Written by Lexie McPhee | Wednesday, 26 April 2023
“Xeno-WHAT?” I hear you say? My point exactly. Xenestrogens are abundant in our environment, they harbour harmful effects to human hormones and fertility, yet are rarely considered as obstacles to cure in the treatment of hormonal conditions such as acne, PCOS, endometriosis, premenstrual syndrome, or subfertility.
Xenoestrogens are synthetic compounds that mimic the effects of oestrogen in the body. Oestrogen is a hormone that sends messages to various tissues of the body via the oestrogen receptors located in those tissues.
Oestrogen is responsible for:
Oestrogen receptors are found in many tissues of the body but, in women, most predominantly feature in tissues of the breast, uterus, and ovaries. These receptors are somewhat selective, but do not function exclusively for endogenous oestrogen (oestrogen made by the body naturally). This means that other compounds that resemble oestrogen in their structure can bind to oestrogen receptors and exert an effect on the associated tissue.
To put it simply? Xenoestrogens are endocrine disruptors.
This is because they have the ability to mimic sex hormones (triggering a cascade of other hormones in the body), they may block the uptake of the required natural hormones, disturb normal hormone signalling, metabolism and detoxification and negatively affect an unknown number of physiological processes essential to optimal health.
However, not all xenoestrogens are bad – exogenous oestrogens (environmental oestrogens) found in plants and fungi can be beneficial.
These include foods such as traditionally fermented non-GMO soy, red clover, flaxseed and other phyto-oestrogens. These can be beneficial as they also bind to oestrogen receptors but exert a very mild effect (about 75% weaker) than endogenous oestrogen.
When endogenous oestrogen is high (more is not better) relative to progesterone, phytoestrogens can competitively inhibit oestrogen by binding to the receptor and blocking uptake of the stronger more potent forms of oestrogen.
In the case of synthetic xenoestrogens that are not found in nature, harmful effects are associated with chronic exposure.
In adults, endocrine disruptors can contribute to the cause of early puberty, endometriosis, metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance, PCOS, and infertility.
This occurs due to the disturbance of natural hormone cascades and the unnecessary stimulation of hormone pathways. Exposure is also linked with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), neurological disorders, and obesity. Earlier puberty and the resulting increase in exposure to oestrogens over a lifetime is linked with the development of oestrogen dependent cancers.
While the hormone-disrupting effects of xenoestrogens may be reversible in adults where the causative chemicals can be removed, the effects are more permanent when exposure occurs in utero. The developing nervous system and urogenital tissues are particularly sensitive to the endocrine disrupting effects of xenoestrogens and damage incurred during these developmental periods can be permanent.
With the onslaught of xenoestrogens and other endocrine disruptors from pesticides, tap water, tampons, household cleaners, perfumes, fragrances, cosmetics, hygiene products, plastic food containers, water bottles, kettles, cookware, and detergents, it can feel like a losing battle for our hormonal health!
However with consistent, small replacements, over time you can drastically reduce your exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals and xenoestrogens.
A good place to start is with the chemicals and endocrine disruptors that you are ingesting orally and via the transdermal route (through your skin).
How are you storing water?
Replace the plastic bottles and jugs for a snazzy glass carafe or even an old clean jar. Beware that plastic products advertising as BPA free will still contain similar, equally harmful plastics and should be avoided.
How are you storing or preparing hot liquids?
Kettles with a plastic filter or lid, plastic Tupperware containers, non-stick pans, plastic utensils, soups blended in plastic containers… these are items to begin replacing with stainless steel, borosilicate glass, ceramics, silicon and wooden items. Can’t afford a fancy toxin free electric kettle? Boil your water on the stove in a stainless steel pot. Get resourceful.
Scents and fragrances
Throw out your candles, air fresheners, fragrant reed diffusers – any and all smelly décor should be eliminated! If you want to finish up your expensive perfume, fair enough, but I strongly recommend not repurchasing. Anything artificially smelly contains phthalates, parabens and other known carcinogens. These can be replaced by unscented beeswax candles, diffused essential oils, or boiling citrus peel and spices on your stove top to fill your home with beautiful aromas. No, soy wax candles aren’t great either.
A huge barrier to reducing the endocrine disrupting chemicals is the cost of store bought natural and environmentally friendly, plastic-free cleaning products. The good news? You don’t need them! Prioritise investing in the cleaning agents that come into contact with your crockery such as dish detergent. Most other household cleaners can be replaced by bicarb soda, white vinegar, all-purpose castille soap, a few drops of eucalyptus oil and a good scouring pad.
Hygiene products and cosmetics
Continuing the theme of replacing those chemicals that come into direct contact with your body, topical beauty and hygiene products are some of the main offenders when it comes to xenoestrogen exposure.
This requires a little more thought, planning, and research, however it is well worth it.
The skin is capable of absorbing a terrifying number of toxins – treat it carefully. Reassess which products you really need. Make-up can be removed with coconut oil (which also makes for the perfect body moisturiser), aluminium-based deodorants can be replaced with a homemade paste made out of cheap pantry ingredients, natural toothpaste is easy to find. There are a number of low-tox cosmetic and nail polish products out there. One way to check the toxicity of your current or prospective products is to refer to the Environmental Working Group Skin Deep database.
The beauty of the naturopathic approach is that it is truly holistic. Obstacles to cure such as environmental toxins and pesticides should not be forgotten when resolving hormonal conditions in women. Additionally, xenoestrogen exposure in pregnancy will affect future generations of women who will no doubt face exposure throughout their lives. Returning to homemade natural ingredients is the cheapest and healthiest way to reduce exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals such as xenoestrogens.
Interested in Naturopathy?
Empower yourself with knowledge — find out more about our Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy) take the plunge towards a happier, healthier you.
Lexie is an Endeavour College of Natural Health Alumni and online Naturopath. Her 100% online clinic and e-courses have enabled her to relocate to sunny Portugal whilst still serving her clients worldwide. She focuses on supporting women with acne and mentoring new Naturopaths in the treatment of skin conditions. Her current research obsession is metabolic nutrition and bio-energetic health.