“Dr. Hyman, I recently read how endocrine disruptors like environmental toxins can interfere with your hormones,” writes this week’s house call. “I’m really freaked out. I feel like my house is full of toxins. How can I minimize their impact?”
Unfortunately, today we’ve become exposed to a greater number of environmental toxins than ever before. Sadly, many experts fail to connect the dots between toxicity and diabesity, which has hit record numbers.
Environmental toxins can feed cancer, interfere with glucose and cholesterol metabolism and induce insulin resistance and obesity through multiple mechanisms including inflammation, oxidative stress, mitochondrial injury, altered thyroid metabolism and impaired central appetite regulation.
As a result, we see a dramatic increase in obesity among newborn babies. In 2006, scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health found obesity rates in infants less than six months old rose an alarming 73 percent since 1980.
This obesity epidemic among six-month-olds is not related to diet or lack of exercise. After all, babies live on breast milk or formula and love. They don’t say, “Hey, Mom, take me out for a 1,200-calorie fast food breakfast or a giant tub of buttered popcorn.”
Likewise, watching too much television is not a risk factor. What’s going on instead is probably due to environmental toxins in their little bodies.
The average newborn has 287 chemicals in the umbilical cord blood, 217 of which are neurotoxic. They include pesticides, phthalates, bisphenol A, flame retardants and heavy metals such as mercury, lead and arsenic. These chemicals have a broad range of negative effects on adults, so just think how badly they affect babies.
Toxins to Remove Today
To minimize this detrimental impact, look through a few of the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptors. These hormone disruptors lead to huge challenges, so you want to watch out for them. Let’s briefly look at a few:
- Bisphenol A (BPA) – found in plastic water bottles and canned foods, BPA is a synthetic hormone that imitates estrogen in the body. Studies link BPA to breast cancer, reproductive challenges, obesity and heart disease. To minimize BPA exposure, stay away from plastic. Use stainless steel or glass instead, and look for BPA-free canned foods.
- Phthalates – also in plastic food containers. Some children’s toys also contain phthalates, so you want to be careful especially if your children are young and teething. Many makeup products also carry phthalates, so avoid products that contain “fragrance.” Stick with all-natural products that have only a few familiar ingredients. Phthalates also wreak hormonal havoc. Studies link phthalates with cancer, birth defects and thyroid issues. Check out EWG’s skin deep database to see where your cosmetics rank on the toxicity scale. If you wouldn’t eat it, you shouldn’t put it on your skin because everything gets absorbed into your body.
- Glycol ethers – household cleaning products, cosmetics and paints contain glycol ethers which can damage fertility, lead to birth defects and worsen allergies and asthma.
I could go on with others like mercury, lead and arsenic, yet you get the message: All these toxins can create major diseases and should be avoided when possible. That’s why it so important to eat clean, organic, grass-fed meat and plant-based foods.
While avoiding all of these toxins might become overwhelming, following these eight strategies help you reduce your burden:
- Maximize your phytonutrients. Eat whole, real foods, especially cruciferous veggies like broccoli, bok choy, kale and Brussels sprouts to maximize your dietary phytonutrients and increase your body’s ability to detoxify. Choose foods high in antioxidants like dark, green leafy veggies and berries. Garlic and onions can also help you detoxify. My 10-Day Detox program can help you incorporate these and other delicious, phytonutrient-packed foods.
- Avoid plastics. I recommend stainless steel water bottles and glass containers like Pyrex to store leftovers. Instead of buying water in plastic bottles, install a filter at home. I like reverse-osmosis filters.
- Detox your home. Stick with natural, simple products. Thrive Market, my favorite online market, carries the best cleaners from Seventh Generation and other eco-friendly, non-toxic companies. Check out EWG’s skin-deep guide. They also have a great guide to reduce toxic household cleaning products. You can even make your own body products using coconut oil and other ingredients. If you can eat it and also put it on your skin, that’s even better!
- Stop eating mercury. Stick with small, cold water fish like salmon that have lower mercury levels. Choose organic fruits and vegetables to minimize environmental toxin exposure. The EWG also has a list of fish with low mercury levels. Use their Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists of fruits and veggies to help you cut out toxins from your food.
- Exercise and sweat. Exercise and sweating help rid your body of toxins. Get moving and try a sauna or steam bath.
- Take quality supplements to support detoxification including zinc, vitamin C and vitamin B Complex, as well as special glutathione-boosting compounds such as n-acetyl-cysteine, alpha-lipoic acid and milk thistle.
- Get chelated. Medical therapy with heavy metal chelators can lower mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxic metals. You’ll want to work closely with a Functional Medicine practitioner if you suspect heavy metals are an issue.
- Address toxicity in your home. If you suspect lead or other poisons in paint or floors, consult an expert to remove these safely.
You can’t eliminate toxins, but you can definitely reduce exposure to these endocrine disruptors. It simply involves investigative work, switching to safer products and following the above eight strategies. Once you get the hang of it, you can live clean and green without much effort.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD