By Dr. Millie Lytle, ND, MPH, CNS
A Big Problem
There is a particular classification of synthetic and naturally-occurring chemicals known as organic pollutants, or POPs. They are persistent, meaning they don’t degrade. Instead, they remain for generations in our environment, food supply and in fat cells. These pollutants linger in storage sites in estrogen-sensitive organs like the breasts and prostate, as well as in our fat cells. The presence of these xenoestrogens (xeno = foreign) can cause metabolic changes in the body3. They have also been classified as endocrine disruptors because they disrupt the body's natural hormone systems, including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, insulin, cortisol, and appetite control3. Xenoestrogens are part of a large group of endocrine disruptors because of this capacity to disturb normal hormonal actions. Some endocrine disruptors may contribute to the development of hormone-dependent cancers4. It is up to our organs of elimination to convert these harmful chemicals into inert and safe bi-products so our body is able to excrete them through our stool and urine. This is the process of detoxification, which occurs primarily in the liver.
Since the age of industrialization, we have polluted our environment to such a point that it's now accurate to say we currently live in a toxic world. All around us, there are thousands of chemicals in the air we breathe, the food and water we consume, the products we apply, and the surfaces we touch. Natural and synthetic chemicals enter our bodies through our organs of elimination: skin, lungs, and digestive systems1. Contaminants in our food, food containers, personal care items and household cleaning products have been linked to disease outbreaks, cancer, birth defects, and brain impairments2,3. Some of these chemicals were approved before research confirmed their level of safety. What we face now, as citizens, is an accumulation of toxic chemicals in our water, food and air supply that are difficult to avoid and have the potential to cause major health problems. As these chemicals accumulate in our environment, they also accumulate in our bodies, allowing their harmful effects to accumulate as well.
These chemicals increase the size of our fat cells, promoting obesity in exposed people4. A literature review identified the connections between exposures to these POPs and Type-2 Diabetes, proving the “obesogen” theory: these chemicals make us fat and may lead to chronic disease. The review also identified support for the “developmental obesogen” hypothesis, which suggests that chemical exposures in utero may increase the risk of obesity in childhood and later in life by altering fat cells and the hormones that regulate appetite and eating behaviors. When pregnant women are exposed to POPs, their children are more prone to developing Type-2 Diabetes and obesity, particularly when they consume a diet high in calories, carbohydrates, or high-fat diet later in life5.
What to do About This BIG Problem
The situation seems dire, but there is a lot we can do to reduce our exposure and the consequences from exposure to these chemicals. We can’t control the whole environment, but we can avoid cigarette smoke in our home. We can choose to purchase natural cosmetics and cleaning supplies that reduce our household exposure to harmful endocrine disruptors. Some people even choose to make their own, as it’s cheaper and non-toxic. Opt for non-hormonal birth control methods and plant-based hormonal support. By adding hormonal drugs into your body, you are increasing levels of circulating hormones, providing more fat for your liver to metabolize. Prevent higher exposures to endocrine disruptors by avoiding excess weight with proper diet and exercise. Once you become overweight, it can be difficult to rid the body of these stored chemicals, making weight loss difficult as well. By selecting organic foods when possible, you reduce your overall load of chemicals added to the food supply such as pesticides and synthetic hormones:
- Avoid the “Dirty Dozen” fruits and vegetables that absorb the most pesticides.
- Choose Non-GMO products. Genetically Modified cash crops such as soy, corn, sugar, canola, and cotton seed produce their own endocrine-disrupting pesticides that cannot be washed off. Organic versions of these foods are a better choice overall.
- Go for free range, pasture-fed, transition or organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products have not been fed GMO crops, or injected with synthetic hormones. Limit animals products overall.
Above all, detox! The body has a natural process of detoxification daily. It’s one of the main functions of the liver to convert harmful chemicals to inert metabolites safe for excretion. Help the body get rid of harmful xenoestrogens by consuming foods with nutrients that eliminate harmful estrogen metabolites. This is important for women, men and children. Children are being exposed to chemicals and going through puberty earlier than ever before. For men, testosterone breaks down into estrogen – this is carcinogenic for the prostate and breasts. It also contributes to a fat belly. For women, safe estrogen is needed for strong bones, healthy libido, and comfortable sleep, but the synthetic estrogens also contribute to breast and ovarian cancer. Instead of synthetics, take estrogen metabolizers: flax seeds, sprouts and cabbage family vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, cabbage, kale, bokchoy). Prioritize daily bowel movements with fiber, because endocrine disruptors can be packaged up in dietary fiber and eliminated from our stool. When constipated, these toxic circulating hormones get reabsorbed into the blood stream. Increase fruits, veggies, whole grains, lemon water and a diet low in animal products to improve size and ease of bowel movements.
These nutrients can help you reduce your estrogen load, facilitating weight loss and lower levels of obesogens. Regular liver detox can help reduce overall toxic levels, mobilize fat from your cells and get rid of harmful endocrine disruptors that can cause obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and even cancer.
Flax Seed powder or capsules: These formulas help support estrogen levels without promoting growth. Flax seed is a good fiber to bulk up stool, maintain regular bathroom trips and reduce inflammation.
Greens Hx®: Full of Chlorella, Spirulina and Apple Pectin, this product detoxifies ionizing radiation, heavy metals and chelates the body nutritionally. This formula also includes bowel-healthy probiotics for regularity support.
Indole 3 Carbinol with DIM: Nutrients from broccoli help to metabolize estrogen and xenoestrogens, breaking them down into healthy estrogen metabolites and thereby reducing risk of breast, ovarian and prostate cancer.
NAC and Alpha Lipoic Acid: These nutrients increase glutathione production, the main chemical neutralizer our body produces to protect and heal the liver.
Calcium-d-Glucarate might lower toxins, estrogen and other steroid levels, and it is thought to be helpful in treating some people with hormone-dependent cancers.
- Environmental Protection Agency website retrieved March 1 2015 at http://www.epa.gov/heasd/chemicalsafety.html
- Natural Resources Defence Council website retrieved March 1 2015 at http://www.nrdc.org/health/fda/
- Thayer KA, Heindel JA, Bucher JR, Gallo MA. Role of Environmental Chemicals in Diabetes and Obesity: A National Toxicology Program Workshop Review. Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Jun; 120(6): 779–789.
- Sonnenschein C and Soto AM. An updated review of environmental estrogen and androgen mimics and antagonists. The Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 1998 April;65( 1–6: 143–150.
- Thayer KA, Heindel JJ, Bucher JR, Gallo MA. Role of environmental chemicals in diabetes and obesity: a National Toxicology Program workshop review. Environ Health Perspect. 2012 Jun;120(6):779-89.
- Hiatt RA, Haslam SZ and Osuch . on Behalf of the Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Centers. The Breast Cancer and the Environment Research Centers: Transdisciplinary Research on the Role of the Environment in Breast Cancer Etiology Environ Health Perspect. 2009 Dec; 117(12): 1814–1822.