams, electrical cables and more. Considerably impact children’s hormonal systems, especially boys. Linked to malformations of the penis and testes, poor fertility later in life and more, I’ve written a whole post about phthalates here. To avoid: never buy shampoos, soaps or any personal-care product that contains “fragrance” or “parfum”, never use chemical air-fresheners and ditch chemical cleaning products. Choose quality toys and avoid any that are made of soft-plastics like rubber ducks, space-hoppers.
Found in the blood of 96% of pregnant women, BPA is a chemical used to make hard, clear plastics not marked BPA-free, but also found in the lining of most tinned food. Associated with breast and prostate cancer, infertility, early puberty in girls, type-2 diabetes, obesity and ADHD. Avoid all long-lasting plastic containers not marked BPA-free, or better still, store all food in glass, ceramic, stainless steel. Try to stop using tinned food. Tomatoes are a real issue because the acidity is believed to break down the lining.
Brominated flame retardants
Found in mattresses, electrical appliances, furniture, infant sleepwear. Associated with cancers, birth defects, and developmental effects in developing foetuses. These are tricky to avoid, but you can certainly reduce your family’s exposure by dusting with a damp cloth, vacuuming and washing hands regularly (most exposure is through house dust), searching for furniture and baby products that are free from halogenated fire retardants, and choosing less flammable fabrics such as wool and cotton when choosing furniture and clothing. All new furniture, bedding and appliances should be placed in the sun to offgas before bringing them into your home.
Most prevalent in non-stick cookware, food packaging and stain-repelling formulations, eg Scotchguard. Have been linked to ADHD, early menopause and late puberty. To avoid, cook in cast-iron, enamel, stainless steel or pyrex, and ditch all non-stick cookware. Store your food in glass, ceramic or stainless steel or safe plastics (numbers 2 and 5), and don’t buy waterproof clothing unless you’re hiking Everest.
I’m lumping pesticides together here because many of them have hormone-disrupting qualities and it’s best to avoid them all together. Pesticides are found in gardening products such as weed-and-feed formulations, insect repellent sprays, common grasslands, lice and flea treatments, and in conventionally produced food. They are linked to thyroid cancer, ADHD, leukaemia, birth defects, fertility problems and just about every health issue mentioned here. To avoid, buy organic foods as often as possible, use natural pest-repelling methods (stand by for a post on this), and leave your shoes at the door.
To find out more about hormone-disrupting chemicals, I recommend Nicole Bijlsma’s book, Healthy Home Healthy Family. In the meantime, you can read what she has to say about hormone-disrupting chemicals here.
To read State of the Science of Endocrine-disrupting Chemicals 2012, World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), click here.
Does this issue concern you? Tell me what worries you most and I will find some answers for you.
PS: thanks for making it through this whole post. You’re my favourite.