Hormone Havoc

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This is a first post in a series, which explains how and why it is essential for you try and steer clear of a class of chemicals known as endocrine disrupting chemicals or EDCs. Over the next few posts, I will discuss typical household products that contain EDCs and suggest safe alternatives.

What are EDCs?

As you probably know, the endocrine system governs all the hormones in our bodies. Hormones regulate nearly every aspect of our daily lives including metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep, and mood, just to name a few.

EDCs are natural or manmade substances, external to the body, that directly alter the function of the endocrine system, and cause negative health effects1. EDCs are a genuine health concern because they can really mess with chemical signaling within cells and wreak havoc with our hormones.

How do EDCs work?

EDCs can disrupt normal hormone activity by:

  • Mimicking our natural hormones like estrogens (the female sex hormone), androgens (the male sex hormone), and thyroid hormones.
  • Binding to cells preventing hormones from doing their job.
  • Interfere or block the way our hormones are made.

Consequences of hormone disruption

Over the past few decades, the consequences of EDCs in our environment have been studied extensively. Scientists now have a really good idea of how powerful and damaging these chemicals can be. Some EDCs are so damaging, that the FDA, EPA and CDC have mandated bans on their use…remember DDT and Agent Orange?

There are so many adverse effects to EDC exposure that the list is too long to print here. However, scientists and doctors belonging to the Endocrine Society recently issued a statement linking everything listed below to EDC exposure2.

  • Hormone-sensitive cancers (testicular, breast, endometrial, thyroid and prostate)3
  • Obesity and cardiovascular disease4, 5
  • Onset of Type 2 Diabetes6
  • Onset of asthma7
  • Female reproduction toxicity8
  • Decline in quality and quantity of male sperm3
  • Deleterious effects on fetal neural development 9
  • Early puberty in girls10

 Have you been exposed to EDCs?

Unfortunately, if you live in any industrialized country, the answer is a resounding “yes.” EDCs are ubiquitous in our surroundings because they are found in the soil, air, and drinking water and in loads of everyday products– including plastic bottles, carpet, electronics, furniture, metal food cans, fragrances, detergents, fabric softeners, flame-retardant clothing, pharmaceuticals, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides. Wow!

The effects on children are compounded. Why? Because children are not just tiny adults. As a percentage of their body weight, they breathe more air, drink more water, and eat more food than adults. This is because their organs are undergoing rapid change and development. To top it off, we unwittingly expose them to personal care products, toys, and clothing that contain EDCs. Research shows that EDCs may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are forming.11

Don’t these products have to be safe to be on the market?

No. The majority of the more than 2,000 chemicals that come onto the market every year do not go through even the simplest tests to determine toxicity. Even when some tests are carried out, most do not assess whether a chemical has endocrine disrupting properties.12

Further, manufacturers don’t have to list all the ingredients on their labels because they are considered proprietary, or “trade secrets.” It is practically impossible for a consumer to actually know what is in a product.

You’re freakin’ me out…what should I do?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing easy ways for you to limit exposure to EDCs. Fortunately, there are a bunch of things you can do to get started right away13.

  • Buy organic foods when possible. Refer to my post Biggest Bang for your Organic Produce Buck.
  • Avoid drinking water from disposable plastic water bottles.
  • Get a water filter that will remove pesticides, lead and heavy metals. Click here for recommendations.
  • Eat fewer animal products. EDCs can accumulate in milk and animal tissues.
  • Don’t store food in plastic containers. Use glass instead.
  • Avoid personal care products that list “fragrance” in the ingredients. More about this biggie in a later post.
  • Get a HEPA filter and HEPA bag for your vacuum cleaner to cut down on toxic EDC laden dust generated by furniture, carpet and electronics.
  • Minimize use of canned foods and don’t buy infant formula in cans. The can liner contains EDCs.
  • Skip the non-stick pans unless they are “green” non-stick pans.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks for more detailed descriptions about which products to avoid and which products and brands are safe.

