Six hormone-disrupting chemicals and why you should give a sh*t

Hormone discrupting chemicals

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:

  1. These chemicals are most dangerous during developmental periods: conception, pregnancy, early childhood, puberty, menopause.
  2. They are associated with cancers, behavioural and developmental issues, early puberty and fertility problems.
  3. 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

hormone disrupting chemicalsAccording 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:

Triclosan

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.

Phthalates

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.

BPA

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.

Perfluorinated chemicals

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.

Pesticides

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.

photo credit: Cia de Foto via photopin cc

22 Responses to Six hormone-disrupting chemicals and why you should give a sh*t
  1. Abbie
    September 23, 2013 | 12:58 pm

    I appreciated your statement at the start, highlighting that “it’s not some crackpot, left-field theory” – all too often when you try to do the right thing telling people about these issues, they assume that clearly you are wearing a foil hat in your spare time.

    An assumption that most people seem to make is that if it’s on the shelf and able to be bought then it is safe, which could not be further from the truth. The faith that people have in companies and government regulation of these things is scary. In an ideal world, it would be fine to trust these people with our health etc, but we aren’t living in an ideal world. Plenty of these nasty problematic chemicals/substances are in every-day things, and the companies using/including them will keep doing so until they are forced to stop. Often, what is banned in one country is then just sold to another with more lax standards (as happens in Australia – Europe and the US banned BPA in infant products, so guess where they were and are still being sold – here. Dieldrin (farming chemical related to DDT) was the same, banned overseas so they sold it here.)

    It makes it even more important to read your labels, read information, and be informed. The information is out there online, we have an unprecedented amount of information at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to now find out what the science-ese ingredients are in your food/beauty products/household products, so take advantage of that. Until there is a time that we CAN trust that what we buy off the shelves is safe for us to use, the onus is on us to be informed about what we are eating/using.

    • (dt)em
      October 1, 2013 | 10:57 am

      Yes! YES!

      It’s not about a bunch of crazies with a conspiracy theory – the WHO states that “the vast majority of chemicals have not been tested”. In Australia, I think we place waaaaay too much trust in the “authorities” to protect us and to tell us what’s best. But there are so many examples of this going wrong – DDT as you said, Thalidomide, asbestos…

      Thanks for your comment, I really value your input into this discussion, as always x

  2. Mandy
    September 23, 2013 | 2:06 pm

    I am having a Down to Earth Mother Blog day!!
    Great post and one area i do not think that much about. although I do think the anti-bacterial wash is a waste of time. Happy Birthday twice with soap and water is best. When I worked in QSR and we had the swine flu scare, masks were sent out to make people feel better but the plan of attack was to refocus on multiple handwashing sessions!
    There are a few things we are already trying to get rid of in our house, mainly plastic cheap toys as they annoy me for starters, but now you have given me another incentive to chuck.
    Thanks for being so passionate about this area and sharing the info. If it makes people think for a moment before they purchase something, you will have begun your job!
    Mandy recently posted..Meat and three vegMy Profile

    • (dt)em
      October 1, 2013 | 10:53 am

      “If it makes people think for a moment before they purchase something, you will have begun your job!”

      And that is why I’ve given up sleep for blogging!! Thanks Mandy :)

      I was in China when SARS happened and they sprayed my apartment with vinegar every day. I thought they were mad, but now I know better!

  3. pearl
    September 23, 2013 | 2:52 pm

    Having recently lost a friend (she was a young 37 yr old mum of 3 beautiful boys) to breast cancer, I totally see the importance of this article in warning people of the dangers that lurks in everyday products.
    So good on you. We need more of people like yourself to raise the awareness of freaky stuffs!

    • (dt)em
      October 1, 2013 | 10:52 am

      Pearl, that is so sad, her poor boys. The medical profession doesn’t know if these chemicals actually cause cancer, but even the fact that they think they might should mean they are restricted. Sadly that’s not the case.

  4. Mother Down Under
    September 23, 2013 | 8:27 pm

    I find all of this worrying.
    I read an article recently about how many chemicals are found in the umbilical cord and therefore in unborn babies. The article was linking many of these chemicals to the obesity epidemic and also mentioned that they have effects that last generations.
    I will try to find the link for you…it was a fascinating…and scary…read.
    Mother Down Under recently posted..Sunday Styles: Brisbane Festival EditionMy Profile

    • (dt)em
      October 1, 2013 | 10:45 am

      Caitlin, I have just written a massive article about this for a health magazine, I’ll let you know when it comes out x

  5. Susan
    September 24, 2013 | 9:41 am

    Very scary but very enlightening! I’ve been wanting to make my own surface spray for a while now but can’t seem to find a good recipe – I want something with a cleaning agent like vinegar, but so it smells nice (maybe vanilla). If anyone has a good one let me know!
    Susan recently posted..Say cheese!My Profile

  6. Catherine
    September 24, 2013 | 9:59 am

    Hi all, you might be interested in knowing about my client’s range of cleaning products. They are called Nature Direct and, as the name suggests, they are made entirely from 100% organically-sourced ingredients – no synthetic chemicals! The ingredients are essential oils, Decyl Glucoside (an emollient and surfactant made from vegetal seasonal matter, such as sugar beet), coco oil and cold-pressed castor oil (made from the caster bean). They are extremely effective and safe to use in septic tanks and grey water and bio systems.

