Can our external environment impact our hormones and PCOS symptoms? Read on to find out.
While our bodies are built to withstand small amounts of toxin exposure, our protective mechanisms like our skin and detoxification functions like our liver and kidneys can only handle so much. If a chemical is particularly toxic or we are repeatedly exposed to small amounts of a harmful substance, over time this can take a toll on our health.
Substances that disrupt the body's hormonal balance are found almost everywhere in the environment. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are present in our food, water, and containers that hold our food, as well as common products like shampoo and candles (1). We’ll explore the following questions in this article:
Repeated and long-term exposure to EDCs has been shown to increase risk for many serious and costly health conditions. Some examples include:
EDCs increase risk for cancers and other long-term health issues primarily due to the hormone imbalance that they can cause.
EDCs wreck havoc on our hormones by causing disruption at a cellular level. While much research is still being conducted about exactly how this occurs, it is known that this cellular disruption can ultimately mimic production or natural hormones, cause our bodies to produce increased or decreased levels of a hormone, or alter the natural production of hormones in a different way.
This can have more immediate effects for people with PCOS. A person with PCOS may be adversely affected by EDCs in the short term due to their effect on testosterone levels, weight gain, and even glucose metabolism (1). In other words, they can intensify PCOS symptoms!
Studies have also indicated that the presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals can promote PCOS-like symptoms through catalyzing epigenetic changes. These epigenetic alterations have even been shown to promote PCOS-like symptoms in future generations (2).
Below you will find a list of eleven of the most common hormone disruptors and how to avoid them.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that 93% of 2,517 urine samples from people six years of age and older contained BPA (3). BPA is known to mimic the effects of estrogen in the body and disrupt normal hormone function. Generally, BPA can be found in canned foods, food storage containers, baby bottles, and water bottles (3)
How to avoid it: Limit your intake of canned foods, use glass or stainless steel containers whenever possible, and avoid microwaving plastic food containers.
Atrazine is a man-made herbicide commonly used on crops. According to some research, atrazine causes breast cancer, delayed puberty, and prostate cancer (3).
How to avoid it: When possible, purchase organic produce and use a filter for your water.
Phthalates are chemicals that are used in hundreds of consumer products, including plastic. The toxic effects of phthalates have been linked to hormone changes, lowered sperm counts, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes, and thyroid irregularities (3).
How to avoid it: If possible, avoid using plastic containers. In addition, phthalates can be found in a lot of beauty products. You can find phthalate-free personal care products on the environmental working group website.
Perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel, can be found in our food. In the body, perchlorate competes with iodine, the nutrient needed for thyroid hormone production. Consequently, if you consume too much of it, it can affect your thyroid hormone levels (3).
How to avoid it: Increasing iodine in your diet will reduce perchlorate levels in food. A water filter can be used to eliminate it in your drinking water.
Lead affects nearly every organ system in the body, causing a staggering array of health effects, including brain damage, hearing loss, miscarriage, premature birth, and kidney damage (3).
How to avoid it: Buy a filter for your water to avoid lead contamination. Keep your home well-maintained, wash any toys in your home, and wash your hands often.
You can find arsenic in water and food. Arsenic has been found to cause cancer as well as affect hormone function. It disrupts the glucocorticoid system that controls how the body processes sugars and carbohydrates. This is linked to weight gain, weight loss, immunosuppression, insulin resistance, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure (3).
How to avoid it: You can reduce your exposure to arsenic by purchasing a water filter and substituting rice for other grains such as wheat, barley, and oatmeal.
Mercury is a manmade contaminant found in soil, air, and water. Mercury is known to disrupt endocrine function by inhibiting one or more of the enzymes required for hormone production or by reducing hormone-receptor binding. A number of hormones are affected by mercury, including insulin, estrogen, testosterone, and adrenaline (4).
How to avoid it: You should limit the amount of seafood you consume to avoid mercury. Make sure that products such as thermostats, thermometers, light bulbs, and batteries do not contain mercury.
Many non-stick cookware products contain perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). Low birth weight, kidney disease, thyroid disease, and decreased sperm quality have been linked to exposure (3).
How to avoid it: Stay away from non-stick pans, stain-resistant treatments, and Teflon products.
Organophosphate pesticides are among the most widely used pesticides that affect testosterone and thyroid hormone levels (3).
How to avoid it: When possible, purchase organic produce.
Glycol Ethers are common solvents found in paint, cleaning products, and cosmetics. Several studies have linked glycol ethers to infertility, allergies, asthma, and decreased sperm count (3).
How to avoid it: Avoid exposure by reading labels, especially on sunscreen, makeup, and household cleaners. Glycol ethers free products can be found on the environmental working group website.
When it comes to the following products, do your best to take inventory of the following:
General tips include:
PCOS symptoms can be worsened by environmental toxins, but it’s important to remember that exposure to many of these substances is out of your control. Even a little goes a long way when it comes to avoiding endocrine disrupting chemicals.