See you next time!

Biggest Bang for Your Organic Produce Buck

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It’s old news that we should be feeding our families organic food if possible. Organically grown produce has not been exposed to herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, antibiotics, growth hormones and are not GMOs. This is important because the first three chemicals have been documented as endocrine disruptors.

What are endocrine disruptors? Well, they alter the normal functioning of human hormones and may interfere with the body’s endocrine system (hormone system) and produce adverse developmental, neurological, immune and reproductive effects. Endocrine disruptors may be found in lots of everyday products– including plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides on produce. I’ll give a more in depth explanation of endocrine disruptors and where they lurk in your home in later posts. For now we’ll focus on produce.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 80% of our pesticide exposure comes from the food we eat, the other 20% comes from our drinking water and pesticides we use around our homes.

I don’t want to take any chances that my kids will be exposed to these nasties, so I have a strategy to help me navigate the produce aisle.

If you’re like I am, you don’t have a gazillion dollars to buy every item on your grocery list in organic form. So, how is a person supposed to know the best way to get the biggest bang for your organic produce buck? Below is my “rule of thumb” to help you decide whether to buy organic:

Buy organic if:

  • The skin is consumed
  • If it is a leafy green
  • If it is a white or yellow potato

To take it a step further, search the plethora of apps devoted to organic foods. One of my favorite “go to” sources for food safety is the Environmental Working Group. You can easily download their app to your phone for handy reference on whether or not to buy organic. Just search the App Store for “EWG Dirty Dozen.”  They also have produced a printable list if you prefer. After a while you won’t even need the list.

Below is a recap of the produce that has the highest levels of chemical residue.  I only buy the Dirty Dozen if they are available in organic form.

Dirty Dozen

  • Apples (including apple juice and cider)
  • Cherry tomatoes
  • Grapes
  • Peppers (hot)
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Potatoes (white)
  • Spinach
  • Strawberries
  • Peppers (sweet)

Additional items I always buy organic are dairy products, meat, eggs and rice. More about these particular items in a later post.

You don’t always need to buy organic

If you shop at Costco, you’ll be happy to learn that their tomatoes and bell peppers are grown in hothouses to exacting standards that include no herbicides or pesticides. Although they are not “technically” organic, I’m happy to buy them. Read more about Costco tomatoes here.

Below is a list of produce that consistently tests as “cleanest” with respect to chemical residue and so I don’t spend the extra cash on the organic variety.

Clean Fifteen

  • Asparagus
  • Avocado
  • Cantaloupe
  • Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Mangoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Papayas
  • Pineapples
  • Sweet peas (frozen)
  • Sweet Potatoes

While I think it’s a good idea to limit pesticide exposure if possible, especially when kids are involved, scientists and health experts overwhelmingly agree that the mere presence of pesticide residues on food does not mean they are harmful. Personally, I prefer to err on the side of caution when it comes to my kid’s developing brains. I mean, how could fewer nasty chemicals be harmful?

What if organic isn’t available?

In many communities in America, organic is simply not available. I know this…I used to live in North Dakota for a decade when my kids were babies, and for many of those years I couldn’t find an organic blueberry to save my life!  If organic produce is not available, by all means buy the conventionally grown varieties and wash them well! Simply washing them with a washcloth or scrub brush goes a long way to removing pesticide residue on the surface of the produce.

This will make you feel better….

The good news is that conventionally grown produce, is regarded as safe by both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the EPA. The database maintained by the U.S.D.A., shows that 99% of the produce tested fell far below the permissible upper limit  level of pesticides and herbicides. This goes for the baby food tested as well!

If you’d like to see a neat calculator showing the amount of “Dirty Dozen” foods you would have to consume to have detrimental effects, click here. You will feel reassured about our food supply!

I hope this post will help with your decisions about whether to buy organic produce. If you have a favorite app or website about organic food, let me know!

See you next time!


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