PMS, painful periods, weight gain, skin issues, breast tenderness and irregular menstrual cycles can all be symptoms of Estrogen dominance, which, as it sounds; is too much estrogen circulating in the female system leading to an upset in the overall hormonal balance. Estrogen dominance is so commonplace now that a lot of women experience it, more than ever before.
The last 40 years in particular have seen rises in PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome), endometriosis, uterine fibroids and breast cancer. Interesting to note is that the average age of girls starting their periods has lowered from 16 to 12 over the last 100 years, with some girls now starting as young as 8 and 9 on the low end of the range. Women 100 years ago also experienced a menstrual cycle about 100-200 times versus the 300-400 times which is common today. This is due to women today not only starting menstruation earlier, but also lactating much less due to less pregnancy and childbirth. Because of the dramatic increase in the number of cycles, there has also been an increase in the symptoms associated with Estrogen dominance.
In addition to the increase in the number of monthly cycles, there are other changes that have been made to our society over the last century that are contributing factors to Estrogen dominance. The use of xenoestrogens in a variety of different consumer products, packaging, and ingestible items is most certainly affecting the hormonal balance in our endocrine systems. Xenoestrogens are synthesized estrogen that act like and take over the real hormone by attaching to cell receptors and performing estrogenic functions of growth and tissue creation. Real estrogen is what enables a woman to conceive and grow a baby in her womb, which of course is very important. Having too much estrogen (Estrogen dominance) in the system, as spurred on by these xenoestrogens, will start to cause unnatural growth, promoting things like cysts, fibroids, unwanted weight gain and tumors.
So where do we find these xenoestrogens? in a one word answer, everywhere. It can be extremely difficult to avoid them altogether, but I believe it’s worth the effort to do so where you can.
Shampoos, cosmetics, toothpastes, soaps, lotions, sunscreens and other commercially made toiletries usually contain Parabens or phenoxyethanols. The concerning thing about this particular group of xenoestrogenic items is that in most cases they will be applied directly to the skin. This is troublesome because when xenoestrogens are absorbed through the skin, they don’t have to go through the liver detoxification process and can go directly into your tissues. This also means that they can be up to 10 times more destructive than those that you might ingest by eating or drinking. There is a great resource for anyone who may be concerned about the ingredients in the toiletries they are using daily. It is the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database which lists thousands of brands of toiletry items with full ingredient lists and ratings for potential hazardous factors.
Soy Protein and Soy Protein Isolate
Foods that have unnaturally high amounts of plant estrogen can have a xenoestrogenic effect. Check labels for “soy protein” and “soy protein isolate”. They are quite ubiquitous in processed foods. Natural sources of soy like: organic soybeans, edamame, tofu or tempeh are much better choices if you want to include soy in your diet.
Another fun P word that can be tricky to pronounce! Phthalates are other xenoestrogens that we find in flexible plastic wrapping. Good examples of products usually made with phthalates are microwavable meals with the plastic wrapper on top, styrofoam cups, bowls and plates and other flimsy plastic containers. They can also be found in baby lotions, baby powders and perfumes. When heat is added to the equation, like say putting hot liquid into a styrofoam cup or microwaving a meal in its plastic wrapped container, the xenoestrogen levels rise even higher. Using glass containers for food storage and in the microwave is a great alternative.
Conventionally Raised Meat and Dairy Products
A lot of conventional meat and dairy are given growth hormones to make them grow bigger faster (along with profits)or lactate more. Unfortunately for the consumer, this means you are getting a side of xenoestrogens with your cheeseburger. A good way to counteract this is to buy your meat and dairy from a local farmer or farmers market where you can verify all inputs to the animals you are consuming. If this isn’t possible, going for grass-fed, hormone free meat and dairy at the grocery store is also a good option. Yes it is more expensive, but so is being unwell.
Unfortunately a lot of tap water also has been polluted with parts of petroleum, which, you guessed it, is another xenoestrogen. Having a water filtration system of some sort is a good move to improve your drinking water.
According to a study published in the journal, Chemical Research in Toxicology, “31 substances added to food for the purpose of preservation, coloring, texture and flavor have potential estrogenic effects. Propyl gallate and 4-hexylresorcinol are two additives to be especially watchful for. Also avoid canned foods, which are usually lined with a plastic coating that contains bisphenol-A (BPA), a xenoestrogen.”
Looking out for things to avoid such as artificial sweeteners and Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) on labels is a good practice. Also, buying and consuming less processed foods in general is probably a good idea seeing as between the ingredients and the packaging of said ingredients there is likely going to be something xenoestrogenic.
Non-Oganic Food Items That Are Sprayed
Anything that is sprayed with insecticides or pesticides will contain xenoestrogens. This includes conventional (non-organic) grains, coffee, tea, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
It’s a little bit ironic to me, but most conventional feminine hygiene products such as tampons and pads are actually highly xenosestrogenic because they contain bleached chlorine organs, fragrance, wax and rayon. So the products produced for a woman’s time of the month can actually potentially be making her hormonal profile much worse, contributing to symptoms of Estrogen dominance. There are more an more companies beginning to make organic cotton feminine hygiene products. Using these or a menstrual cup as an alternative is a great investment.
So like I said, xenoestrogens are everywhere. This can be daunting and overwhelming when you first come to grips with it. Luckily there are a lot more natural and organic products cropping up all over the place. Learning to be an expert at reading labels and researching ingredients you don’t recognize is a great place to start. No one is going to be able to completely rid their world of xenoestrogenic compounds, but small changes to the items you buy and use frequently can make a positive difference.