Protecting Yourself from the Health Hazards of Xenoestrogens
by Steven H. Horne, RH (AHG)
Estrogens are great hormones. After all, they are the hormones that make women feminine, and as a male, I happen to be quite attracted to femininity. But, there are some estrogenic compounds in the environment that are not so great. They are called xenoestrogens and they are causing serious health problems in both men and women. Before I can discuss the health risk of xenoestrogens, it is probably a good idea to provide a little background information about estrogens in general. I use estrogen in the plural, because there really is no single compound called estrogens. The human body makes three different estrogen hormones estrase, estrone and estriol.
Plants also produce estrogen-like compounds called phytoestrogens. These compounds are not chemically identical to the estrogens produced by the body, but they still attach to estrogen receptor sites and influence reproductive health.
And finally there are xenoestrogens, the topic of this article. Xenoestrogens are environmental pollutants that have estrogen-like activity. These compounds are a primary cause of reproductive health problems in both women and men because they attach to and over-stimulate estrogen receptor sites. This causes changes in estrogen-sensitive tissues like the breasts, uterus and prostate. Xenoestrogens stimulate abnormal changes in these tissues, causing problems like cysts in the breasts, uterine fibroids, prostate enlargement and cancer.
Do xenoestrogens affect men as well? A small amount of estrogen is necessary for men to prevent bone loss and for sex drive. The fact that men have only a small amount of estrogen is also the reason hormone replacement is much safer for men. As a man ages, his testosterone declines allowing his body to accumulate fat particularly around the belly, Belly fat contains an enzyme called aromatase that converts testosterone to estrogen. The rise in estrogen and decrease in testosterone make the men feel bad. Excess estrogen combined with DHT, the stronger form of testosterone, promotes BPH, otherwise known as a swollen prostate. Excess estrogen increases the risk of prostate cancer through the same process that occurs in a woman’s breast. It increases the potential for conversion of estrogen to 16-alpha hydroxyl estrone a carcinogen. Xenoestrogens contribute to the death of testicular tissue in men and boys, depression caused by testosterone suppression, premature aging, infertility, and obesity. The link between xenoestrogens and obesity can readily be seen by the high rates of obesity in areas where there is high exposure to xenoestrogens (farms in the Midwest and the industrial Deep South). So, men should also avoid xenoestrogens and take steps to balance their hormones. Enhancing Male Testosterone Levels
Just like women have more than one form of estrogen, men have more hormones than testosterone that contribute to our masculinity. These hormones, which include testosterone, androstenedione (andro), androstenediol, dihydrotestosterone (DHT) and DHEA-M, are collectively known as androgens. The ratio of androgens and estrogens in the body is important.
Androgens like testosterone are not just important for a man’s sex drive. They are also important for men’s overall health. Testosterone helps a man put on muscle and burn fat. It elevates a man’s mood to keep him from becoming depressed. It protects him from heart disease and cancer. Testosterone also makes a man more creative and imaginative. So, the bottom line is having a high level of testosterone is good for a man.
Most of the testosterone in a man’s body is bound. This means that it’s not immediately available for use. Only a small percentage, about 2-3%, is free testosterone. As men age, levels of free testosterone decline, this is responsible for a shift in middle age men called andropause. Men naturally become a little less aggressive and a little more sensitive. However, if men start making, or are exposed to, too many estrogens and/or have too little free testosterone, this shifts the androgen/estrogen balance and causes numerous health problems like prostate swelling, infertility, weight gain, etc.
So, how can men increase their testosterone levels for a better androgen/estrogen balance?
Well, for starters, looking at attractive women stimulates testosterone production. That’s probably part of the reason married men tend to live longer than single men! So, guys don’t feel guilty that it makes you feel good to see a pretty girl, it’s normal.
Exercise also helps free testosterone for use, particularly exercising the legs with resistance training. Eating organically raised, grass-fed beef also enhances testosterone in men. Actually, beef in general enhances testosterone, but commercially raised beef just isn’t as healthy as grass-fed beef.
There are also testosterone-enhancing herbs and supplements men might consider. According to Steven Buhner the pollen of pine trees is one of the strongest androgenic herbs that increase levels of free testosterone in the blood. It is used in Chinese medicine as a rejuvenating tonic, but is not a widely used remedy in the United States.
Testosterone-enhancing herbs that most men would have easy access to include, Korean ginseng (Panax ginseng), American ginseng (P. quinquefolia), eleuthero root (Eleutherococcus senticosus), tienchi ginseng (P. notoginseng) and puncture vine (Tribulus terrestris). These herbs can be useful tonics for men to take as we get older because they help stimulate the production of androgens and slow the effects of aging in men.
