Two Food Additives Found to Have Estrogen-Like Effects

food additives, estrogen, hormones, puberty, xenoestrogens,propyl gallateScientists have developed a fast new method to identify food additives that act as "xenoestrogens" -- substances with estrogen-like effects that are stirring international health concerns.

They used the method in a large-scale screening, and discovered two additives with previously unrecognized xenoestrogen effects. 

Xenoestrogens have been linked to a range of human health effects, including reduced sperm counts in men and increased risk of breast cancer in women.

The scientists used the new method to search a food additive database of 1,500 substances, and verified that the method could identify xenoestrogens. In the course of that work, they identified two previous unrecognized xenoestrogens -- propyl gallate, a preservative used to prevent fats and oils from spoiling, and 4-hexylresorcinol, which is used to prevent discoloration in shrimp and other shellfish.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

I've written about the dangers of endocrine disruptors such as bisphenol A, PFOA and Personal care products many times. I like to consider xenoestrogens fake estrogens but their name literally means “foreign estrogens.” Either way they are synthetic chemicals that mimic natural estrogens, and have been linked to a wide range of human health effects.

There are so many of them, and they’re used in so many common consumer products that trying to avoid them may seem like a fruitless struggle.

For example, you come in contact with hormone disrupting chemicals through:

  • Pasteurized dairy, which commonly contains bovine growth hormones
  • Soy products, which are loaded with hormone like substances
  • Plastics – many of which contain Plastic
  • Personal care products that contain phthalates 
  • Cooking with Teflon-coated pots and pans

Now you can add certain food additives to the list – and some very common food additives at that.

Hormone-Mimicking Food Additives Recently Discovered

In the U.S., more than 3,000 substances can be added to foods for the purpose of preservation, coloring, texture, flavor and more. While each of these substances is legal to use, whether or not they are entirely safe for long-term consumption – by themselves or in combination – is a different story altogether.

The analysis published in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology actually found not just two, but 31 potential estrogen-mimicking food additives during their search.  

Of those, propyl gallate was found to act as an antagonist, and 4-hexylresorcinol as a potent transactivator. Antagonists block the binding of an agent at a receptor molecule, and transactivators increase the rate of gene expression. In conclusion the authors’ state: 

“Some caution should be issued for the use of propyl gallate and 4-hexylresorcinol as food additives.” 

However, I don’t think we’ll see any of them removed from the market any time soon. Propyl gallate, for example, has been used since 1948 as a preservative to stabilize cosmetics, food packaging materials, and foods containing oils and fats. It can also be found in: 

  • Hair products
  • Adhesives and lubricants
  • Processed meat products and potato products
  • Chicken soup base
  • Chewing gum and candy
  • Dried milk
  • Baked goods, and more 

Propyl gallate is frequently used in conjunction with BHA and BHT, which come with their own set of health hazards. These two additives also keep fats and oils from going rancid and are commonly used in processed food products such as cereals and potato chips, even though some studies have found they too, cause cancer in rats. 

The other food additive mentioned above, 4-hexylresorcinol, is commonly used as an anti-browning agent in shrimp and other shellfish. 

But it’s also used as a starting material to produce synthetic catecholamines, which have important physiological effects as neurotransmitters and hormones (such as epinephrine, adrenaline, norepinephrine, and dopamine).  

Additionally, you can find it in common consumer products such as: 

  • Pharmaceutical acne treatments
  • Anti-dandruff shampoo
  • Sunscreen lotions
  • Antiseptic mouthwashes
  • Skin wound cleansers
  • Throat lozenges

Potential Health Dangers of Propyl Gallate

In addition to being an endocrine disrupter based on this latest analysis, the results in a previous study by the National Toxicology Program (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) showed that propyl gallate caused various types of cancer and other health problems in rats, including:

  • Thyroid tumors in male rats
  • Rare brain tumors in low-dose females
  • Prostate inflammation
  • Mostly benign tumors of the preputial gland (glands that produce pheromones)
  • Pancreatic tumors
  • Adrenal gland tumors in low-dose males

As you can see, in some instances the health effect only showed up in the low-dose groups but not in the high-dose groups, and only in either males or females – a perfect example of just how little anyone really knows about how these types of chemicals might affect your body, or the body of an infant, for example. 

Potential Health Hazards of Common Anti-Browning Agent   

The anti-browning agent 4-Hexylresorcinol is applied to shrimp and other crustacean seafood to prevent the development of black spots which may occur naturally.  

A toxicology study by the School of Biological Sciences, University of Surrey, England, discovered that 260 mg/kg was lethal to all cats used in the study. Granted, that is a very high dose; however, based on their data, the researchers also concluded that 4-Hexylresorcinol was carcinogenic in both the 13-week and 2-year studies, and also caused a high incidence of nephropathy in mice (an autoimmune disease that affects your kidneys). 

A 1984 study determined the probable lethal dose for humans to be anything above 500 mg/kg. 

How to Protect Your Family

If you have children xenoestrogens are clearly something you will want to avoid. Here are some measures you can take to protect you and your children from common toxic substances that could cause them to go into puberty more than a decade before they were designed to: