Unseen Threats: The Impact of Everyday Chemicals on Your Hormone Health

On a typical day, we go about our usual routines – washing our faces, tidying up the kitchen, and stashing away leftovers. It all seems so ordinary, so safe. Yet, it’s in these everyday actions unseen risks to our hormone health might be lurking. ​

The commonplace items we use – from personal care products and cleaning supplies to kitchen plastics – influence our hormone health more than we realize. Fertility struggles, fibroids, or endometriosis – these conditions often appear unrelated, but could there be a common factor? The reality is, almost every gynecological condition is impacted in part by environmental toxins present in our daily lives. Let’s unpack the hidden effects of these everyday exposures on our hormone health.

These risks stem from a group of synthetic chemicals known as “Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals” or EDCs for short (1). 

So what are endocrine hormones anyway and why are they so important?

Endocrine hormones function like diligent messengers for our bodies. Their mission is to regulate our body’s functions ranging from how we enter puberty, how we use and metabolize energy, fertility, ovulation, menstruation, mood, mental health, skin health, and even heart rate. 

Imagine an orchestra where each instrument plays a crucial role. In this symphony of the body, endocrine hormones are the conductors, ensuring harmony and rhythm. But just as a single misstep from the conductor can throw the entire orchestra into discord, minor disturbances in our hormones can trigger symptoms that manifest in our bodies. 

Hence, from their name, EDCs are chemicals that “disrupt” our hormones; they can disrupt estrogen and progesterone signaling, and many other crucial hormones involved in metabolism and thyroid function, to name a few (2).

Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (3) can falsely mimic our hormones, essentially “pretending” to act like estrogen or other hormones for example. They can also block our hormones from functioning properly, and alter our hormone levels and their production.

Moreover, EDCs are especially problematic during critical growth stages, like in fetal development during pregnancy. They can affect not only organ development (4), but neurodevelopment too, potentially increasing risks of neurological conditions (5). This leaves an entire generation of children vulnerable to health risks these chemicals caused.

Unfortunately, EDCs can be found in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and even our furniture. They pose a risk that is often overlooked. Although it can feel like it’s impossible to avoid them, as I always remind my patients, the goal is not to avoid them 100% because that’s not possible. The goal is to help minimize them as much as we can to lower the burden on our body, and that has been shown to still makes a huge difference for our health.

So how do we minimize the EDC burden? 

Some of the key offenders to our hormone health are PFAS, BPA/S, and Phthalates. You may be thinking, what are those letters?!  Here’s the rundown on what you need to know:

Non-Stick’s Dark Secret Under the Surface

  • PFAS: Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances, or PFAS (6), are a type of man-made chemicals commonly referred to as the “non-stick” chemical or as “TEFLON” (7).  

  • The Many Harms of PFAS: Despite their widespread use, it’s important not to overlook their detrimental impact. Scientific studies have shown that PFAS is linked to several serious health issues, including fertility struggles (potentially lowering fertility by 40%!) (10), uterine fibroids, PCOS (11), brain defects (12), and even an increased risk of developing breast cancer (13). Particularly for women, our reproductive system can be critically impacted by PFAS chemicals, making it essential to be aware of where PFAS might be lurking. If you haven’t seen the documentary “Dark Waters”, I urge that you do, it explains in detail the implications that PFAS chemicals have and how the chemical industry was exposed for what they did.

  • Where PFAS lurks: They’re found primarily in non-stick cookware like non-stick pans, pots, and baking dishes. Other sources are waterproof or stain-proof clothing particularly outdoor gear like raincoats and hiking boots, which often can contain PFAS to fend off water and stains. Unfortunately, sometimes even food packaging is coated with PFAS to prevent grease from soaking through. So beware of anti-grease material like those found in microwavable popcorn bags, fast-food wrappers, and some takeout boxes (8). Upsettingly, dental floss from well-known companies like Glide and Oral-B (9) have also been reported to contain PFAS to make them smoother and easier to use.

  • How to Minimize PFAS Exposure: Replace all non-stick cookware with cast-iron or stainless-steel options. Avoid products with ANY “non-stick” labels, and please don’t fall for the trap of “non-stick PFAS free”, that’s a marketing gimmick, there is no such thing as a benign non-stick chemical. Opt for biodegradable dental floss or water flossing. For popcorn, pop the kernels yourself at home on the stovetop or microwave without the microwavable bags, and beware of any anti-grease packaging.

The Threat of Synthetic Estrogens

  • Xenoestrogens are external compounds that can mimic or disrupt estrogen in our bodies. BPA and BPS (Bisphenol A/Bisphenol S) (14), are synthetic estrogens that can do just that. Commonly found in plastics, they can leach into our food and drinks raising concerns about their impact on reproductive health.

