Alarming statistics demonstrate the extent of hormonal imbalance that is prevalent today, unprecedented in previous years. With 1 in 6 women experiencing fertility issues, 7 out of 10 women experiencing one or multiple fibroids at some point in their life, and 1 out of 9 women being diagnosed with breast cancer, we cannot stand back and pretend like these conditions are of no concern. Without question, diet, genetic predisposition and lifestyle play key roles in determining our risk for these chronic conditions. However, a growing body of evidence suggests that numerous chemicals in our environment are also altering our hormones and predisposing us to these conditions.
What are endocrine disruptors?
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, "Endocrine disruptors are naturally occurring compounds or man-made substances that may mimic or interfere with the function of hormones in the body. Endocrine disruptors may turn on, shut off, or modify signals that hormones carry which may affect the normal function of tissues and organs."
In 2015, The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, an organization that focuses on collecting scientific studies and research about the effects of environmental chemicals on our endocrine system, reported a list of nearly 1000 chemicals that have a negative impact on our hormonal system. Many of these chemicals are ubiquitous in our environment, and have been termed "Persistent Organic Pollutants", otherwise known as "POPs". These POPs are known to accumulate in our environment because of their inability to degrade naturally. This accumulation occurs in our soil, within the food chain and in our tissues. POPs also have low water solubility and tend to accumulate and store in fatty tissue which makes it difficult for the body to eliminate them easily. Harmful effects of these substances are linked to chronic low grade exposure over time. Some of the more significant health effects also occur if the exposure is earlier in life, including in utero. It is well documented in the literature that these compounds not only affect the functioning of the hormones at the receptor level, but also higher levels of hormone functioning at the brain.
So, what are these substances and what exactly are they doing to the body? Here is a list of the most studied endocrine disruptors, where they are found and their potential impact on the hormonal system:
Dioxin/Dioxin-like Compounds (eg. PCBs)
- By-products of many manufacturing processes, herbicides and pesticides.
- Commonly found in meat, including poultry, fish and dairy products - more than 90% of human exposure is thought to be through food.
- Vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, automotive plastics, medical tubing
- Daily-use products: shower curtains, tablecloths, children's toys, rain coats, plastic wrap
- Personal care products: shampoo, insect repellents, hair spray, nail polish, cosmetics and fragrance
- Fetal and early life exposure can permanently affect sperm count and sperm quality in men during reproductive years.
- Lowers level of testosterone
- Shorter menstrual cycles in females
- Dioxins can increase or decrease estrogen levels depending on amount and timing of exposure
- Premature sexual development in females, especially early breast development
- Used in plastics - frequently in the food industry for packaging and liners of canned foods
- Used in thermal paper of receipts and carbonless copy paper
- Closely mimics the structure and function of estrogen
- Non-stick cookware, stain repellants and coating for fabrics and carpeting
- Absorbed by ingestion, inhalation and dermal contact
- Lowers sperm count
- Causes low birth weight in newborns
- Impacts the function of the thyroid gland
Although research has looked at these single chemicals and their potential influence on our health, no research has been done to the assess the cumulative effect that multiple chemicals have over time. Whether you are struggling with fertility, have been diagnosed with PCOS, fibroids, endometriosis or starting to notice more PMS symptoms, the influence these substances have on our hormonal system need to be addressed. To ignore the role of endocrine disruptors on our health would lead to inadequate comprehensive treatment of the potential cause of many hormonal imbalances.
Naturopathic doctors have the ability and knowledge to adequately support the natural detoxification pathways of the body and to assess the toxic burden through various means of assessment.
How we can help
Knowledge is power. Your naturopathic doctor will work with you to identify sources of exposure in your everyday life and what you can do to reduce your exposure. This may include education about what foods to buy organic, changing your skincare regimen, makeup, cleaning supplies and advising about proper water filtration.
If there are not enough good bacteria in the intestines, it may cause toxins to recirculate in the body. Your naturopathic doctor will assess the function of your gut by addressing food sensitivities and possible gut flora imbalances. Providing the body with adequate fiber also helps to bind toxins and help with proper elimination. Your naturopathic doctor will assess your individual requirements and make appropriate recommendations based on your history and current presentation.
Many endocrine disruptors are stored in fat tissue. If you are overweight, one area of focus would be to put you on a program to aid with slow weight loss with concurrent support for the liver to help with the breakdown of toxins as they are being released into the system. Since many POPs share common pathways with dietary fat absorption, your naturopathic doctor may prescribe supplements such as EGCG to help with the binding of toxins through the liver pathways.
There are different pathways in which the liver detoxifies. Different minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants are required for each pathway to take place. Providing the body with these co-factors are an important aspect of any detoxification program. Further certain supplements and herbs many also be prescribed to support the liver and also, in some cases, stimulate bile production to help with elimination of toxins.
The body has many routes of elimination, including our skin, lungs, bowels, kidneys and mucous membranes. Adequate elimination is essential and often the primary area on which your naturopath may focus. If there is a tendency towards constipation or a health history where constipation is prevalent, many toxins can be recirculating in your system. Ensuring regular bowel movements, in combination with advice about deep breathing, dry skin brushing, hydration and going for regular infra-red saunas, would be part of a comprehensive plan individualized for you.
Endocrine disruptors are part of our modern day reality. Although the knowledge we have about the effect that these chemicals have on our reproductive health is still in its infancy, there is adequate science to confirm their implicated role in many hormonal diseases and unexplained cases of infertility. The treatment of any hormonal condition has to include the influence of endocrine disruptors on our health, not only to improve symptoms, but to prevent further disease and improve longterm quality of life.
Dr. Arjomand, ND is a Naturopathic Doctor at Anova Wellness Integrative Fertility Clinic. For questions or bookings please call 416-225-5050.