Sound health advice is incomplete if you’re not careful about the use of plastics to heat food, or consuming foods that are not organic. Suggestions such as these have taken the health and fitness industry by storm and there is one word associated with all these clear and present dangers—Xenoestrogens.
What are Xenoestrogens?
Xenoestrogens are manmade/synthetic chemicals that harm the body. When they enter our blood stream, these environmental toxins have an action similar to the hormone oestrogen.
Excessive use of plastics, chemicals in the form of cosmetics, and dissolved chemicals in the food chain—all lead to excessive oestrogen load in the body.
Research has shown that the amount of environmental toxins has reached an all-time high. Our food and water are laden with chemicals in the form of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, plastic and petrochemical residue. There is no place on the planet untouched by toxins; only the levels vary from place to place. In fact, a recent discovery that has startled even experts was that polar bears living in the most remote and untouched environment of our planet were also found to have high amounts of mercury in their body.
How do hormones act?
All hormones work according to the key and lock mechanism. When a hormone like oestrogen reaches the cells, it acts like a key, which only fits in a particular type of lock, called the receptor molecule. Once this key fits, it opens the lock and a message is sent to the cell’s DNA for action. The problem with xenoestrogens is that apart from fitting in the receptors just like oestrogen, they also activate numerous other receptors, which multiply the effect of oestrogen and xenoestrogens. These xenoestrogens have been linked to numerous life-endangering health issues.
Difference between phytoestrogens and xenoestrogens
Now, if you’ve been reading fitness articles on the internet, you may have likely come across the term ‘phytoestrogens’. The difference between phytoestrogens and xenoestrogens is that the former occur in man-made compounds while the latter are found naturally in plant foods. Unlike phytoestrogens, which stay in the body for a very short time, xenoestrogens accumulate in the fat tissues in the body. Phytoestrogens are not a problem unless you are consuming them in extremely large amounts. The controversial soya and its derivatives—tofu, soy milk, soy sauce—have a high phytoestrogen content. There is a lot of noise about minimising the use of soya as the main source of protein due to its high phytoestrogen content, which mimics the qualities of oestrogen in the body. But this is only when consumed in excess.
The problem with extra oestrogen-like compounds in the body is that it throws the body’s hormone level out of balance by altering the levels of other hormones in the body. That is why xenoestrogens are also called ‘endocrine disruptors’.
The history of xenoestrogens
Xenoestrogens were first produced in 1938 and were given to women to prevent miscarriages and premature births due to a lack of oestrogen in the body. The other famous chemical that is used as an insecticide and increases xenoestrogens in a big way is DDT, which is banned worldwide, but is still being widely used in India. When research was done in the 1980s on various birds and animals, the results were shocking—over half of the animals, birds and reptiles who came in contact with these chemicals suffered from irreversible sexual damage.
The problem is that these chemicals are here to stay. In 1992, the British Medical Journal revealed that the sperm count of the industrial nations has dropped by approximately 50 per cent since 1938. Also, many diseases are linked to the excessive use of plastics, as many of them use chemicals called phthalates to increase flexibility. Phthalates have been known to be carcinogenic, or cancer-causing. So reheated coffee cups, plastic water bottles left in the car on a hot day or exposed to direct sunlight—all release phthalates.
What are the ill-effects of excess oestrogen accumulation?
- Cancer [especially breast and prostate cancer]
- Reduction in testosterone levels
- Decrease in muscle mass and strength, and increase in body fat
- Weakening of the immune system
- Various mental disorders
- Uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts
- Menstrual problems in women and impotency in men
- Decrease in the ability to consume oxygen
- It affects the DNA, genetic code and causes mutation
Methods to reduce the body’s oestrogen load
- As much as possible, eat only organic vegetables, fruits, grains, milk, meats and even other foods such as spices or snacks
- Filter all water before use, even bath water
- Use fish oil and flaxseed oil
- Use natural cosmetics
- In general, minimise the use of plastic in your life
- Stay away from chemicals as much as possible
- Avoid artificial room fresheners, deodorants and perfumes
- Do not microwave any kind of plastic or drink hot liquids from plastic cups. The dangers of doing this cannot be stressed upon enough.
- Avoid using very strong detergents and fabric softeners
- 90 per cent of all oral oestrogen load is filtered by the liver, but when used on the body in products such as like cosmetics, soaps and shampoos it is absorbed fully
- Do not make soya-based foods your major source of protein, [vegetarians and vegans, please take note!]
- Take proper supplementation, especially EFAs and antioxidants. For example, take supplements like L-carnitine, ZMA, folic acid, B-complex, green tea and Coq-10, which are proven oestrogen detoxifiers
- Avoid canned foods, minimise frozen food and use only fresh foods
- Eat lots of fibre to detoxify your system
- Take a liver support supplement as the liver is the organ that filters excess oestrogens from the body.
- Decrease body fat as the enzyme aromatase found in the body fat turns testosterone into oestrogen by a process called aromatisation.
- Improve your gut health by having probiotics and a high-fibre diet, which helps in excretion of excess oestrogen from the body.
- Keep your insulin in check by minimising simple and refined sugars from your diet—they inhibit oestrogen detoxification.
- Excessive alcohol consumption and even occasional smoking have been linked to a decrease in testosterone and an increase in oestrogen levels.