“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.”- Chris Maser, Forest Primeval: The Natural History of an Ancient Forest
Despite the improved consumer products that most Americans have available to them in 2015, there are a lot of problems with the consumption of foods, personal products, and exposure to a host of chemicals that may be causing us considerable harm. Researchers identified a broad class of chemicals which are frequently referred to as endocrine disruptors, that, in certain doses, can cause major problems in the human hormonal system. They may be responsible for certain forms of cancers, learning disabilities, a rise in attention deficit disorder, birth defects, is believed to be directly responsible for sexual development problems such as the feminization of males, and the masculinization of females. While studies have been inconclusive and nothing is definitive, people need to have this information so as to be able to make more informed decisions about the products that they use and consume on a regular basis.
The Environmental Working Group, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting these health of humans by identifying environmental hazards such as endocrine disruptors. (www.ewg.org) They have done extensive research into what may be causing some of these medical problems and have some solid advice on how to avoid the hidden damage that they may be causing. They have identified what they call the “Dirty Dozen” of endocrine disruptors. Their research is quite detailed and technical at times, but their advice is clear. There are certain products we all should avoid or use sparingly in order to avoid the damage that may be caused by endocrine disruptors. Here are some of the major offenders:
⦁ BPA- this is the abbreviated name of bisphenol A , a chemical commonly found in plastic bottles such as water bottles, plastic food containers, in the inside of cans that contain food or infant formula. This chemical imitates the female sex hormone estrogen in the body. BPA may be responsible for altering the sexual development of adolescents, and may have long-range impact on their psychological development as well. Dr. Leonard Sax, a researcher who studies gender development, believes that this is the primary reason for early puberty in adolescent girls, and delayed puberty in adolescent boys. The increase in estrogen from BPA feminizes girls too soon for their emotional development and negatively impacts the physical development of adolescent boys. His findings are that 50% of adolescent girls in the United States now begin puberty before age 10. This, he says, impacts their emotional development, as their bodies are those of a woman while there emotional development remains that of a 10-year-old. BPA also has a negative impact on the development of adolescent boys, and may be responsible for increased instances of gynecomastia, a disorder where males develop breast tissue much like those of the female. Gynecomastia was virtually unheard of 50 years ago and today is quite common. While the research is unclear and statistics can be manipulated, it’s probably not a great idea for all of us to be walking around with those plastic water bottles that we sip on constantly.
⦁ Dioxins. These form in the industrial process when certain chemicals collide. They disrupt the way that male and female hormones interact in the body. Exposure to low levels of dioxin in the womb and in early development may effect sperm count and the quality of sperm in men later in life. Dioxins also tend to build up over time and are highly carcinogenic.
⦁ Atrazine. This is a widely used chemical that is used to treat corn products in the United States, and as a result, has weaseled its way into drinking water. It has been linked to delayed puberty, breast tumors, prostate cancer, and is so strong that it can turn male frogs into females capable of producing eggs.
⦁ Phthalates. This is a chemical found in plastic food containers, plastic children’s toys, and in plastic wraps made from PVC. They also have an ability to signal certain cells in the body to die earlier than they should. Every day approximately 50 billion cells in your body die through a normal process of attrition. Phthalates cause testicular cells to die earlier and in greater numbers than they should. They have been linked to low sperm count, less mobile sperm, defects in the male reproductive system, diabetes, and thyroid problems.
⦁ Perchlorate. This is a chemical compound commonly found in rocket fuel. It has made its way into our drinking water, and as contaminated much of our produce as well. Consuming too much of it creates a thyroid hormone imbalance, which could be a factor in why so many Americans have problems with their thyroid gland at rates unheard of 50 years ago.
⦁ Fire retardants. In 1999 Swedish researchers did a study on women’s breast milk and found that there were high concentrations of the endocrine disrupting chemicals found in fire retardants. These chemicals have since been found in humans and animals everywhere on the globe. These chemicals mimic thyroid hormones and disrupt norman thyroid functioning. This can lead to lower IQ levels as well.
⦁ Lead. We have long known the dangers of lead. While much has been done to eliminate the dangers of these heavy metals, there is still residual dangers in the environment.
⦁ Mercury. This is a toxic, naturally occurring, metal that gets into the air and oceans through the burning of coal. It can end up in your system through the consumption of seafood from contaminated ocean water. Pregnant women are susceptable, fetal brain development can be hampered, female menstrual cycles disrupted, and it may be a factor in the development of diabetes.
⦁ Perfluorinated chemicals. PFCs are the chemicals that make up non-stick cookware. These chemicals are now in the bodies of 99% of the American population. What makes these so dangerous is that these chemicals never break down and, once consumed, they linger in the body forever. PFCs exposure has been linked to decreased sperm quality, low birth weight, kidney disease, thyroid disease and high cholesterol, among other health issues.
⦁ Glycol ethers. These are common solvents in paints, cleaning and automotive products, and cosmetics. These are so dangerous that the The European Union says that some of these chemicals “may damage fertility or the unborn child.” Children exposed are more likely to suffer from allergies and asthma.
What can be done to alleviate the effects of these insidious chemicals on us, but also on our children, and possibly grandchildren? It doesn’t have to be complicated. There are some simple habits and things to avoid that can make a big difference:
⦁ Be careful with food and beverage products stored in plastics. Never cook anything in a plastic container, opt for glass or pyrex if possible. Don’t consume food products stored at room temperature in plastic containers. It’s ok if they are refridgerated, but do not allow the product to get back to room temperature. Plastics, and products stored in plastics, are the biggest of the endocrine disruptors and avoiding them will go a long way toward prevention.
⦁ Use cosmetics sparingly. The average American woman ingests over 5 lbs. per year in endocrine disrupting chemicals each year from facial cosmetics alone. Feminine products are especially hazardous and may be a factor in the rise of breast, uterine, and other cancers impacting women.
⦁ Opt for fresh foods instead of canned when possible. Not only does fresh taste better, it is healthier. This will help keep synthetic hormones out of your body.
⦁ Buy organic products whenever you can. This includes soaps, shampoos, cosmetics, and other products, as well as food. It may be pricey, but could save you a lot of aggravation from poor health.
⦁ Avoid plastic food wraps and plastic storage containers. Glass is not only the better choice for your health, but may be more economical as glass is reusable. Wax paper and wax paper bags for food storage is a low cost solution to the plastic problem.
⦁ Throw out those non-stick pans. Although cast iron may be harder to clean, they are certainly cleaner in your body. The extra clean up time is time well spent.
⦁ Filter your own water. A simple filter for a water pitcher is all it takes. If you buy bottled water, be sure the bottle is BPA free. There’s nothing healthy about sucking on a BPA filled plastic bottle all day long.
⦁ Research ways to keep your person and home clean with old fashioned remedies such as apple cider vinegar, baking soda, salt, and citric juices like lemon juice. The demise of these old school products coincides with the rise of many developmental health problems, cancers, and hormonal issues. It’s not coincidental.
Although it’s nearly impossible to eliminate all exposure to these hormonal disrupting chemicals, there’s no reason to give up trying. A few subtle, yet consistent, lifestyle changes can greatly improve your health and that of your family. Do what you can. A little of something may well be better than a lot of nothing.
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