By Dr. Mercola
Common household goods, personal care products, and even food and water, are major sources of chemical exposure that can lead to an accumulation of toxins in your body. For obvious reasons, children are at greatest risk for adverse effects.
Many common household chemicals are known as endocrine disruptors, a number of which are found in plastic products. These chemicals are similar in structure to natural sex hormones such as estrogen, thereby interfering with their normal functions.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recently published a list of the 12 worst hormone-disrupting chemicals you may be coming into contact with on a regular basis. As stated in their report:1
"There is no end to the tricks that endocrine disruptors can play on our bodies: increasing production of certain hormones; decreasing production of others; imitating hormones; turning one hormone into another; interfering with hormone signaling; telling cells to die prematurely; competing with essential nutrients; binding to essential hormones; accumulating in organs that produce hormones."
The 12 Worst Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals
The EWG report includes many of the most well-known hormone wreckers, but also contains some that may surprise you, such as lead, mercury and arsenic. While these are known for other harmful health effects, hormone disruption is not typically discussed in relation to them.
In all, the EWG's "dirty dozen" list for the 12 worst endocrine disruptors are the following.2 I've written about many of these in prior articles, so for more information about any particular one, please follow the links provided.
Bisphenol-A (BPA) Dioxin Atrazine Perchlorate Fire retardants Lead Mercury Arsenic Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) Organophosphate pesticides Glycol ethers
Landmark Report Links Common Household Chemicals to Human Disease
Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced3 a new report co-produced with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), titled: "State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals." The report suggests that outright banning endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) may actually be needed to protect the health of future generations...
The joint study has been touted as the most comprehensive report on endocrine disrupting chemicals to date, and it too flags several of the most common culprits, including Bisphenol-A (BPA), PCBs, phthalates and agricultural pesticides. According to the report, a wide variety of health problems are associated with exposure to these pervasive chemicals, including:
Non-descended testes in young males Developmental effects on the nervous system in children Prostate cancer in men Developmental effects on the nervous system in children Attention deficit hyperactivity in children Thyroid cancer
According to the report:
"The diverse systems affected by endocrine-disrupting chemicals likely include all hormonal systems and range from those controlling development and function of reproductive organs to the tissues and organs regulating metabolism and satiety.
Effects on these systems can lead to obesity, infertility or reduced fertility, learning and memory difficulties, adult-onset diabetes or cardiovascular disease, as well as a variety of other diseases."
Are Personal Care Products Driving Up Breast Cancer Rates in Younger Women?
The connection between endocrine disrupting chemicals and cancer is of particular concern, especially when it comes to children, whose exposure to these chemicals from a young age may predispose them to cancer at increasingly earlier ages. This is precisely what we're seeing, as record numbers of women under the age of 50 are now being diagnosed with breast cancer. Dr. Christine Horner, a board certified general and plastic surgeon specializing in breast reconstructive surgery due to mastectomy, has also discussed how her patients kept getting increasingly younger... Could exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals be to blame?
A study published last year suggests that parabens from antiperspirants and other cosmetics indeed appear to increase your risk of breast cancer.4 The research, which was also reviewed in an editorial published in the Journal of Applied Toxicology, looked at where breast tumors were appearing, and determined that higher concentrations of parabens were found in the upper quadrants of the breast and axillary area, where antiperspirants are usually applied.5
Quite shockingly, the paraben residues were found at concentrations up to 1 million times higher than the estrogen (estradiol) levels naturally found in human breast tissue! Clearly these chemicals are accumulating at alarmingly high concentrations, likely because of their widespread and persistent daily use. Previous research has shown that women absorb an estimated five pounds of chemicals a year from their daily makeup routine alone.
While parabens are not included on the EWG's list of the worst endocrine disrupters out there, there's plenty of evidence showing that parabens—which are some of the most widely used chemicals in personal care products—can wreak havoc on your health. Parabens inhibit the growth of bacteria, yeast, and molds, and are used as preservatives in countless consumer products, including:
Deodorants and antiperspirants Shampoos and conditioners Shaving gel Toothpaste Lotions and sunscreens Make-up / cosmetics Pharmaceutical drugs Food additives
Hormone Levels May Predict Your Breast Cancer Risk
In related news, preliminary research suggests that hormone levels might in fact serve as useful markers to help predict a woman's risk for developing breast cancer.6 According to the study's author, postmenopausal women with high levels of estrogen, androgen and prolactin are at increased risk of invasive breast cancer.
A woman's hormone levels are currently not included in conventional cancer risk prediction models. The author of the study suggests that checking the levels of estrone sulfate, testosterone and prolactin "may provide the biggest improvement in risk prediction for breast cancer." While the research is still considered preliminary, and more studies need to be done to ascertain the accuracy of this theory, the finding is "quite logical" according to Dr. Myra Barginear, a breast medical oncologist in New York State, who said:
"If the study's findings are validated and confirmed, a simple blood test to evaluate hormone levels, as the Investigators did in the study, would be a very useful, additional tool to evaluate a woman's risk of developing breast cancer."
