Harvard University and the Huffington Post hosted a public forum during which they uncovered what they believe to be the top three threats to humanity:
- Nuclear war
- Global warming
- Hormone-altering chemicals, otherwise known as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDC’s)
How is it that these chemicals pose a threat comparable to nuclear war and global warming? According to a 2016 study in the medical journal The Lancet, because of the health impacts they can have long term, low-level exposure to EDC’s cost the United States $340 billion in annual health care spending and lost wages. With numbers like that, it’s no wonder we’re experiencing such a state of hormone disturbance in the U.S.
How are we exposed to EDC’s?
EDC exposure is ubiquitous – it comes from the food we eat, the water and other beverages we drink, the air we breathe, and the products we absorb through our skin. We can even be exposed as early as a fetus through the placenta during pregnancy or as infants through breastmilk.
We’re susceptible to being exposed through all those areas because EDC’s are often present in the industrial products that seep into our water and soil supply, as well as our food sources, cleaning supplies, personal and beauty products, lawn and garden products, plastics, electronics, dust, and anti-bacterial soaps just to name a few.
How do EDC’s affect our health?
There’s a reason EDC’s are referred to as hormone-altering chemicals. These chemicals mimic our hormones, disrupting their delicate balance and function within our body – they may block our hormones from doing their job, increase or decrease the amount of hormones in our body, or alter our body’s sensitivity to hormones.
This hormonal disruption has been found to increase our risk for a variety of conditions including infertility, miscarriage, endometriosis, hypothyroidism, certain cancers like breast or prostate, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, ADHD and autism spectrum disorders, as well as result in an altered nervous system or immune functions.
These risks are greatest in individuals exposed during critical windows of organ development, such as when in utero or during breastfeeding or puberty. This ‘early’ exposure can lead to long-term, permanent changes in function and health, which makes it all the more important for soon-to-be-moms to be educated, aware, and active in reducing their exposures to EDC’s while preparing for and supporting their pregnancies. However, depending on our personal and occupational exposures, we’re all at risk of the effects of EDC’s over the course of our lifetimes.
How can you reduce your EDC exposure?
There are a number of practical steps you can take by focusing on the environment you have the most control over: your home.
In your Home
- Cleaning products – From counter and window sprays to dish soap, anti-bacterial hand soap, laundry detergent, fabric softener or sheets, oven cleaner, carpet cleaner, and air fresheners, we often believe we’re making our home cleaner, but really we’re exposing ourselves to a multitude of harmful chemicals. Many of these products are fragranced – which means chemicals are used – so it’s best to opt for fragrance-free or essential oil-infused products. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a great resource for finding safer options, which can be found here.
In your Kitchen
- Food: Due to the hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics used in conventionally-raised animals, as well as the pesticides used in conventional produce, it’s safest to opt for grass- fed & finished beef, pastured poultry and eggs, wild-caught fish, organic dairy and organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible, prioritizing those on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list
- Water: Because of industrial chemical run off, contamination from birth control pills and other chemicals in our home water sources, it’s best to filter your water with a reverse osmosis filter, which removes over 99% of all contamination. You can opt for a local rental option, where someone installs and services the system, or a system you install and service yourself.
- Plastics: The chemicals in plastic break down over time and leach into our food and beverages the more we use them, as well as anytime plastics are heated or frozen. Aim to store and heat foods in glass containers, drink only from glass or stainless steel glassware and ditch canned foods or select those labeled ‘BPA free’. This compelling article shows how we truly live in a plastic world – it’s everywhere, so take this one a step at a time.
- Cookware: Aluminum and non-stick Teflon pans pose health risks, so work toward swapping them out for safer surfaces like carbon steel, ceramic, lava rock, porcelain enamel or tempered glass. You can find a good review of non-toxic cookware options here.
In your Bathroom
- Personal Products: You can find a myriad of EDC’s in everything from shampoo and hair color to toothpaste, deodorant, nail polish, soaps, perfumes, tampons and other feminine products. Look for options that are free from fragrance, parabens, phthalates, SLS, and triclosan (the anti-bacterial ingredient), as well as ones without plastic packaging if possible. Or, at the least, ones with a #3 in the recycling icon on the packaging. Again, the EWG is a great resource. They offer a very comprehensive rating system on the safety of most personal and beauty product brands – you can find that here.
- Beauty Products: The average adult woman applies 12 different beauty products a day, which equates to over 100 different chemicals by the time she walks out the door. This can come from products like lotions, cleansers, moisturizers, eye and wrinkle creams, and cosmetics. Look to the EWG link in the previous bullet to guide you to safer alternatives. I, too, offer safer products from a company called Beautycounter that bans over 1,500 potentially harmful chemicals from their products for women, men, and kids.
- Water: We already talked about the importance of filtering our water above, but have you ever thought about how much water your body ‘drinks’ during a shower or bath? A lot! So, don’t neglect the quality of your water in the bathroom, either. There are whole-house systems you can rent or purchase, or if that’s too pricey, opt for a shower head filtration system.
In your Yard
- Fertilizers and Insecticides: The chemicals used to keep your lawn lush, green and free of weeds as well as your plants and gardens safe from insects and pests are inhaled, they leach into the groundwater that enters your water systems, and gets tracked into your home via your shoes and feet (or paws, for you pet owners out there). Seek out a natural lawn care system – many cities offer organic lawn care services, or you can purchase safer products at local nurseries.
As you can see from this list, we are surrounded by EDC’s in just about every aspect of our lives. My goal is not to scare or overwhelm you, but to educate you so that you can recognize your exposures and work toward slowly swapping them out for safer alternatives.
I get it, it’s a lot! You won’t be able to dump everything you own and start fresh overnight – it’s going to be a process. Start with the items you use or are exposed to the most, then work your way through your home replacing products one at a time with a safer option. While some items are cost-effective, at times, like purchasing a water filter, it can be an investment. But, it’s an investment in your health. The cleaner you live, the longer you will live a full and vibrant life, free of debilitating symptoms and avoidable visits to the doctor or hospital. That’s a long-term investment I am willing to take and I hope you will too.
If you would like help, I offer a 90 min Household Transformation. I’m here to guide and support you through this process. You don’t need to do it alone.