  • ​The Many Harms of BPA: BPA has been associated with worsening PCOS and endometriosis symptoms (15-16), subfertility (17), increased period pain (18), and potentially breast cancer as well (19).

  • Where BPA & Xenoestrogens lurk: BPA is also frequently found in the paper used for receipts (20). Items such as water bottles, some plastic food containers, and even some toys may contain BPA or BPS (21). Canned foods and beverages, like soup, soda, and canned vegetables, can also contain BPA in their lining (22). Also, many personal care products like perfumes, lotions, and hair sprays may contain xenoestrogens as part of their fragrance compounds (23). Lastly, some detergents contain xenoestrogens as well (3).

  • How to Minimize BPA & Xenoestrogen Exposure: To lower the risks of these xenoestrogens choose electronic receipts to avoid BPA exposure, select canned products with BPA-free linings, exercise caution with perfumes harboring a mixture of chemical ingredients, and choose cleaning products with the least amount of chemicals possible.

  • Baby Steps: While the presence of xenoestrogens in everyday items can be concerning, remember that awareness is the first step to change. By identifying the sources and understanding their effects, we’re empowered to make better choices for our health. If this feels overwhelming, don’t fret, keep on reading, I will show you exactly how to make those decisions and choose better products!

​​Plastic’s Silent Threat Disturbing Hormonal Harmony

  • Phthalates (pronounced thal-ates) are a group of chemicals used in hundreds of consumer products to increase plastic flexibility, transparency, durability, and longevity. They’re often referred to as “plasticizers” (24). These chemicals are so pervasive that they are detected in the blood of virtually everyone.

  • The Many Harms of Phthalates: Phthalates have been associated with a variety of conditions such as diabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis risk, reduced fertility, an increased risk of allergies, asthma, and sleep disruptions among midlife women (25-30). 

  • Where Phthalates lurk: Common sources of phthalates include plastic containers, bottles, vinyl flooring, adhesives, fabric softeners, air fresheners, detergents, lubricating oils, raincoats, tampons, and other feminine hygiene products and food packaging (22, 25).

  • How to Minimize Phthalates Exposure: To reduce your exposure to phthalates, look for fragrance-free cosmetics, personal care products, and cleaning products, and consider replacing plastic containers, plates, cups, and water bottles with safer alternatives like stainless steel or glass. For feminine hygiene products it may be best to look for biodegradable or organic choices.

Feel overwhelmed?? If you want a ready-made for your list of PFAS, BPA, phthalate-free kitchen and cleaning products check out my FREE Toxin-Free Kitchen & Household Products Handout for vetted, toxin-free product recommendations (none are sponsored, just products I tried and liked).

There are so many chemicals on the label, how do I know what’s good or bad??

The Environmental Working Group is an organization dedicated to educating the public about the harms of environmental toxins and chemicals. The EWG has a team of toxicologists that build multiple comprehensive databases that guide you through the maze of potentially harmful chemicals.

To minimize exposure to harmful chemicals in cleaning products, use the EWG Guide to Healthy Cleaning Database. Search for the product on their site, check the assigned grade (A or B is best), and review the ingredient-level information for any health concerns you may have specifically. This way, you can choose safer cleaning products. The EWG Skin Deep Cosmetics Database can be utilized for a deeper dive into the safety of personal care products. I recommend sticking to products with a score of 4 or less. 

I heard that we shouldn’t worry about these chemicals because “the dose makes the poison”?

The principle “the dose makes the poison” is inaccurate when it comes to environmental toxins since even low doses can have substantial impacts (31). Our bodies, which didn’t evolve alongside these chemicals, can be highly sensitive to them, even with low concentrations. Contrary to the assumption that low doses are harmless, it’s crucial to validate this notion scientifically (32). 

Moreover, there are so many chemicals we do not know we are being exposed to, and who is to say that the combination of many low doses from many chemicals doesn’t result in bodily harm? Not to mention chemicals that bioaccumulate that get stored in our bodies, what happens to those over time? What happens to those chemicals when exposed to other chemicals that we ingest? We have little to no research on these issues. Instead of presuming safety at low levels, we should first have actual scientific research that tests these chemicals in thorough dosing studies and their health implications.

Understanding endocrine-disrupting chemicals might seem daunting, but my goal is to equip you with the knowledge to make more empowered choices. It’s about making small, informed choices to reduce these toxins, even if it’s a very small change every few months that’s much better than nothing.

​Progress is key. Our bodies are resilient, and our liver works tirelessly to detoxify as much as it can. Each step you take helps to lower the burden on your liver and the rest of your body, which promotes better hormone health and lowers your risk of chronic diseases down the line. 

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