Xenoestrogens and EDCs: What are they and how to avoid them?

Joanne Lia

Joanne Lia

Joanne is a qualified Building Biologist and certified Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) consultant who specialises in creating healthy indoor environments. As well as conducting healthy home and office audits, Jo conducts pre-lease and pre-purchase audits for homebuyers. This mother of three’s passion lies in creating safe spaces for kids to grow and learn. In 2015 she...
Updated on Jun 14, 2024 · 8 mins read
Xenoestrogens and EDCs: What are they and how to avoid them?

Xeno means foreign and estrogen is the primary female sex hormone. So xenoestrogens are man-made chemicals that act like estrogen in the body. They interfere with our natural hormonal signals by either blocking hormones or more commonly mimicking hormones.

Exposure to these endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can have serious health consequences from infertility, early puberty, abnormal development of sex organs, cancers, neurologic, immune and respiratory issues to diabetes and obesity. Many of these EDCs are commonly referred to as ‘gender benders’ or ‘obesogens’. These nasty synthetic hormone disruptors are the last thing we want to be exposed to, especially if we are trying to conceive.

EDCs are found in our air, water, food and personal care products. They are also found in cleaning products and the materials we use to build our houses. That’s right they are ubiquitous in our environment but knowing where these xenoestrogens are lurking, means we can eradicate or at least limit our exposure to them.

Here is a list of 5 of the most common EDCs you are likely to come across in your day to day life:

1. BPA- Bisphenol A

BPA was originally developed as a synthetic estrogen back in the 1930s. In the 1950’s it was discovered that it had properties that could make plastic hard and stable and was used as a  monomer in polycarbonate plastic, where it is often still found today. It was commonly used for baby bottles until a group of Canadian mums kicked up a stink about having hormone-disrupting chemicals in baby products. You will often see ‘BPA free’ products now but don’t be fooled. That means it has been replaced with a ‘cousin’ chemical such as BPS, which is just as bad.

  • BPA is in hard plastics like your blender, tupperware or hard plastic water bottles.  Polycarbonate (PC) #7 often contains BPA but not always so check with the manufacturer.
  • It’s also found in receipts and can be absorbed through the skin. In fact, using a hand  sanitizer before touching a receipt increases the dermal absorption of BPA 100 fold  (Hormann et al 2014)
  • It’s found in dental sealants.
  • One of our biggest exposures to BPA comes from eating canned food. It is used as a coating in tinned food.

The best way to avoid it is: 

  • Say no to receipts. Don’t touch them.
  • Limit your use of canned food – again don’t fall for the ‘BPA FREE’ nonsense.
  • Do not store food or drink in plastic.

2. Phthalates

Unlike BPA phthalates make plastic soft, think ‘rubber ducky’. They are found in PVC plastic. Have you ever wondered what that new car smell is? That is phthalates and other VOCs off-gassing into the air you breathe. They are often called the everywhere chemical because they are unfortunately everywhere. They are also found in fragrance and if you look closely synthetic fragrances are all around us.

You can find Phthalates in:

  • All your personal care products-makeup/skin creams/shampoos/perfumes/hair sprays/ nail polish etc. Whenever you see the word fragrance/parfum or perfume on an ingredient list that means phthalates. Unless it says phthalate free it will contain phthalates.
  • Air fresheners/ scented candles/toilet sprays.
  • Cleaning Chemicals
  • All PVC products – bath toys & soft flexible toys/shower curtains/electrical cables/ rainwear
  • Food packaging
  • Building products-adhesives/sealants/paints/vinyl flooring
  • Medical equipment such as IV bags.
  • Dust

The best way to avoid phthalates is to: 

  • Overhaul your personal care products – only buy phthalate-free toiletries.
  • Stop using perfumes – essential oils can work just as well.
  • Choose natural cleaning products or make your own.
  • Throw out plastic toys especially bath toys for children. They love to suck on rubber duckies.
  • If you are building or renovating choose safer products. Seek help in creating a healthy home.

3. Pesticides

Pesticides and herbicides are designed to kill animals and plants. Anything that kills life cannot be good for us. Organophosphate pesticides get a lot of attention these days because it is well known how damaging to our health these toxicants are and yet they are still widely used. Pesticides are known endocrine disruptors and many of them are carcinogenic. They are also associated with reduced IQ, learning and behavioural issues, gut problems, fatigue, neurological disorders and of course metabolic disorders/weight problems.

Unfortunately, even if you make a conscious decision to not use pesticides, it is impossible to completely avoid them unless you live in a bubble. Your neighbours, your local council, your schools and parks and sporting venues will be using herbicides and pesticides regularly and unfortunately, this impacts everyone.

