Firstly, to the effects of xenoestrogens. As we have previously discussed, small concentrations of endocrine disruptors may seem to be largely harmless, but can accumulate in the human body over time. An added danger arises when we examine the interactions between different compounds, which can amplify the effects of both, or lead to innate issues.
A 2002 paper by Rajapakse et al concluded that xenoestrogens can have serious effects, even in the presence of natural estrogen. "The additive impact of a collection of xenoestrogens," Theo Colburn et al. write in Our Stolen Future, "each of them at concentrations beneath their individual 'no effect' level, was to more than double the effect of natural estrogen by itself." The study used 11 different xenoestrogenic chemicals, an important aspect of the research; Humans are never exposed to just a single endocrine disruptor.
The researchers determined the level at which each chemical would produce an estrogenic reaction, and as expected, each one was weaker than natural estrogen. When combined, however, the study found that exposure to levels of xenoestrogens below their "no effect" amount significantly increased responsivity to endogenous 17ß-estradiol. Mixing any of the other xenoestrogens with 17ß-estradiol resulted in the observed effect more than doubling.
So what exactly are the effects of xenoestrogens on the human body? In short, there is quite a list of them, and none are particularly desireable. Endocrine disrupotors interfere with our bodies’ natural circulating estrogens. They throw off hormone balance and menstrual cycles, affect prostate health, contribute to problems with fibroids, endometriosis, uterine cysts, and polycystic ovary syndrome and can damage ova and sperm. Heart disease and adult-onset type 2 diabetes have been connected to xenoestrogens, along with thyroid disruption and obesity. Xenoestrogens can also activate an enzyme which turns the body's own natural estrogens toxic, damaging DNA and increasing the risk of cancers, particularly breast cancer.
The good news is, as with most things in life, not everything is out of our control when it comes to xenohormones. There are many small things you can do throughout your daily routine that can minimize your exposure to endocrine disruptors, and while some may equate to noticeable lifestyle changes, not all must.
To begin with, avoid all synthetic hormones and as many plastics as possible. Store food in glass containers if you are able, and when shopping for food, remember that the way animals are raised and live matters, and not only for ethical reasons. What they are fed accumulates in their tissues, and will be transferred to you; this includes growth hormones. Particularly avoid the fat of non-organic meat and dairy; this is the area of an animal's body in which xenoestrogens and hormone disruptors will concentrate over their lifetimes.
Conventional pesticides, as well as lawn and garden chemicals, should be avoided in favor of more natural alternatives. Chemicals used for household cleaning should be cautiously purchased, and only used in high-ventilation areas. Cosmetics should be carefully purchased as well; avoid phthalates as much as possible.
Also, think about what you drink. Use reverse-osmosis to filter municipal water, which is full of chlorine, fluoride, xenobiotics, and industrial agro-chemicals. When preparing coffee in the morning, avoid bleached filters; the EPA has determined that the use of bleached coffee filters can solely result in levels of exposure to dioxins (also endocrine disruptors) that exceed acceptable risk levels.
Xenoestrogens and other endocrine disruptors are exceedingly difficult to avoid in industrialized society, yet with just a little vigilance, your exposure can be limited, and your quality of life (and health), vastly improved.