There are also some useful supplements for enhancing androgens. These include; pregnenolone, DHEA-M, zinc and pantothenic acid. Saw palmetto and nettle root (found in Men’s Formula) help inhibit androgens from converting into estrogens, which can also help male hormone balance.
Pesticides and Miscarriage My introduction to the problem of xenoestrogens came when my last wife almost had a miscarriage after being exposed to pesticides. We were living in a rented home and the landlord sprayed the fruit trees in the yard. He asked my wife to come out so he could show her the damage that borers had been causing to the trunks of the trees. This exposed her to the fumes from the just-sprayed trees.
That night she started cramping and bleeding. She took lots of capsicum and bayberry to control the bleeding, vitamin E and false unicorn to inhibit contractions, and we both prayed. Fortunately, the bleeding stopped the next day.
When we relayed the incident to our midwife, she told us she was impressed because every mother she had ever known that had been exposed to that particular pesticide had miscarried. At the time, I did not know that this particular pesticide was an endocrine disrupter, an estrogen mimic, but we soon learned that it is very common for women to miscarry after this pesticide has been sprayed in their neighborhood.
So, if these poisons can have that dramatic of an effect on a woman’s pregnancy, imagine what regular low doses of them are doing to the reproductive systems of both men and women. One can readily see why reproductive health problems are on the increase worldwide.
Other Sources of Xenoestrogens Pesticides, however, are only one source of estrogen pollution in our modern world. Another is commercial dairy, meat, and eggs. There are two reasons for this. One is that dairy and egg farmers often feed estrogenic chemicals to milk cows and chickens because it increases production of milk and eggs. This alone makes commercial dairy, eggs and meat major sources of xenoestrogens. However, there is another reason animal foods are major sources of xenoestrogens. Pesticides tend to be fat soluble, so they accumulate in the fat of animals. When an animal is eaten by another animal pesticides concentrate in that animal’s fat, too. So, the higher up the food chain you go, the more pesticides tend to accumulate in fat. This is why pesticides began to damage the reproduction in birds of prey. So eating the fat from commercial (nonorganic) dairy foods and meat gives you a double dose of estrogen pollution. Plastics are another source of xenoestrogens, particularly soft plastics. So, if you drink whole milk from commercial dairies in soft plastic jugs, you get a triple dose of estrogen pollution. Oh, and think about all that bottled water we are drinking. If those plastic containers get hot, they leach chemicals, like xenoestrogens, into the water. It’s bad to put hot food into plastic containers for the same reason or to microwave food in plastic containers. (Of course, it’s a bad idea to microwave food, anyway.) You can greatly enhance your reproductive health by purchasing organically grown food wherever possible (or a least avoiding foods from animals that have been fed hormones and washing produce to remove sprays). Avoid using pesticides in your home or on your property, too. Finally, wherever possible, use glass instead of plastic containers.
Detoxification from Xenoestrogens Obviously, one cannot completely avoid chemicals like xenoestrogens in one’s life, so it’s also important to do some detoxification to help the body get rid of the xenoestrogens (and other chemicals) it is exposed to. The liver breaks down all excess hormones for elimination, so supporting the liver is very helpful. A good formula to use for general detoxification, including helping the liver get rid of xenoestrogens, is All Cell Detox. Another option is Enviro-Detox.
Cruciferous vegetables contain compounds that help the enzyme pathways in the liver that break down excess estrogens. Eating broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and other vegetables from the mustard family is a great way to support your liver’s detoxification ability. One of the compounds in these vegetables is Indole 3 Carbinol, which is available as a supplement. Indole 3 Carbinol is very helpful for getting rid of excess estrogen and can be helpful for any condition involving excess estrogen stimulation, including breast and reproductive cancers, uterine fibroids and fibrocystic breasts.
Foods rich in phytoestrogens can also help protect the body from estrogen pollution. Phytoestrogens tend to be very weak in their effects, but they tie-up estrogen receptor sites so the stronger xenoestrogens can’t attach to them. Soy products are widely promoted for their phytoestrogenic effects, but too much soy is not good for you, so don’t overdo it with the soy products. Instead, consume a wide variety of foods rich in phytoestrogens, such as beans and peas, dark green leafy vegetables and whole grains.
The lignans in flax seed are also phytoestrogenic compounds. So, flax seeds and flax seed oil that contains lignans are also sources of beneficial phytoestrogens. A number of herbs are also good sources of phytoestrogens, including black cohosh, licorice root, and hops. Although I have not used it in my own clinical practice, Breast Assured is essentially a phytoestrogen supplement which can be taken regularly by women who are concerned about reducing exposure to xenoestrogens. It will help prevent breast cancer, breast lumps, uterine fibroids and other problems caused by excessive estrogen stimulation.
