May 2024 - Health & Wellness

Xenoestrogens: The Uninvited Hormonal Disruptors

Your skin is working tirelessly day and night. It’s a hardworking barrier, your first line of defense against the world. But here’s the thing: your skin evolved for a very different environment than the one we’re in now.

Health Canada, and most regulatory bodies, have different rules when it comes to what we slather on our skin versus what we eat. This seems reasonable since we want our food to be safe to consume. But, when you eat something, it goes through your digestive system, which is extremely discerning and decides what’s absorbed into your body and what gets kicked out through your poop. It makes sure nothing shady gets absorbed.

But when it comes to your skin, the story changes. Your skin is amazing, but it’s also a bit of a sponge, soaking up stuff from the products you use: all those lotions and creams can sneak chemicals straight into your bloodstream, bypassing the gut’s strict door policy.

Plus, it’s a bit of a ‘wild west’ out there with skin products; they’re not highly regulated, so it’s important to be as mindful about what you put on your body as what you put in it. If you don’t want to eat it, you might not want to put it on your skin.

Some of the troubling chemicals found in many topical products contain xenoestrogens, man-made chemicals that act as estrogen in our bodies.

Remember that your skin is a bit like a sponge? Well, that’s exactly how these xenoestrogens sneak in. These crafty chemicals, hidden in many daily products like lotions and shampoos, find a backdoor into your bloodstream through your skin.

Hormones communicate information to our cells—they’re crucial messengers keeping our organs and body systems running smoothly. But when this communication gets scrambled, we see issues like hypothyroidism, adrenal fatigue and insomnia.

Sadly, xenoestrogens are abundant. These synthetic estrogen mimics are part of a notorious group known as ‘endocrine disrupting chemicals,’ and they’re everywhere.

You’ll find xenoestrogens in common sources like Bisphenol A (BPA) in plastic containers, phthalates in both plastic products and fragrances, parabens in personal care items, PCBs in electrical equipment, dioxins in pesticides, perfluorinated compounds in non-stick cookware and triclosan in antibacterial products.

Take BPA for instance: initially developed as a synthetic estrogen, it was found in many plastic products for decades. BPA is currently out of fashion (‘BPA-free’ product labels are popular), but we still have many more xenoestrogens in our lives.

Phthalates, in particular, are popular because they make products smell pleasant. Fragrances are a common source of phthalates, added to perfumes, air fresheners, scented cleaners and detergents and anything that uses chemical fragrances. It’s also in all PVC products (like plastic toys), food packaging and often paint.

The easiest way to tell the difference between a product that uses essential oils vs. xenoestrogen-laden fragrances is by how “sticky” the scent is. The scent of a lotion with essential oils disappears after a few minutes to an hour or two. Phthalate scents stick around for hours or even days! Phthalate-laden scented laundry detergent can last for weeks and even after multiple washes! You’re absorbing xenoestrogens through your skin from these scents, so it’s best to avoid them.

Estrogen Dominance
Xenoestrogens can be a factor in “estrogen dominance”. Your hormone balance is very precise and even small amounts of xenoestrogens in your body can throw your hormones off balance. Xenoestrogens are one factor causing estrogen to sit way too high and knock other hormones, like progesterone and testosterone, out of balance. Water retention, fibrocystic breasts and menstrual irregularities are a few symptoms of estrogen dominance.

What about Phytoestrogens?
Phytoestrogens, nature’s own estrogen from plants like soy and flax, play an interesting role in our hormonal balance. Unlike xenoestrogens, phytoestrogens are much weaker—100 times less potent than the estrogen our body produces. They can actually be beneficial, as they take their place on estrogen receptors on cells, effectively blocking the more powerful estrogens including disruptive xenoestrogens. This unique ability allows them to help reduce overall estrogen levels and alleviate symptoms associated with estrogen dominance.

Reducing Xenoestrogens
Reducing the xenoestrogens in your life might seem like a big task, but it’s actually quite manageable. The first step? Replace your chemically-scented products with naturally-scented options. Nature’s Fare Markets has so many great options.

Next, consider swapping plastic for glass when storing food—it’s a small change with big benefits. And don’t forget about keeping your body’s detox pathways in tip-top shape—regular, healthy bowel movements are crucial (ya gotta poop!).

You don’t need to flip your life upside down overnight. It’s perfectly fine if some of your favourite products are still in the mix. The goal is gradual, meaningful change that feels right for you. With each adjustment, you’re not just nurturing your health, you’re also making a positive impact on our planet. So, let’s keep it up, embracing a lifestyle that’s as kind to ourselves as it is to the Earth. 

Lisa Kilgour, rhn is one of Nature’s Fare Markets’ nutritionists and sought-after speaker and educator who helps people heal from diverse and complex health issues. She has spoken at TEDxKelowna and is the author of Undieting: Freedom from the Bewildering World of Fad Diets.
Learn more: lisakilgour.com

Article was published in The Good Life magazine.

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