Are chemicals in our environment influencing our hormones?
Chemicals have always been part of our environment however, in recent times they have increased dramatically to the point where we are now seeing an impact on wild life populations as well as human health. One of the main group of chemicals that affect human heath are the Endocrine Disruptors. An endocrine disruptor is a substance that changes the way our endocrine system functions (ie the glands that secrete our hormones). In the past 40 years as our exposure to such chemicals has grown, we have seen a marked increase in the rate of endocrine related conditions such as –
• Early puberty
• Obesity (including infant obesity)
• Type 2 diabetes
• Genital malformations
• Declining sperm counts
• Breast cancer
We also see changes in animal fertility following environmental exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals such as pesticides , antifouling paints and treated sewerage. Egg shell thinning detected in eagles exposed to DDT, abnormal reproductive development in turtles and alligators due to crop dusting and fertility abnormalities found in seals and whales exposed to contaminants in the sea. Like the analogy of the canary in the coal mine – we humans need to heed the warnings.
When considered in isolation, a specific endocrine disrupting chemical ( EDC) such as PVC plastic may seem innocuous. However, in real life, humans are exposed to hundreds of these chemicals on a day to day basis, for years. So, it’s important we talk about these substances now, especially in relation to our childrens health, so we can make informed decisions when preparing our food and cleaning and furnishing our homes.
Common sources of endocrine disruptors in our home environment –
PLASTICS (food and drink storage, toys, furniture, footwear, clothes, computers, plumbing, vinyl shower curtains, nappies, car seats, strollers).
The main area where we are exposed to plastics are in our food and drink storage. Not all plastics are the same. Be aware of the coding on plastic bottles and packaging as some plastics are worse than others.
Plastics rated 1,3,6 or 7 are to be avoided.
Plastics rated 2, 4 and 5 are ok but take many years to degrade.
Just because a plastic says its BPA free doesn’t make it safe. Many BPA free plastics contain BPS or BPF that can have a greater estrogenic action than BPA. Plastic toys especially for babies should be avoided – prefer untreated timber and other natural fibre toys.
Don’t freeze or cook food in plastic especially acidic foods such as meat. Avoid tinned food as the lining contains EDCs. Prefer glass, ceramics and food grade stainless steel for food and drinks.
Avoid non – stick cook ware – prefer stainless steel.
Buy organic food when you can (especially the Dirty Dozen) or wash fruit and vegetables before use. Avoid salad leaves that are in plastic bags. Generally the leaves have been sprayed with a disinfectant such as chlorine to keep it “fresh”.
COMESTICS INCLUDING PERFUMES – Less is best – prefer natural based cosmetics and “fragrance free” where possible – you can add pure essential oils if need be. Be aware that most perfumes contain up to 400 chemicals many of which can contain EDC’s. Lipstick pigments often contain lead and iron oxide. Check out the ingredient label for all your shampoos, conditioners and body washes as they will generally contain parabens and phthalates. Prefer natural products such as Melrose, Antipodes. Look for nail polishes that are “3 free” ie don’t contain toluene, formaldehyde and dibutyl phthalate. Check out nail polish brands Acquarella and Suncoat for adults and Pure Poppet for natural face paints and kids makeup. Many hair straightening agents contain formaldehyde so make sure you grill your hairdresser before going for the Keratin treatment. Avoid artificial room fresheners as they contain numerous chemicals.
FERTILIZERS AND INCESTICIDES – Prefer fly screens to Mortein. Avoid food lying around including pet food. Check for bodies of water around house. See REMEDICA Allez Allez natural insect repellent. Essential oils such as rosemary, lemongrass, lavender, eucalyptus and geranium have shown insect repellent properties.
FLAME RETARDANTS – Be aware of furnishings or clothing that may contain flame retardants. Prefer Australian made where possible. All new clothes should be washed with a natural based detergent before wearing. If the T Shirt has a strong odour in the store – don’t buy it. Ensure good ventilation in the home especially when you have bought a new electrical appliance to avoid passive ventilation of EDC’s. If possible, air new furnishings and bedding in the sun first. Keep computers and other electronics out of the bed rooms as they can emit EDC’s and are best suited to a well ventilated room.
CLEANING PRODUCTS – Prefer natural cleaning products that do not contain harsh chemicals. Check the label on all cleaning products if it says POISON or CAUTION find an alternative. Microfibre cloths are best for hard surfaces. Vinegar (80%) with water (20%) can be effective for mould removal ( test patch first). Baking soda for the oven. Citrus peel, white vinegar and water for window cleaning. Avoid ANTI MICROBIAL AGENTS in cleaning products such as triclosan which is a known endocrine disruptor. Prefer good old soap and water. Check out brands such as Abode, Melrose, ECO, Dr Bronner, Method Home and Enjo.
Prefer vacuum cleaners with a HEPA filter and a motorised head to ensure effective floor cleaning as children are often on the floor where EDC’s settle in the dust. Take all shoes off inside the home.
RENNOVATING – many building materials contain chemicals that may affect your health. Australia has guidelines in place however you should be aware of paints and sealants (which may contain high VOCs – volatile organic compounds), PVC, water and stain resistant applications as well as particle board and foam that may contain formaldehyde. Ensure adequate natural ventilation when renovating to help release VOC’s.
If you need help in reducing your family’s exposure to potentially harmful chemicals contact Naturopath Kathleen McFarlane.