Increasing progesterone levels can also be helpful, as progesterone and estrogen are antagonists that compete for the same receptor sites. My first choice in helping to balance these hormones would be vitex or chaste tree berry, which works on the pituitary to help regulate female hormone balance. It is a slow-acting herb and works best when taken regularly for three to six months. It is found in the Wild Yam and Chaste Tree Combination.
For women who experience heavy bleeding due to excessive estrogen, there are three remedies that can help balance these hormones. One is False Unicorn, which has a progesterone-like effect. It has been used to prevent miscarriage (as in the story I told at the beginning of the article) and can also be used to combat heavy bleeding and estrogen-based conditions.
Sarsaparilla can also be used. It has a more testosterone-like effect. Yes, women also make testosterone, just like men make estrogen, and increasing testosterone can also help balance out female hormones.
Menstrual-Reg is a formula I helped to design. It is for heavy bleeding and contains herbs to both balance hormones and control bleeding. Like Chaste Tree, it is going to work best when taken regularly for a period of several months. Adding one capsule of yarrow per two capsules of Menstrual-Reg will improve its effectiveness against heavy bleeding, especially in the case of uterine fibroids.
Progesterone creams would be my last choice in balancing out excess estrogen. I realize that many women find them helpful, but they are not correcting the diet or the internal balance of hormones. In other words, they are treating the effect without dealing with the cause. Also, you can get too much progesterone as well as too much estrogen.
You can get your hormones tested, and creams can be compounded which contain the right amounts of natural estrogen, progesterone, and/or testosterone to properly balance your system. However, I would try dietary changes and herbal supplements first and use this route only if you have serious problems that need immediate attention or have failed to find solutions through diet and herbs.
As a parting comment, as I was in the process of writing this article, I was invited to speak to a breast cancer survivor group. Because all but one of the women in the group (the one who invited me to speak) had gone the medical route in their cancer treatment, I chose to speak about the problem of xenoestrogens. It was interesting that nobody knew anything about xenoestrogens at the beginning of my lecture, but by the end of my lecture, they all realized that avoiding xenoestrogens would be helpful for both preventing and treating breast cancer. People need to be educated, so please spread this information around.
From other sources:
Dr. Peter Eckhart, MD:
- Do not heat food or water with plastic in the microwave. Do not drink hot liquids in foam Styrofoam cups or receptacles.
- Change your laundry detergent because it cannot be fully washed from the clothes and can be absorbed through the skin. Do NOT use dryer sheets or fabric softener.
- Do not use anything on the skin with parabens or phenoxyethanol in them. This includes shampoo, soap, makeup, hand lotion, body lotion, and toothpaste. Oral substances are 90% filtered by the liver. Skin-absorbed substances are 100% absorbed by the body, thus, a skin dose is 10 times an oral dose.
- Avoid coffee. Avoid decaf coffee. No caffeine. No tea. No colas. Caffeine increases estradiol levels by 70%!
- No sunflower oil, no safflower oil, no cottonseed oil, no canola oil. (Guess that leaves olive oil and Grapeseed Oil).
- Avoid shampoos that are rich in hormones and have estrogen added to them.
- Avoid estrogenic herbs especially TOPICALLY such as sage and rosemary.
- Many sunscreens are estrogenic. Use a hat and long sleeved shirt.
- Use cosmetics with minerals or grapefruit seed extract as a preservative.
Dr. Elizabeth Smith, MD:
* Use glass or ceramics whenever possible to store food and water. Heat up your food using a glass or ceramic bowl covered with a dish towel. When plastic is heated, it diffuses very rapidly into food.
* Use a simple detergent with fewer chemicals.
* Simple Soap is a safe choice for shampoo and body soap.
* Use natural pest controllers, not pesticides.
* Avoid Synthetic Chemicals – Healthy Living in a Toxic World by Cynthia Fincher PhD. is a good place to start.
* Don’t use herbicides; use a cup of salt in a gallon of vinegar.
* Buy hormone free meats to eat.
* Buy organic produce, produce grown without pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizer or hormones.
* Use Condoms without spermicide for Birth control instead of Birth Control Pills. Use Natural Progesterone instead of HRT.
* In general, the hormones taken orally are first pass metabolized by the liver 80%-90%. However, when these hormones are applied to the skin, the hormones are directly absorbed by the body. Thus, any skin dose is 10 times that of an oral dose. The vast majority of skin lotions and creams use the parabens as a preservative. Avoid them at all costs. Instead, apply a vegetable oil right after a shower to hydrate the skin and lock in the moisture.
Kris Devillier, RND / Nature’s Link Wellness Center