Xenoestrogens are “alien-estrogens” that are not made in your body. They come from natural compounds in foods you consume, pesticides and herbicides you are exposed to, plastics that come into contact with food and water, and hormones, mostly in food but also in water. These hormones can be natural, such as those found in milk or they can come from birth control pills and even hormone replacement therapy.
Does it matter to us if we consume these chemicals? I believe the answer is yes. These chemicals are very powerful and are active at picogram/milliliter concentrations. That is one part in one-millionth of 1-million. When I measure estrogen levels in women, I am basing treatment on picogram quantities found in the saliva. Imagine the effect that these hormone-like chemicals can have on our bodies at the same or even greater concentrations. We see evidence of the impact these alien-estrogens have all around us. The fish and amphibians in our streams and rivers are showing signs of hormonal disruption with sterility, ambiguous genitalia and mutations. Girls are entering puberty 5-7 years earlier than their grandparents did and there is a corresponding rise in the incidence of breast cancer. Male testosterone has declined every decade at every age since the 1940s. All of these frightening health problems began to rise after the 1940s, when we started using DDT, chemical pesticides, petrochemicals, synthetic hormones, and plastics.
I am often asked why male testosterone seems to be dropping at a given age and my testosterone-deficient male patients are getting younger. ”Low T” used to be thought of as a problem of men in their 60s or older but it is now appearing in men as young as 30! I believe part of the problem is stress, another factor is pollution from toxins and heavy metals, but a large part of the blame can be placed with xenoestrogens.
We know that the natural role of estrogen in a male is to feedback to the pituitary gland and shut off testicular testosterone production. The xenoestrogens do the same thing, but their levels are not regulated and they are often more powerful than the real estrogen we make in our own body. These alien estrogens can shut off male testosterone production, leading to “Low T”. In a man with low testosterone and also a low LH (luteinizing hormone), the problem is not usually that he cannot make his own testosterone. Rather, his pituitary gland is not telling the testicle to make it. This can be due to xenoestrogen effects as well as stress or pituitary damage. Some of my “Low-T” male patients don’t end up needing testosterone; they just need to get the xenoestrogens out of their bodies. In women, xenoestrogens stimulate estrogen-sensitive tissues excessively, leading to breast fibrocystic disease, endometriosis, heavy menses with breakthrough bleeding, uterine fibroids, PMS, and even breast and uterine cancer.
Here is a short list of chemicals known to be xenoestrogens:
- alkylphenols (intermediate chemicals used in the manufacture of other chemicals)
- atrazine (weedkiller)
- 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC) (sunscreen lotions)
- butylated hydroxyanisole, BHA (food preservative)
- bisphenol A (monomer for polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resin; antioxidant in plasticizers)
- dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (one of the breakdown products of DDT)
- dieldrin (banned insecticide)
- DDT (banned insecticide)
- endosulfan (widely banned insecticide)
- erythrosine, FD&C Red No. 3
- ethinylestradiol (combined oral contraceptive pill) (released into the environment as a xenoestrogen)
- heptachlor (restricted insecticide)
- lindane, hexachlorocyclohexane (restricted insecticide)
- metalloestrogens (a class of inorganic xenoestrogens)
- methoxychlor (banned insecticide)
- nonylphenol and derivatives (industrial surfactants; emulsifiers for emulsion polymerization; laboratory detergents; pesticides)
- pentachlorophenol (restricted general biocide and wood preservative)
- polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs (banned; formerly used in electrical oils, lubricants, adhesives, paints)
- parabens (lotions)
- phenosulfothiazine (a red dye)
- phthalates (plasticizers)
- DEHP (plasticizer for PVC)
- Propyl gallate (used to protect oils and fats in products from oxidation)
What can we do about his situation? The first thing to do when you have a problem, is remove the source of the problem. In this case, it means to get rid of any source of xenoestrogen you can identify in your home and lifestyle.
