Xenoestrogens and environmental toxins – The hidden hormone disruptors in our daily life

Xenoestrogens and environmental toxins – The hidden hormone disruptors in our daily life
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In today’s modern society, we are exposed to countless chemicals daily. From the foods we eat, to the products we use. Did you know that on average, women use 12 personal care products every day, exposing themselves to 168 chemical ingredients?​1​ Unfortunately, these chemicals have become an integral part of our lives. Xenoestrogens are one class of these chemicals that can wreak havoc on our hormonal balance by mimicking the hormones produced in the body, therefore directly contributing to a number of hormone-related conditions.​2​,​3​  

Do your hormones seem out of balance with premenstrual, period, or fertility problems? Reducing xenoestrogens and supporting the body to detoxify from environmental toxins may help to regain hormonal balance and improve your symptoms.  

What are Xenoestrogens? 

Xenoestrogens are a class of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that may be synthetic or naturally occurring chemicals that can mimic or disrupt the actions of oestrogen in the body. They can bind to oestrogen receptors in the body and interfere with the normal functioning of the endocrine system, resulting in negative effects on male and female fertility, breast development, hormone dependant cancers, hormonal balance, nervous system function, thyroid health, metabolism, and obesity.​4​   EDCs can not only affect the individual exposed, but also their later generations.​5​ 

Sources of Xenoestrogens 

Oestrogen is responsible for several functions, for example, regulating menstrual cycles, regulating fat stores, and supporting mood, whereas progesterone principally facilitates and maintains a viable pregnancy and supports embryonic development. It also performs other broader functions, from being the precursor to other hormones like cortisol or aldosterone, to supporting blood pressure and mood, and counterbalancing the proliferative, inflammatory effect of oestrogen. 

  • Plastics: Bisphenol A (BPA), commonly found in plastic bottles and food containers, is a well-known xenoestrogen. It can leach into food and beverages, particularly when exposed to heat or acidic conditions. Opting for glass or stainless-steel containers can help to reduce exposure.
  • Pesticides: Many pesticides used in conventional agriculture contain xenoestrogen compounds. Consuming organic produce can minimise exposure to these chemicals.
  • Personal care products: Some cosmetics, shampoos, lotions, and fragrances contain phthalates and parabens, which can act as xenoestrogens. Choosing natural or organic personal care products without these chemicals is advisable.
  • Meat and dairy: Conventional meat and dairy products may contain residual hormones administered to livestock. Opting for organic or hormone-free animal products can help minimise exposure.
  • Medication: Hormones in oral contraceptive pill (OCP) and hormone replacement therapy (HRT). These can also deplete vital nutrients such as B vitamins and magnesium. If you are on hormonal medication, it is important that you supplement with extra nutrients to overcome these depletions and also aid healthy detoxification of hormones.  
  • Environmental pollutants: Industrial pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxins have been identified as xenoestrogens. These pollutants are often found in contaminated water, soil, and air. ​4​ 

 Impact on hormonal health 

By increasing oestrogen synthesis and mimicking oestrogen activity, xenoestrogens can have widespread impact on the body and have been linked to a number of hormone-related problems, including: 

  • Infertility: In women, xenoestrogens have been shown to reduce ovarian reserve,​6​ whilst in men, they can reduce sperm count & sperm motility.​7​  
  • Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS): Xenoestrogens have been associated with increased severity of PMS symptoms due to upregulating oestrogen.​8
  • Endometriosis: Xenoestrogens can promote the growth and development of endometriotic lesions, exacerbating symptoms and inflammation associated with the condition.​9
  • Cancer: The cumulative exposure to xenoestrogens over time may increase the risk of hormone-related cancers such as breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers.​10​  

 Detoxification of Xenoestrogens 

Through complex biochemical reactions, our bodies neutralise and eliminate harmful chemicals, as well as the substances produced in the body, including our hormones. Sex hormones such oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, must be efficiently broken down and eliminated once they have completed their function. High exposure to xenoestrogens, creates an excessive oestrogen load which puts additional pressure on the detoxification pathways. This may increase the risk of oestrogen-dependent conditions such as endometriosis, fibroids, PMS, and reduce the efficiency of these pathways altogether.  

The processes involved in detoxification of hormones and xenoestrogens include methylation, glucuronidation, sulphation, and glutathione conjugation. These rely on multiple nutrients, including B vitamins, especially folate (in the methylfolate form) and B12, sulphur (e.g. as N-acetyl cysteine or plant chemicals found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli), vitamin B5 and glucaric acid (found in supplements as Calcium-D-Glucarate), glutathione, and selenium, amongst others. Clearly, it’s a very nutrient-dependent process and any depletions can interfere with how efficient our detoxification is.  

