In recent years, a growing body of evidence links regular low-dose chemical exposures to several health conditions affecting women, including infertility, thyroid disease and breast cancer. These chemical compounds are found in products used in the home or workplace, and transmitted through the air, water, soil and food.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) cross-react with estrogen receptors and alter hormone production or metabolism. These compounds come from various sources in daily exposure including plastics, household cleaners, industrial by-products, pesticides, cosmetics and occupational solvents. The endocrine disrupting effect of these compounds occurs at very low concentrations and affects the endocrine system, altering the reproductive ability. Endocrine organs including the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, and ovaries are targets for EDCs. Inference with functioning and communication between endocrine organs can have dramatic effects on reproduction and have been associated with increased rates of miscarriage and endometriosis. Environmental contaminants can cause reproductive disorders affecting both male and female fertility.
These same endocrine disrupting compounds – PCBs, phalates, PVCs, BPA, dioxins and pesticides – are also known thyroid disruptors. The incidence of hypothyroidism has skyrocketed in recent years, and women are primarily affected by this condition. The timing of onset often occurs during periods of hormonal changes, such as post-partum or at perimenopause, when estrogen levels are fluctuating.
Estrogen is a hormone closely linked with the development of breast cancer. Numerous synthetic chemicals, called xenoestrogens, act like estrogen in our bodies and are found in common weed killers and pesticides, plastics, spray paints and paint removers, food packaging, and children’s toys. By mimicking estrogen in the body, xenoestrogens stimulate tissues that respond to estrogen, such as the breasts. Research indicates that there is a connection between environmental factors and breast cancer.
There are over 85,000 chemicals on the market today, found in everyday products from cosmetics to flame-retardants, plastics to pesticides. The United States government has very limited protections in place for consumers in the form of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which was established in 1976. This legislation puts the burden of proof of harm on the government, allowing the chemical industry to introduce new chemical compounds without demonstrating their safety. After nearly forty years without amendments or revision, legislation is currently being considered to update this legislation. In addition to limiting one’s exposure to potential harmful compounds, the public can get involved by contacting their representatives and demanding greater protections.
Consumers can protect themselves by selecting personal care products and household cleaning products that limit exposure – a good source for non-toxic products is the Environmental Working Group. Naturopathic medicine offers many strategies to assist the body in detoxification from endocrine disrupting organic compounds. In our clinic, Dr. Quinn assists patients by taking an environmental medicine history, and offers holistic therapies to help restore endocrine health.