The endocrine system is your body’s network of glands that produce hormones that regulate our growth and development, reproduction, sex drive, body weight and metabolism, sleep, mood, and many other functions. You can think of your hormones as little messengers that deliver signals to different parts of your body, telling it exactly what to do. Chemicals called endocrine disruptors can interfere with your delicately balanced endocrine system, leading to serious health consequences. The good news: there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure to these hormone-disrupting chemicals.
What are endocrine disruptors?
Endocrine disruptors are hormone-disrupting chemicals that interfere with the body’s endocrine system. They can lead to negative developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects. They’re found in everything from plastics, to cosmetics, to furniture and clothing fabrics.
When endocrine disruptors are absorbed into your body, they interfere with hormone function by mimicking or blocking hormones. A classic example of this are chemicals called xenoestrogens that mimic the action of estrogen in the body.
Why are endocrine disruptors so dangerous for women?
Endocrine disruptors are especially dangerous for women. They’ve been linked to menstrual cycle disruption, premature puberty, early onset menopause, endometriosis, infertility, PCOS, and thyroid issues in women.
Women are also more likely to be exposed to these hormone-disrupting chemicals as the primary users of most personal care products, cosmetics, and home cleaning products. It’s estimated that women are exposed to 168 chemicals a day just from the use of an average of 12 or more personal care products, and women and girls with the highest use of personal care products and cosmetics have the highest blood levels of the chemicals in the products. Pregnant women who use cosmetics have also been found to have significantly elevated chemical blood levels.
The health impact of environmental toxins like endocrine disruptors is so real that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that OBGYNs ask women about their toxin exposure at initial prenatal visits.
Top endocrine disruptors list
The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptor List shows the top 12 hormone-disrupting chemicals to avoid:
- Fire retardants
- Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)
- Organophosphate pesticides
- Glycol Ethers
7 Ways To Avoid Common Endocrine Disruptors
You might be wondering how to take this list of unfamiliar chemical names and translate them into your real life. Here are 7 steps you can take to start reducing your exposure to endocrine disruptors.
1. Swap plastics in the kitchen
Endocrine disruptors in plastics are one of the first types I recommend clearing out. Plastics contain hormone-disrupting chemicals like BPA and phthalates which are linked to breast cancer, fertility issues, and premature puberty. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions against microwaving things in plastic containers because these harmful chemicals can leach into food. Swap plastic storage containers and plastic water bottles for glass or stainless steel, avoid wrapping foods in flimsy plastic cling wrap, and transfer food to microwave-safe glass containers before heating.
2. Say no to receipts
This is the easiest way to lower your exposure to toxins. The thermal paper that receipts are printed on contain BPA and BPS, and the exposure from receipts is so alarming that Connecticut has actually banned its use. California may also soon do the same. Trader Joe’s announced in 2018 that they would be removing these chemicals from their receipts too. Opt for an emailed receipt, decline the receipt, or if you must take the receipt be sure to wash your hands immediately.
3. Filter water
Tap water can contain endocrine disruptors like heavy metals and residues from pharmaceuticals. The Environmental Working Group recommends reverse osmosis filters as the most effective, but even common carbon filter water pitchers can reduce your exposure. Check out their water filter guide to choose the right filter for you.
4. Choose clean cookware
Conventional non-stick cookware like Teflon contains a family of chemicals known as PFAS chemicals. Even in low doses, these chemicals are linked to certain cancers, immune suppression, early puberty, and thyroid disruption. Trade non-stick cookware for cast iron, stainless steel, or enamel. There are also some non-toxic non-stick cookware brands available. Download the Low-Toxin Living Guide for my favorite brands.
5. Go natural with fragrance
Synthetic fragrances found in everything from body lotion to dryer sheets contain phytates which are linked to birth defects, lower sperm count, gestational diabetes, and miscarriages. To avoid this endocrine disruptor, don’t buy products that list phytates or the black box terms “fragrance” or “parfum” on the label. Either buy fragrance-free products (I know… bummer!) or products scented naturally with essential oils.
6. Check your cosmetics and personal care products
Endocrine disruptors in cosmetics and body care products are a big issue for women since we are the primary users of these products. You would be shocked by many of the ingredients in these products. The average woman will use about 10,000 tampons or pads in her lifetime, and neither the EPA or FDA has authority to regulate the ingredients in these products. Most contain chemicals called parabens which have estrogenic effects.
7. Simplify your cleaning products
It’s probably not surprising to you that home cleaning products contain chemicals. Not only do these chemicals cover surfaces that we come in contact with, they also linger in the air where we breathe them in. The surprising part is that you can have a clean (and safe) home with just a few everyday ingredients that you likely already have on hand. Get my favorite DIY home cleaner recipes in the Low-Toxin Living Guide. I also share my favorite clean brands if DIY is not your thing!