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XENO-ESTROGENS

Xeno-estrogens are a type of xeno-hormone that imitates estrogen. ‘Xeno’ comes from Greek meaning ‘foreign’, so in this context, it means that they come from outside the body. To make it more confusing, xeno-estrogens are also often referred to as endocrine disruptors.


In this piece, I talk about what they are, where you find them, some of their effects, my journey with reducing them in my life and include a resource and reference list as well.

Xeno-estrogens can be either natural (such as phytoestrogens) or synthetic chemical compounds. Many of the synthetic ones have been introduced into our environment by industrial, agricultural and chemical companies just in the last 70 years or so, and include chemicals such as PCB’s, BPA and phthalates that are found in many everyday products, and these are the ones that most concern us. Natural phyto or plant estrogens are generally beneficial, as they are weak in their effects.


It comes as a big shock to learn that many of the common chemical ingredients in our body lotions, sunscreens and shampoos, our cleaning products, our plastic containers and even our foods mimic oestrogens in our bodies and can contribute to the development of oestrogen dominance and all the problems associated with it.

These are as wide ranging as early puberty in girls, fibroids, endometriosis, PMS, heavy periods, tender breasts, ovarian cysts, fibrocystic breast tissue, PCOS, difficulty losing weight, male infertility, male breasts, lower sperm counts and many more. This becomes particularly important during peri-menopause, as our progesterone levels start to drop faster than our estrogen levels, making us more likely to become oestrogen dominant. However, it can also really impact during puberty, pregnancy and childhood.


Another concerning issue is that there is no consensus about the dangers posed by exposure to these endocrine disrupting chemicals, or how strong their effects can be, especially in combination. What is known is that mixtures can have profound effects, even at low doses, and that this is not well understood or studied.


So what can we do about this and how can we reduce our exposure? I’ll talk about my own experience and hopefully it can be helpful for you. I have always had signs of oestrogen dominance (early puberty, large breasts and thighs, PMS, tender breasts) and these symptoms worsened in peri-menopause. It was during my nutrition studies that I learnt about xeno-estrogens, and it has been a long journey to accept this reality and make meaningful changes.


Firstly, I had to accept that xeno-estrogens really existed and that they were having an effect on my hormones. This certainly took me a while.


Then I went for the easy wins and low hanging fruit (remember it’s a journey, not a destination). For me, these were: to swap plastic for glass to store things in the fridge, to use a reusable bamboo coffee cup (so I’m not drinking hot coffee through plastic), to stop slathering cream all over myself if it might be full of chemicals, to swap to eco washing and washing up products, to switch to a salt deodorant and natural essential oil based perfumes, and to get rid of anti-bacterial hand-washes in the house.


Then I took a good hard look at my dietary exposure. First of all, I considerably reduced the consumption of non-organic meat and dairy, where these chemicals are concentrated in their fats. I now swop the ‘dirty dozen’ to organic (whenever I can) to reduce pesticide exposure. I’ve also stopped eating so much processed food, which contain many xeno-estrogens, mainly due to their exposure to plastics during processing and storage.


And today I continue to educate myself to understand the problems better and to learn how to further reduce my exposure. Here are some resources for those interested in learning more: Latest World Health Organisation report on Endocrine disruptors (2012) and An Introduction to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals from The Endocrine Society .


I also use the apps THINK DIRTY or CHEMICAL MAZE to check contents of cleaning and beauty products by scanning their barcodes.


Here’s a list of some of the chemicals that are xenoestrogens for your reference:


Skincare:

• 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC) (sunscreen lotions)

• Parabens (methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben and butylparaben commonly used as a preservative)

• Benzophenone (sunscreen lotions)

Industrial products and Plastics:

Bisphenol A (monomer for polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resin; antioxidant in plasticizers)

Phthalates (plasticizers)

• DEHP (plasticizer for PVC)

Polybrominated biphenyl ethers (PBDEs) (flame retardants used in plastics, foams, building materials, electronics, furnishings, motor vehicles).

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)


Food:

• Erythrosine / FD&C Red No. 3

• Phenosulfothiazine (a red dye)

• Butylated hydroxyanisole / BHA (food preservative)

Building supplies:

• Pentachlorophenol (general biocide and wood preservative)

• Polychlorinated biphenyls / PCBs (in electrical oils, lubricants, adhesives, paints)

Insecticides:

• Atrazine (weed killer)

• DDT (insecticide, banned)

• Dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (one of the breakdown products of DDT)

• Dieldrin (insecticide)

• Endosulfan (insecticide)

• Heptachlor (insecticide)

• Lindane / hexachlorocyclohexane (insecticide, used to treat lice and scabies)

• Methoxychlor (insecticide)

• Fenthion

• Nonylphenol and derivatives (industrial surfactants; emulsifiers for emulsion polymerization; laboratory detergents; pesticides)


Other:

• Propyl gallate

• Chlorine and chlorine by-products

Ethinylestradiol (combined oral contraceptive pill)

• Metalloestrogens (a class of inorganic xenoestrogens)

Alkylphenol (surfactant used in cleaning detergents


References

Endocrine Disruptors [online]. Available from: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/index.cfm (Accessed 11 July 2019).


Endocrine Disruptors [online]. Available from: https://www.endocrine.org/-/media/endosociety/files/advocacy-and-outreach/important-documents/introduction-to-endocrine-disrupting-chemicals.pdf?la=en (Accessed 12 July 2019).


Word Health Organisation State of the science of endocrine disrupting chemicals - 2012 [online]. Available from: https://www.who.int/ceh/publications/endocrine/en/ (Accessed 12 July 2019).


Grindler, N. et al. (2015) Persistent Organic Pollutants and Early Menopause in U.S. Women. PLOS ONE. [Online] 10 (1), e0116057. (Image used)


Kortenkamp, A. (2008) Low dose mixture effects of endocrine disrupters: implications for risk assessment and epidemiology. International Journal of Andrology. [Online] 31 (2), 233-240.



Zoeller, R. & Vandenberg, L. (2015) Assessing dose–response relationships for endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs): a focus on non-monotonicity. Environmental Health. [Online] 14 (1), .

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