Maybe you’ve heard the terms endocrine disruptor before but aren’t sure what they mean besides a vague reference to dangerous “chemicals”.
And in today’s day and age with so much misunderstanding about chemicals (everything is a chemical, after all) it can be easy to pass off the talk about endocrine disruptors as if they aren’t real or don’t matter.
But the reality tells a much more concerning story.
After all, even when accounting for portion sizing changes and lifestyle adjustments over the last 50 years, the truth still remains that none of the things we’ve centered on before as the “reason” for the growing issues we have with obesity, cancer, infertility and chronic health conditions can be explained by the idea that everyone just “eats more and exercises less” than they did before. There’s some truth in that statement, but it isn’t the whole truth.
Many scientists (and professionals like myself) believe that the growing exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals is a big reason for these shifts.
In PCOS, studies have even shown higher levels of endocrine disruptors in the blood of those with PCOS, and there’s even some evidence that endocrine disruptors may cause PCOS-like changes in the body.
Endocrine disruptors describe a group of chemicals known to be harmful to human health and fertility. The most concerning are BPA (and alternatives), phthalates, parabens, PFAs and triclosan found in products like plastics, non-stick cookware, skincare, haircare, makeup, hand sanitizer, toothpaste and even thermal receipts.
Endocrine disruptors exacerbate PCOS symptoms, those with higher levels tend to have more severe symptoms. They can increase testosterone levels in the body, thereby increasing facial hair, hair loss, and ovulatory issues.
Those with high exposure to these chemicals are at higher risk of PCOS and BPA and other endocrine disruptors are found in higher quantities in those with PCOS.
One of my big theories here is the interplay between the liver detoxification process and these chemicals. We know that those with PCOS often struggle with liver function, or with the functioning of some phase of their detoxification processes, and this makes it more likely that they will recycle hormone metabolites or have trouble clearing waste from the body.
Since these chemicals are waste as far as the body is concerned, they can jam the system in a sense, placing a larger burden on a body that already usually has some genetic disadvantages (like MTHFR or other SNPs that affect liver detox)
Those with infertility (both male and female) tend to have higher levels of exposure to these chemicals, particularly BPA.
Exposure may raise testosterone in females but lower it in men and these changes have been some of the major root issues with sperm motility and quality in the last few decades.
We don’t yet understand the full implications of endocrine disruptors, especially the synergistic affect of low-level exposure to so many known disruptors common in the modern lifespan.
What this means is that while science may say a low level of BPA exposure is fine, the modern lifespan includes exposure to not just BPA but many of the other endocrine disrupting chemicals that we have less research on, and many more that have likely not yet been identified. We don’t yet know what small exposures to tons of different chemicals does to the body. Sure, just a little of this or that may be no big deal, but when you combine them, along with accounting for the idea that some of them may work in concert with each other to produce even more changes, the concerns grow.
The good news is that we know more than we ever have about where these disruptors are found, and how to try to avoid them and the research consistently expands.
The bad news is that manufacturers like to play on our ignorance by marketing their products to us in ways that make us think they are now safe. Maybe you’ve seen plastic bottles that say “BPA free” and thought it was a better choice. The reality is that they are still using a BPA-like chemical, and have simply altered it slightly. We have no data on the safety of these new chemicals and they likely are just as bad for health as BPA.
It’s important to remember that there is no ability to be perfect here, the world that we live in all but guarantees exposure to these chemicals at various times, the key is to try to reduce exposure and support the body’s natural detoxification systems.
I’ve spoken a lot about detoxification before, so I won’t cover it here, but let’s talk about the simplest ways to avoid these chemicals.
The major exposures you get to BPA come from plastics and thermal receipts. The best way to avoid it is to avoid the biggest places you’re exposed- the kitchen.
Avoid eating and drinking out of plastic and choose glass instead. If you are going to use a plastic water bottle or Tupperware, never heat it up and ensure that it is not scratched or damaged.
Avoid thermal receipts by being careful to touch them as little as possible, avoiding lotions before and after (which can increase absorption). You can also consider wearing a glove when taking a receipt or asking for a digital receipt.
I have a favorite glass water bottle with a silicone sleeve that marks what time of the day it is and keeps me on track with getting enough water everyday. You can find it and my other recommended glass swaps like glass storage in my amazon storefront here.
Consider a reverse osmosis water filter to filter harmful chemicals from your tap water. Tap water (and bottled water) are both big exposure sources so limiting them as much as possible is key. This is something I still struggle with as I often find myself forgetting my water bottle at home but I recently bought this little countertop unit and it’s been helping me a ton!
Phthalates are present in plastics as well and both are often present in skincare products, laundry detergent, etc.
I recommend replacing these products with cleaner alternatives as they run out, that way you aren’t forced to waste product or spends lots of money at once. Laundry detergent is a priority because of how much of your body will be covered.
Avoiding fragrances in products is also key here, as these are often cover words for endocrine disrupting chemicals. If you burn candles, use air fresheners, wax beads, or scented laundry products, its best to avoid them to avoid unnecessary exposure
These products help make items non-stick and include Teflon and other similar products. Avoid all non-stick cookware and instead choose a ceramic dutch oven or, even better, a cast iron skillet for cooking.
I use a dutch oven all the time and anything ceramic coated is a better option than non-stick, just ensure you don’t scratch it.
This is a chemical often used in toothpaste and hand sanitizer and has been linked to infertility issues and possible lowered ovarian reserve. There are many safe brands that don’t contain triclosan, and Million Marker keeps a great list here.
I recently did a podcast with Jenna Hua, founder of Million Marker on this very topic. She founded Million Marker as the only current testing available to check your potential exposures to these chemicals through urine metabolites. She also offers this test to the public so that you can see what your current load might be and watch as you make changes over time.
Use code AMBER at checkout for a discount and check out their public list of safer products on their website here.