Perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause are stages of a woman’s life when her hormones are in flux, often causing a plethora of symptoms and life-altering changes. These are natural occurrences, but did you know you are likely living with lots of hormone disruptors in your home? We need to avoid these disruptors as much as possible, as they can worsen or add to the changes that are already underway.
According to the National Health Institute, hormone disruptors (or more specifically, endocrine disruptors) are “natural or human-made chemicals that may mimic or interfere with the body’s hormones, known as the endocrine system.” These substances can range from common medications to pesticides, plasticizers to personal care product additives, and much more.
Let’s name and uncover some of these villains. It’s impossible to avoid them completely, given that there are about 800 chemicals suspected to be hormone disruptors. However, you can take steps to minimize your exposure.
Did you pop open a can of soda to enjoy while wrapping up leftovers in aluminum foil that you prepared using aluminum pans? Then you’ve just exposed yourself to a metal that has been linked to autism, breast cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Not all experts agree about the risk associated with this common metal, but it’s easy enough to avoid it. Skip the use of aluminum cookware and utensils, don’t buy aluminum cans or foil, and check the labels on baking soda, antacids, and deodorants.
Bisphenol A (aka BPA) is a chemical used to make plastic hard. Although the use of BPA in canned foods and plastic bottles has declined—and BPS has replaced BPA in many cases, although the replacement is still problematic—the chemical is still being used. Exposure has been linked to higher mortality, breast cancer, obesity, heart disease, and reproductive problems. Avoid canned foods with BPA lining, use stainless steel or glass water bottles, and steer clear of plastic food packaging.
Although it sounds like a good idea to have items that resist flames, these chemicals are a health hazard. Flame retardants, including those called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), can be found in furniture, baby items, fabrics, plastics, and surface coatings. Although some of the more toxic types of PBDEs have been banned, they persist in the environment for many years. Exposure to PBDEs can interfere with thyroid function, resulting in problems with ADHD and lower IQ levels. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to clean your home, and be sure to check labels before buying these products.
Do you use nail polish, shampoo, hair dye, dishwashing liquids, or fabric softeners? Then you may be exposing yourself and your family to this known carcinogen. Do you have any plywood, particleboard, or other pressed wood products in your home, such as furniture, cabinets, paneling, shelves, or countertops? Then you are living with formaldehyde. Are your clothes permanent press, or do you have any glue, lacquers, or paper products in your house? Formaldehyde again.
Breathing air that contains low levels of formaldehyde can cause watering or burning eyes. Higher levels can result in coughing, breathing problems, and burning of the throat and nose.
Fragrances in general have hormone-disrupting effects and are associated with asthma, allergies, headache, and dizziness. Always check labels on health and beauty products as well as household cleaners for those that contain fragrances. Instead, choose products that are fragrance-free or that use essential oils. Avoid using air fresheners and invest in an essential oil diffuser for your home or office.
You might think of mercury as the liquid found in older style thermometers, but it’s a toxic metal also found in certain skin lightening creams, fluorescent and CFL light bulbs, button batteries, and some antiques. In the kitchen, mercury can be found in shellfish and primarily large fish such as tilefish, shark, king mackerel, and swordfish, although smaller fish also contain the toxin.
To limit your exposure to mercury, limit your intake of fish and shellfish to smaller fish and properly handle and recycle mercury-containing items. If you are exposed to elemental mercury (e.g., a broken thermometer), it may cause headache, insomnia, tremors, and behavioral changes. Mercury from fish consumption may affect the nervous system and may be especially harmful to the developing brain of a fetus in pregnant women.
What’s in your refrigerator? Conventionally grown fruits and vegetables are typically treated with organophosphate pesticides, which were designed to destroy the nervous system of pests. Thus these toxins have been associated with neurological disorders in humans, such as delayed reproductive development, ADHD, and lower IQ. Limit your exposure to organophosphate pesticides by choosing organic produce and not using the insecticide at home.
Personal care products are the most common sources of parabens, endocrine-disrupting chemicals that have been found in breast cancer cells. Parabens are preservatives that are used to stop the growth and spread of bacteria. Check labels on shampoo, lotions, and other products for words such as propylparaben, isopropyl paraben, butylparaben, and isobutylparaben, among others. Fortunately, you can find many personal care products made from all-natural ingredients, free from parabens and other harmful substances.
Also known as PFCs, perfluorinated chemicals are found in nonstick cookware, water-repellent clothing, car wax, carpeting, food packaging, and electronics. There are hundreds of different PFCs and so they are used in a wide variety of products. Just two PFCs, perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, and perfluorootanoic acid have been associated with osteoarthritis in women, poor semen quality in men, and asthma in children. Stay away from nonstick cookware and water-resistant clothing and furniture.
Think plastic…lots of plastic. Phthalates are chemical additives that make plastics flexible, but they also have been linked to high blood pressure, obesity, birth defects, thyroid problems, and diabetes. You may find phthalates wherever you have plastic in your home, from your window blinds to plastic storage bins, food and water containers, vinyl flooring and wall coverings, toys, and food packaging. These chemicals also can be found in personal care products such as shampoo, soaps, perfumes, and nail polish.
Avoid the use of plastics as much as possible, including those with the recycling label #3. Health and beauty products that list “fragrance” may contain phthalates.
You might recognize this hormone disruptor as an ingredient in hand soap, toothpaste, and makeup, but you may also find it in your yoga mat or the cutting board in your kitchen. Triclosan is also known to promote the growth of drug-resistant bacteria. Read ingredient panels and question the makers of other items that may contain triclosan.
As you enter perimenopause, your hormone levels begin to fluctuate, introducing changes to your physical and emotional well-being. These natural hormonal may be influenced by exposure to hormone disruptors found in your home environment. Recognize the sources of these toxins and take steps to avoid and limit your exposure.