However, there are also other factors that can interfere with this vital process, some of them being other toxins from air pollution, prescription drugs, chargrilled foods, smoking, alcohol, as well as our genetics. Some of us may have variants in the key genes that control detoxification, which means they may be slower and less efficient at processing hormones and toxins, therefore making those individuals more prone to hormonal imbalances and damage caused by toxins. The most common gene variants include the COMT (Catechol O-methyltransferase), and MTHFR (methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase) genes, which are responsible for methylation and require an ample supply of folate, vitamin B2, B12, and magnesium in particular.  

Genetic testing can be completed to find out if there are any gene variations, however in general everyone will benefit from reducing xenoestrogen exposure and supporting detoxification. 

 Lifestyle Recommendations 

  • Use natural and organic cosmetics to avoid parabens,​11​ phthalates and other compounds that can act as oestrogen in the body, disrupting hormonal balance. ​3, 12​  
  • Avoid storing food in plastic containers or using cling film which might contain BPA.​12​ Even BPA-free plastic is now believed to leak some chemicals.​13​ Use glass, ceramic, or stainless steel for food and drink storage and microwaving.  
  • Shop receipts are also major source of BPA.​14​ People who handle receipts frequently have been found to have significantly elevated levels of BPA in their urine.​15​ Leave unnecessary receipts and wash your hands after handling then.  
  • Filter your water. You can install a water filter to the home mains water supply or use a countertop water filter.
  • Support stress with yoga, reading, meditation, and breath work. Stress can interfere with detoxification and also depletes a lot of vital nutrients. 

 Dietary and nutrients Recommendations 

  • Reduce caffeine as it can decrease your ability to detoxify.  
  • Avoid smoked, deep-fried & chargrilled foods as they provide high levels of heterocyclic aromatic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are potent EDCs.
  • Buy more organic produce, to reduce your exposure to pesticides.​16​ 
    Eat more cruciferous vegetables daily (e.g., broccoli, cauliflower, and kale) which are great sources of sulforaphane and can support the detoxification of xenoestrogens.  
  • Increase your intake of prebiotic-rich foods such as oats, banana, Jerusalem artichoke, chicory, to support regular bowel movements for elimination of toxins.
  • Supplement with B vitamins, either in a good multinutrient or a B complex. Look out for folate in the form of methylfolate, which is the most efficient form to support methylation and glucuronidation pathways – the key pathways for oestrogen detoxification.
  • Rosemary & broccoli extracts promote healthy oestrogen detoxification and reduce the pro-inflammatory and harmful metabolites, aiding healthy oestrogen elimination and protecting our cells from damage.​17,18​
  • Green tea reduces circulating oestrogen and is a great antioxidant to support detoxification. 

With xenoestrogens and toxins being prevalent in our environment it is helpful to know that there is much we can do with our diet and lifestyle to reduce our exposure and support detoxification. Implementing the diet and lifestyle tips provided will benefit everyone’s physiology but in particular those who experience premenstrual, period or fertility problems.

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  1. Exposures add up – Survey results | Environmental Working Group. Accessed July 3, 2023. https://www.ewg.org/news-insights/news/2004/12/exposures-add-survey-results 
  2. Katz TA, Yang Q, Treviño LS, Walker CL, Al-Hendy A. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals and uterine fibroids. Fertil Steril. 2016;106(4):967-977. doi:10.1016/J.FERTNSTERT.2016.08.023
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  9. Cobellis L, Colacurci N, Trabucco E, Carpentiero C, Grumetto L. Measurement of bisphenol A and bisphenol B levels in human blood sera from healthy and endometriotic women. Biomedical Chromatography. 2009;23(11):1186-1190. doi:10.1002/BMC.1241 
  10. Fernandez S V, Russo J. Estrogen and Xenoestrogens in Breast Cancer. doi:10.1177/0192623309354108 
  11. Darbre PD, Harvey PW. Parabens can enable hallmarks and characteristics of cancer in human breast epithelial cells: a review of the literature with reference to new exposure data and regulatory status. Journal of Applied Toxicology. 2014;34(9):925-938. doi:10.1002/JAT.3027 
  12. Krishnan A V., Stathis P, Permuth SF, Tokes L, Feldman D. Bisphenol-A: an estrogenic substance is released from polycarbonate flasks during autoclaving. Endocrinology. 1993;132(6):2279-2286. doi:10.1210/ENDO.132.6.8504731 
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August 7, 2023
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