First, look at your food. Eat only organic vegetables and grass-fed organic meats. Non-organic foods are coated with pesticides and herbicides and the animals are actually injected with xenoestrogens to make them gain weight faster. Avoid farm-raised salmon; it is full of PCBs and pesticides that are xenoestrogens. Avoid all dairy products. Dairy (milk, cheese, or ice cream) is made by pregnant cows or goats and is full of naturally (natural for a cow) produced xenoestrogens. They act on your body just as human estrogens do, but you get about 20 different kinds of cow or goat hormones with each glass of milk orpiece of cheese. It is clear from medical research that the incidence of breast, ovarian, prostate, and other cancers is linked to the consumption of dairy products. This is due to the xenoestrogens and growth hormones contained in milk, even if the milk is organic. I always tell my patients to avoid dairy, no matter what. It is good food for a calf, but not for a human being.
What about soy? We have all heard of the genistein and daidzein in soy which act as very weak estrogens. In most people, these are OK since they are so weak. They actually block the estrogen receptors from being exposed to the more powerful estrogens whether natural or xenosetrogens. However, in a woman who is post breast cancer, it is probably a good idea to avoid soy.
Next, de-plasticize your life. Plastics, in order to remain soft, are commonly formulated with chemicals that act a lot like estrogen. When you inhale that new car odor, notice the smell of a new shower curtain, smell that new synthetic carpet, microwave in plastic, wrap your food in Saran wrap, drink from a styrofoam cup, spray a synthetic cleaner on your counter top you are allowing xenoestrogens into your body. Even cosmetics contain xenoestrogens called pthalates and parabens. If you want to get rid of xenoestrogens, get rid of the plastic. Use natural home-construction materials such as stone, tile, wood, and non-toxic paints. Use a glass shower door, not a shower curtain, filter the water in your home either with a whole-house filter or at the tap, including the shower. Check your health and beauty aids and cosmetics carefully to find out if they have xenoestrogens in them. Go to ewg.orgfor information. Drink from paper cups or better yet, glass or ceramic. Don’t eat canned foods as the can is lined with plastic inside. Cook with glass or metal pots; never use Teflon or non-stick coating as they off-gas toxins into your food when heated. Filter your water with a charcoal filter attached to your tap (Pur is a good one) and carry water in a metal flask. You can find these items in the store section of my website, www.OptimalWellnessMD.com. Make your coffee in a glass press, not a plastic drip coffee maker. Don’t drink from plastic bottles. Store your food in glass pyrex containers (the plastic lid is OK).
Avoid using chemical pesticides and lawn chemicals. Find a “green” company to help you with pests and landscaping and make sure they are using products that have no xenoestrogens in them.
For construction projects, make sure they are not using chemical adhesives, insulation, vinyl siding, vinyl windows, chemical paints, solvents, sealants or other plastic compounds to save time and money. These products contain xenoestrogens that will leak into your home for years to come. Spend the money up front to build your home with the techniques that are now available to make your home “green” but also non-toxic. Your young child spends his or her time on the floor and in the home; that’s when the worst exposure occurs.
Don’t take birth control pills or synthetic HRT. There are plenty of studies linking OCPs and synthetic HRT with an increased risk of breast cancer. Use an IUD (non-hormonal) for birth control. If you have a hormonal imbalance, the best treatment is to use bioidentical hormones, not resort to oral contraceptives to treat such things as migraines, heavy menses, PMS, endometriosis.
Finally, get tested. In my clinic, I can test for a variety of toxic chemicals that can act on the body like estrogens. These are specialized tests that have to be sent to a specialty lab. Seeing what is really in your body can be a powerful motivator to change your lifestyle. We can also test the estrogen metabolic pathways using a simple urine test. Many of the xenoestrogens distort the normal metabolism of estrogens, altering the 2:16 OH-Estrone ratio and also distorting the estrogen methylation pathways. These distortions increase the risk for breast, prostate, and uterine cancer. Using this information, I can advise patients on which nutritional supplements would benefit them and correct these metabolic defects.
You can learn more about this on my website in the detoxification section.
Here is a good website to check out at the Metametrix Lab. It helps you find and remove xenoestrogens and toxins from your home. Please explore it:
This can be a frightening subject, but remember that there is a way to help yourself. Detoxify your life, get tested, and take action. Demand that your legislators clean up our food and environment. Spend your food budget on wholesome, nontoxic foods and supplies and the market will respond by producing more of the organic and less of the toxic. Take into account toxins when buying products for your home or when renovating. Use nontoxic cosmetics and avoid toxic drugs.
Dr. Joseph Kaye
BodyLogicMD of Boston