Xenoestrogens is a word I recently discovered in my health-related reading, and I had no idea what they were. It sounds very technical and scary, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to even dive into the research to figure out what these things are. But, I did, and it is safe to say we don’t like them. I can basically make that conclusion for you here.
What I found is that Xenoestrogens are a sub-category of the endocrine disruptor group that specifically have estrogen-like effects. Okay, so they disrupt our estrogen levels. Got it. Further, Xenohormones are a group of man-made laboratory-synthesized chemicals that are hormonally active agents that differ from phytoestrogens (estrogenic substances from plants), and can be divided into pharmacological estrogen and agents that have an unintended detrimental estrogenic effect. You can read more on the scientific description at Women Living Naturally.
Xenoestrogens are hidden in all sorts of products and foods. They are found in plastics, cosmetics, shampoos, skin care and food additives. The problem with xenoestrogens, specifically, is that they act like estrogen in the body, causing a hormonal imbalance because the body thinks there is an abundance of estrogen, and thus regulates the other hormones accordingly, when in actuality, the body’s natural estrogen levels are lower. In the medical world, we refer to this as Endocrine Disrupting Compounds or environmental hormones.
We see beneficial xenoestrogens used in cases like birth control and estrogen replacement therapy for menopausal women. But, for women not looking to disrupt their hormonal balance, xenoestrogens should be avoided. Especially when trying to lose weight. Higher levels of estrogen cause the body to store fat, so if you are consuming foods that increase your estrogen levels, unfortunately you are ruining your diet because it thinks it’s supposed to be storing more fat. We also see benefits with bio-identical hormone therapy. These hormones are different from the xenoestrogens because they are created from soy and yams. The bio-identical hormone therapy can be very beneficial to those suffering the symptoms of hormone imbalances. You can read more in one of our previous posts, The BHRT Revolution.
Xenoestrogens specifically in children cause premature puberty, where puberty begins before age 9 for boys and before age 8 for girls. Two U.S epidemiological studies – “The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III (NHANES III)” and “the Pediatric Research in Office Settings (PROS)” showed an advance in sexual maturation in girls. The same has also been observed in Asia and Europe and exposure to environmental chemicals such as xenoestrogens is among the contributing factors. In girls specifically, precocious puberty causes quick and early growth spurts that leads to shorter heights and adult reproductive issues such as endometriosis, infertility and polycystic ovarian syndrome. In boys, the male reproduction system is affected, resulting in low sperm count, low testicular weight and a rise in testicular cancer.
Xenoestrogens and Phytoestrogens: Not the Same
First, we’ve discussed phytoestrogens before, which are found in nuts and some plant-based foods like soy, but these are vastly different because xenoestrogens are man-made. TNation published a great interview with Dr. John K. Williams, co-author of Gourmet Nutrition with Dr. John Berardi, the chief science officer of Precision Nutrition Inc. He states in the interview:
TNation: Yeah that’s not exactly what we’re looking for. So are xenoestrogens related to phytoestrogens in any way?
JW: No, they can act the same, but phytoestrogens occur naturally in plant foods and xenoextrogens are these man-made monstrosities. In my opinion, there’s nothing to be worried about with phytoestrogens, unless you’re consuming them in an extremely isolated form and in great abundance. I certainly don’t agree with how the popular media has touted phytoestrogens, and soy in particular, as panaceas.
Basically, we are specifically concerned with xenoestrogens because they are completely foreign chemicals, tricking our bodies into thinking they are estrogen and causing reactions, the potential for disease, reproductive complications or unfortunately cancer.
So, how do we deal with xenoestrogens anyway?
1. Avoid Plastic Altogether: Someone may start out super excited for their new diet, and in food preparation store all their healthy meals in plastic container…not realizing that plastic is one of the largest sources of xenoestrogens. Even BPA free plastics are not so safe according to some researches. When starting your healthy eating plan, storing and packing food, get the glass containers. It may cost more, but it is much better than attempting to lose weight and get healthy, while dumping more xenoestrogens in your body, to trick it to thinking you need to store more fat!
2. Buy Organic food: I know, here we go again with the organic deal, but it really is helpful. It is important because when you are consuming healthy fruits and vegetables, you don’t want to be ruining your effort to find health by increasing the amount of toxic chemicals in your body. It’s really worth the few extra cents per pound if you can afford it. A lot of community based food Co-ops have great deals on various organic produces to help eliminate the financial burden.
3. Drink Clean Water. When most start a diet, consuming more water is one of the first tips on the list. But, if your water, which it most likely is, contaminated with chemicals that act like xenoestrogens, your really not helping yourself. Grab a filtered water container, a filter that goes on the facet, or one of the glass water bottles with a built-in filter as you start drinking more water to eliminate the extra chemicals that go along with more water in take.
There are other ways you can watch for xenoestrogens that aren’t in the kitchen, like being aware of your cleaning products, skin care products and cosmetics. Those are additional places that can be hazardous for xenoestrogens, but sometimes its less impactful because the amount of skin lotion, or cleaning chemicals you use daily aren’t much, where as you’re drinking your water multiple times a day.
Want some extra credit reading? This article has an in-depth list of chemicals in labels to avoid, which produce xenoestrogen effects.