Common exposures to pesticides come from:

  • Conventionally grown fruit and vegetables
  • Garden herbicides such as roundup
  • Household fly sprays/mosquito repellents/ bug sprays/pet treatments
  • Drinking water
  • Dust

The easiest way to avoid them

  • Buy mostly certified organic food. There have been numerous studies showing that individuals who switch from a conventional diet to an organic diet reduce the level of pesticides detected in their  urine by an average of 89% within days (Oates 2014)
  • Do not wear shoes in the house. If you are walking through parks, sporting grounds, golf courses you will be exposed to pesticides. The pesticides will be on your clothes and shoes. Avoid dragging them through the house by taking your shoes and coats off at the door.
  • Clean up dust regularly. A multitude of contaminants settle in the house dust. Regularly wet wipe surfaces with a microfiber cloth and vacuum thoroughly with a vacuum with a HEPA filter. This will help avoid making these contaminants airborne or inadvertently ingesting them.
  • Filter your water. This is non-negotiable. Tap water, well water, tank water all contain a multitude of varying toxins that can quite easily be filtered out. This is a huge topic and it’s not a one size fits all when it comes to finding the right filtration system. If you want more information on this book a  consultation here
  • Throw out bug sprays and garden herbicides. Say no to annual pesticide treatments.

4. Polyfluoroalkyl Substances PFAS (sometimes called PFCs)

PFAS have qualities that are very useful to the consumer. They make products oil, water, stain,  grease and crease-resistant. Unfortunately, that convenience comes at a cost.

This class of almost 5,000 chemicals is often called forever chemicals because they are persistent in the environment, they don’t break down and they bio-accumulate in humans. They have a long half-life in the body meaning in some cases it can take up to 8 years for half of the PFAS to leave your body. They are associated with the usual kind of adverse health effects: cancer, endocrine disruption, thyroid disorders, obesity, metabolic disorders, reproductive issues, behavioural problems and asthma.

They are found in:

  • Non-stick cookware – yes your Teflon pans
  • Raincoats and water-proof clothing/tents
  • Stain and water-resistant treatments for furniture and shoes
  • Food packaging-microwave popcorn/pizza boxes
  • Fire fighting foam. This has caused widespread contamination in communities near military bases around Australia whose drinking water was found to be contaminated with PFAS from fire fighting foam. Now the Australian government is to be sued in the biggest class-action lawsuit in Australia’s history.
  • Sometimes in drinking water

Exposure to these chemicals is mainly via ingestion. So the best way to avoid them is:

  • Ditch the non -stick cookware. Cast iron, enamel-coated cast iron, stainless steel, carbon steel and glass is best.
  • Say no to all stain-resistant treatments. Don’t waterproof your suede.
  • Avoid take away food boxes that come in a waxy, greaseproof coating.
  • Filter your water.

5. Flame Retardants

Flame retardants are in many consumer products from electronics and furniture to clothing. Some  Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs) were banned years ago but are still ubiquitous in the environment because like so many other toxicants they are persistent organic pollutants. They are hormone disruptors, therefore, have been linked to thyroid issues, weight gain, reproductive issues,  infertility, early onset of puberty and birth defects. BFRs are also associated with lower IQ,  developmental delays and cancer.

Flame retardants are found:

  • In foam products. Polyurethane foam. Many mattresses contain flame retardants. ∙ Upholstered furniture
  • Padded carpet
  • Pyjamas and some clothing
  • Textiles/paints
  • Baby products- Car seats/prams/mattresses
  • Electronics- computers/phones/TVs etc/ electrical casings

This is how you can minimise exposure to these chemicals:

  • Avoid polyurethane foam in mattresses and furniture. Opt for mattresses made of pure natural wool wadding which is naturally fire-resistant or natural latex. There are companies who do not use flame retardants in mattresses. Check with the manufacturers and look for GOLS or GOTS certification.
  • Check the labels of furniture and clothing to see if flame retardants are added.
  • The main route of exposure is through inhalation. These chemicals like so many others get into the air and end up in dust. Wet wipe surfaces with a microfiber cloth and vacuum regularly with a HEPA  filter. Remember toddlers are exposed to far more dust than adults due to their proximity to the floor and the fact that they have their hands in their mouths all the time.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before meals.

There are many more toxicants out there with hormone-disrupting capabilities but this is a good start. Now you know where some of these xenoestrogens are commonly found you can make more informed choices about the products you choose to bring into your home and use on your body. Start small. Every change is a step in the right direction.

Holding Thermal Receipt Paper and Eating Food after Using Hand Sanitizer Results in High Serum Bioactive and Urine Total Levels of Bisphenol A (BPA). Annette M. Hormann, Frederick S. vom Saal, Susan C. Nagel, Richard W. Stahlhut, Carol L. Moyer, Mark R.  Ellersieck, Wade V. Welshons, Pierre-Louis Toutain, Julia A. Taylor Published: October 22, 2014 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0110509

Oates L, Cohen M, Braun L, Schembri A, Taskova R. Reduction in urinary organophosphate pesticide metabolites in adults after a week-long organic diet. Environ Res. 2014;132:105-111.  doi:10.1016/j.envres.2014.03.021

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