  7. Kylie @ Octavia and Vicky
    September 24, 2013 | 1:16 pm

    This DOES concern me… but also makes me want to run and hide. I feel like there are so many baddies in the world, I just can’t fight them all.

  8. Bec @ The Plumbette
    September 24, 2013 | 1:36 pm

    The f word just formed in my mind when I read this! I’m always using that antibacterial gel for my hands after I’ve worked on toilets or any kind of plumbing. I’m wondering if we are seeing the effects already with infertility? Just a thought. Thanks Jo for scaring me but also mak g me aware. ;)
    Bec @ The Plumbette recently posted..Can a Stylist be a Plumber and can a Plumber be a Stylist?My Profile

    • (dt)em
      October 1, 2013 | 10:42 am

      I didn’t want to scare you Bec! There are some great hand sanitizers available that don’t contain nasty ingredients. Speak with your health food shop x

  9. Suki
    October 2, 2013 | 5:19 am

    thank you for continuing to raise awareness of this issue. Since developing chemical sensitivity and full blown chronic migraine due to exposure to chemicals in other people’s cosmetic and body products I am so aware of young women of parenting age who appear to be garbed completely in chemicals; from dyed hair laden with “product” (your hair is beautiful naturally), to pedicure (how long did you sit in a salon breathing in that shit!) and what’s wrong with your cute little toes just the way god made em. DON”T BUY what the magazines and hollywood are telling you. Don’t walk around in a chemical cloud exposing others to these dangerous things……and by the way- “safe fragrance” is an oxymoron

    • (dt)em
      October 3, 2013 | 9:14 am

      Suki, i feel for you, I have recently written an article about MCS and it sounds like hell on earth. One can only hope the world suddenly wakes up to the chemical haze we’re all living in and does something about it – we managed to beat the great London fogs, so why not the great 21st Century smog?? Stay well x

  10. Cat
    October 3, 2013 | 10:29 pm

    Thank you for this well written post which I will be shari g on my facebook feed. Here in the US the Food and Drug Admin (FDA) has sadly bought the government (which is currently bickering over health care for all and has shut down). And I have seen the effects on my kids with BPA: my older, exposed left right and center has ADHD; my younger, who was born after they started labling and I got educated, doesn’t curre tly show signs. So, thanks to big business and a shameful lack of government oversight, my child will suffer from this for his entire life. He is only 5.

  11. Farrah
    October 4, 2013 | 1:32 am

    This is a very good article, but I would like to add one thing: Bromine is everywhere, not just flame retardants. –Brominated Flour (which is ALL flour/bread you purchase unless it is
    organic or labeled ‘without bromine’ or ‘unbrominated’
    Although Bromine IS a carcinogen, it is NOT REQUIRED TO BE LABELED IN BREAD OR FLOUR(except in California). This is because our wonderful FDA had approved it as an ingredient before they passed the stricter labeling
    laws and somehow or other it got ‘grandfathered in’.
    –Beverages (citrus flavored, sodas, and juices in particular) that contain brominated vegetable oil (Mountain Dew, Code Red Mountain Dew, Dr. Pepper, Hi-C, SunDrop, Fanta, Minute Maid Lemonade, Citrus Gatorade to name but a few)
    –Swimming pools, whirlpools, hot tubs, etc. The typical disinfectant for pools contains both chlorine AND bromine…and both of these DO seep into the skin and push out the Iodine.
    –Non-organic produce (ESPECIALLY STRAWBERRIES!!). Did you know? They spray the strawberry/produce fields with brominated pesticides in California wearing hazmat suits. MANY migrant workers have been disabled or died because they’re not warned or adequately protected.
    –Pond/Farm raised Fish. Yep, they brominate the water to control fish pests.

    • (dt)em
      October 8, 2013 | 10:09 am

      Wow, thanks Farrah, I am going to have to look into the regulations here in Australia – thanks for alerting me to this issue.

  12. Susanne
    October 4, 2013 | 2:35 am

    This was so helpful, thank you so much for sharing. Although I try to use very little canned products, after reading this, I called every company of the few brands I do use and was relieved to find out that they DO NOT use BPA in their cans, but fresh is still better!! Thanks again, and I hope it is ok I have shared this on my FB page, very eye opening information that everyone should know about!!

    • (dt)em
      October 8, 2013 | 10:08 am

      Thanks for sharing, Susanne, I appreciate it :)

  13. […] My daughter’s carers tell me she particularly likes the hard-faced vinyl dolls at day care. This makes my toes curl because not only is PVC the most polluting plastic in the world, it’s made from cancer-causing vinyl chloride and full of hormone-disrupting chemicals. […]

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