Simplify Your Life and Reduce Your Toxic Burden
In 2004, a six-month study was done about personal care product use. More than 10,000 body care product ingredients were evaluated, involving 2,300 participants. One of the findings was that the average adult uses nine personal care products each day, containing 126 different chemicals. The study also found that more than 250,000 women, and one out of every 100 men, use an average of 15 products daily.
Does this sound like someone you know? It's important to remember that your skin is your largest, and most permeable organ. Just about anything you put on your skin will end up in your bloodstream and distributed throughout your body. Once these chemicals find their way into your body, they tend to accumulate over time because you typically lack the necessary enzymes to break them down. This is why I'm so fond of saying "don't put anything on your body that you wouldn't eat if you had to."
If you insist on buying commercial products, you've got a little bit of work cut out for you in terms of researching the ingredients. Still, it can be done. I recommend using the EWG's Skin Deep Cosmetics Database7 to research the potential toxicity of ingredients. Products bearing the USDA 100% Organic seal are among your safest bets if you want to avoid potentially toxic ingredients. Beware that products boasting "all-natural" labels can still contain harmful chemicals, so be sure to check the full list of ingredients.
Another alternative—and perhaps both the safest and easiest one—is to make your own personal care and household cleaning products. Coconut oil, for example, is a multipurpose powerhouse that can be safely used on your body from head to toe. When absorbed into your skin, coconut oil helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles by helping to keep your connective tissues strong and supple. It also helps exfoliate the outer layer of dead skin cells, making your skin smoother. Coconut oil is also great for nurturing and conditioning your hair, and many rave about the oil's ability to prevent "the frizzies" in humid weather.
Baking soda is another inexpensive basic that can replace multiple products.8 You can use it in lieu of shampoo9, face and body scrub, and toothpaste, for example. It's also a natural odor neutralizer, so rubbing a pinch of it into your armpit may be all you need to replace your toxic antiperspirant.
As for household cleaning products, tried and true items such as liquid castile soap, hydrogen peroxide, white vinegar, baking soda, and lemon juice can get the job done just as well -- sometimes even better -- than their commercial counterparts. To learn more, please see my previous article on this topic. You can also search EWG's Healthy Cleaning Guide10 for safety ratings on more than 2,000 different cleaning products.
More Tips to Help You Avoid Toxic Chemicals
Implementing the following measures—many of which are included in the EWG's recommendations for avoiding the worst endocrine-disrupting culprit11—can also help you protect yourself and your children from toxins from a wide variety of sources.
- As much as possible, buy and eat organic produce and free-range, organic meats to reduce your exposure to added hormones, pesticides and fertilizers. Also avoid milk and other dairy products that contain the genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST).
- Rather than eating conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury, supplement with a high-quality purified krill oil, or eat fish that is wild-caught and lab tested for purity. Wild caught Alaskan salmon is about the only fish I eat for these reasons.
- Buy products that come in glass bottles rather than plastic or canned, since chemicals can leach out of plastics and into the contents. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a serious concern; make sure plastic containers and canned goods are BPA-free.
- Also store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap.
- Use glass baby bottles and BPA-free sippy cups for your little ones.
- Eat mostly raw, fresh foods. Processed, prepackaged foods (of all kinds) are a common source of chemicals such as BPA and phthalates.
- Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
- Filter your tap water—both for drinking and bathing. In fact, if you can only afford to do one, filtering your bathing water may be more important, as your skin absorbs contaminants. To remove the endocrine disrupting herbicide Atrazine, make sure the filter is certified to remove it. According to the EWG, perchlorate can be filtered out using a reverse osmosis filter.
- Look for products that are made by companies that are Earth-friendly, animal-friendly, green, non-toxic and/or 100% organic. This applies to everything from food and personal care products to building materials, carpeting, paint, baby items, upholstery and more.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to remove contaminated house dust.
- When buying new products such as furniture, mattresses, or carpet padding, ask what type of fire retardant it contains. Be mindful of and/or avoid items containing PBDEs, antimony, formaldehyde, boric acid, and other brominated chemicals. As you replace these toxic items around your home, select those that contain naturally less flammable materials, such as leather, wool and cotton.
- Avoid stain- and water-resistant clothing, furniture and carpets to avoid perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs).
- Make sure your baby's toys are BPA-free, such as pacifiers, teething rings and anything your child may be prone to suck on.
- Only use natural cleaning products in your home, or make your own. Avoid products that contain 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME)—two toxic glycol ethers that can damage fertility and cause fetal harm.12
- Switch over to organic brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants and cosmetics. Remember, you can replace many different products with coconut oil and baking soda, for example. The Environmental Working Group has a great database13 to help you find personal care products that are free of phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemicals. I also offer one of the highest quality organic skin care lines, shampoo and conditioner, and body butter that are completely natural and safe.
- Replace feminine hygiene products like tampons and sanitary pads with safer alternatives.
- Avoid artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners or other synthetic fragrances.
- Look for products that are fragrance-free. One artificial fragrance can contain hundreds -- even thousands -- of potentially toxic chemicals.
- Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric.