Perhaps you’ve heard of the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and veggies: they’re the 12 fruits and veggies that tend to be the most contaminated with pesticides, and therefore, they’re the ones that you should buy organic when you can.
Recently, though, the Environmental Working Group has released a corresponding Dirty Dozen List of Endocrine Disrupting chemicals. These nasties can screw up your hormones. Many of them are estrogenic, and the vast majority of female endocrine issues I’ve seen stem from estrogen dominance relative to progesterone. Quite a few of these also disrupt the thyroid, which makes sense — hypothyroidism has swelled to near-epidemic proportions as well.
- Bisphenol A (BPA): Used in hard plastics and in the resin lining the insides of most food and beverage cans, the current FDA position is that BPA is safe. However, it has been demonstrated that BPA binds to and stimulates the estradiol receptor, tricking the body into thinking estrogen levels are higher than they are. While the FDA has banned inclusion of BPA in baby bottles, it continues to hold that the BPA lining food and beverage cans is not a health concern. Avoid it by choosing fresh over canned foods.
- Dioxins: this is a class of chemicals mostly produced as byproducts of the production of pesticides, waste incineration, and bleaching paper pulp. Unfortunately, they’re also tenacious — once they show up in the environment, they’re not readily broken down. They hide in fat cells, and most of our exposure actually comes from animals (the animals accumulate them in their fat and then we eat the animal – or drink the milk). And once they’re in our bodies, dioxins have half-lives of years. These, too, have endocrine disrupting properties, and have been linked to low sperm count and various kinds of cancer. Avoid these by minimizing agro-industry dairy and meat (choose organic whenever possible).
- Atrazine: An herbicide used on most corn crops in the US, Atrazine is now a common contaminant in drinking water. Research shows that exposure to even a small amount can turn male frogs into hermaphrodites (with viable eggs!) It is banned in the EU but commonly used in the US and in Australia. Avoid it by choosing organic fruits and veggies, and drinking filtered water.
- Phthalates: Primarily found in plastics to increase their flexibility, phthalates are not only estrogenic, they have been found to increase programmed cell death (particularly in testicular cells). Phthalates are not bonded to the plastics and are fat-soluble, and they therefore leech easily into fatty foods packaged in flexible plastic wrapping. Cosmetics and personal care products also deliver a dose of phthalates topically. Overall, phthalates are linked to breast cancer, birth defects, low sperm count, obesity, diabetes, and thyroid problems. To avoid it, store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic as much as possible, read labels for personal care items to make sure phthalates are not on the list, make sure you use glass or stainless steel water bottles, and NEVER microwave food with plastic wrap on top! (If you must microwave, use paper towels to avoid splatter instead.)
- Perchlorates: Referring to a salt with the polyatomic anion perchloric acid, these do occur both naturally and industrially (it’s used in rocket fuel). Because the mineral occurs naturally, it can contaminate drinking water. It inhibits the thyroid’s ability to obtain iodine, a necessary mineral for thyroid hormone production, and was therefore once considered the standard of care for hyperthyroidism. However, given today’s epidemic of hypothyroidism, it’s wise to avoid it and choose filtered water whenever possible.
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs): Used in fire retardants applied to foam furniture, carpets, and in a variety of other industrial products, these also don’t break down very well and therefore bioaccumulate. They’re everywhere, and they have been shown to decrease fertility and disrupt thyroid activity. Hopefully laws will better protect us in the future to render these less ubiquitous, but in the meantime, honestly I just don’t worry about it. (You can easily get obsessive about avoiding every possible toxic exposure, and that can be even more damaging than the chemicals, if there’s little you can do about it.)
- Lead: Found in old paint, solder in plumbing (and therefore in drinking water), lead initially gets stored in the bones, and is released when bone turnover increases (such as in pregnancy and menopause). It can cause a variety of symptoms that have nothing to do with the endocrine system, but it can also disrupt the HPA (Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal) axis, making it harder to deal with stress. Again, filter your water. (And don’t eat your paint, if you live in an old house. …Probably don’t eat your paint anyway.)
- Arsenic: Found in seafood, herbicides, and chicken (we feed it to our chickens in order to prevent parasites, bulk up and improve the color of the poultry meat, and decrease the chickens’ feed consumption), this carcinogen also interferes with the regulation of cortisol. This will lead to the symptoms of high cortisol and/or low cortisol listed here. Buy your chicken organic, and choose wild-caught, Pacific seafood, and again, filter your water.
- Mercury: Most often found in contaminated seafood (usually farmed or Atlantic, especially high in canned tuna), you can also get a whopping dose from the silver amalgams in your mouth every time you chew. Linked to a variety of neurological disorders, mercury also disrupts steroid hormones and potentially interferes with insulin production. Choose wild-caught or Pacific fish, and if you have amalgams and have the money, consider looking into a holistic dentist to replace the fillings.
- Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs): Used in non-stick cookware and water-resistant coatings, these pretty much never break down in the environment. These have also been linked to low sperm count, kidney and thyroid disease. I know they’re a pain to clean, but instead choose stainless steel pots and pans — they’re much safer.
- Organophosphate pesticides: These are some of the most common pesticides in use today, and they are neurotoxic to insects. Unfortunately they’re neurotoxic to us as well. For that reason, OP use has been banned in most residential areas, but they’re still commonly used on fruits and veggies, and are also used in plastics and as solvents. They’ve been linked with low testosterone and thyroid disruption. Avoid them by buying the Dirty Dozen fruits and veggies organic.
- Glycol ethers: Used as solvents in paint, cleaning solutions, brake fluid, and cosmetics, these may lower sperm count and decrease fertility. Avoid them by choosing cleaning products that lack 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME).