Xenoestrogens - Chemical hormones in your daily lives
By Chis Woollums
The pollution of your body:
(Chris Woollams. CANCERactive) Xenoestrogens are man-made, or synthetic, chemicals which, once inside the body, can mimic the action of the female sex hormone oestrogen, or estrogen as it is called in some countries. Xenoestrogens are often dubbed oestrogen mimics. The word ‘xeno’ comes from Ancient Greek, meaning ‘foreign’. Xenoestrogens are environmental toxins.
Every animal body exists in a state of ‘homeostasis’; that is to say that under normal conditions all the hormones are in balance as nature intended. Throw one of them out and all of them go out of kilter. So adding chemical oestrogens to the body doesn’t just increase the pool of oestrogen, it alters the levels (up or down) of all the other hormones in the body and so the body goes out of balance with consequent negative effects. The system of hormone production and interface is called the Endocrine System. For this reason xenoestrogens are often referred to as ‘Endocrine disrupters’.
Hormones are incredibly potent natural chemicals and can work in the body at one part per trillion. That is to say that only one molecule of a hormone in a million molecules of blood may be enough to have an effect. Synthetic chemicals found in all manner of products we use, from pesticides to deodorants and shampoos are, of course regulated and safe levels set by Governments. Usually these safety limits are set in ‘parts per million’. That is to say that these chemicals in your nail polish are permitted and deemed safe even though they could be present in concentrations a thousand times or more higher than your natural hormones.
Dr Anna Soto of Tufts has conducted numerous experiments on the issue of xenoestrogens and has concluded beyond all doubt that they are cumulative. Notwithstanding any safety limits set by Governments for any individual chemical, xenoestrogens add up and, depending upon the products you commonly come into contact with, xenoestrogens in the body can far exceed any Government safety limit.
The World Wildlife Fund has published several studies on toxins in the body, and we have covered these in Cancer Watch. Suffice it to say here that a study of blood samples when looking for almost 80 of the world’s most toxic chemicals found 29 in the average body, with 49 in the worst case. The pollution is growing ever worse: In another study of grandparents and grandchildren, the blood of the old contained 35, while that of the young averaged 65.
Fat is a wonderful solvent, and body fat can dissolve and hold all these chemical toxins, including hormones, that you would rather excrete. Indeed, claims that many of these toxic chemicals simply wash through the body have been found to be completely false. The most damaging fat is ‘Visceral fat’, which lies inside your body around your organs bathing them in this sea of pollution.
Another area of fatty tissue is the female breast. Research has shown that when breast feeding, mothers can pass the accumulated toxins to their infants. Other research has shown that many xenoestrogens can pass to the foetus in the womb. Is it any wonder that
American research showed that the ‘Lifetime safe Limits’ for toxins in the body were actually exceeded by those in the blood of an 18 month old baby.
Oestrogen, or estrogen in the USA, is the female sex hormone. Text books will tell you that it is produced by the female ovaries and production declines to virtually nothing after menopause. Those text books are wrong.
Oestrogen is not a single hormone but a family of similar chemicals. Those produced inside the human body are called endogenous; those made outside are called exogenous.
Oestrogen is typically produced in females in the first two weeks of their monthly cycle. In the second two weeks it is counterbalanced by the hormone progesterone. Guy’s Hospital, London, ran two studies in the 1990’s and showed that where women had breast cancer operations in the second two weeks of their cycles, they survived more than twice as long as women having identical operations in the first two weeks of their cycle. Sleep is also a great natural balancer of endogenous oestrogen. Women with disrupted sleep (for example night shift workers, or airline hostesses) have greater risk of breast cancer. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland just under your brain about 90 minutes after falling asleep in a darkened room. It possesses the ability to regulate endogenous oestrogens in the body.
The raw material for oestrogen production in the body is fat. Oestrogen is not merely produced in the ovaries, but in stores of fat around the body such as those lying just under the skin. A little is produced in the kidneys. Cancer Research UK a few years ago estimated that levels of oestrogen had been increasing in women’s bodies by about two per cent a year over the last 30 years. When a women passes through the menopause nowadays her blood oestrogen levels merely fall to a level just below the threshold that stops her ovulating – some experts estimate this fall at 30 per cent. Today’s women have far more oestrogen in their bodies than in the past. Their periods start earlier in their lives and end later; they have less babies. But these statistics are not the main reasons. Even men as they age can now have high levels of oestrogen in their bodies, made from their fatty deposits and stored from the hundreds of polluting environmental chemicals they come into contact with daily.
The dangers of oestrogen for women and men:
As I have explained, an excess of oestrogen in the body alters the levels of all the other hormones in the body away from the primary balance nature intended. An excess in your oestrogen pool will cause imbalance and therefore eventual illness. But this article is concerned with cancer.
Oestrogen causes cancer in three ways, all of which have been clearly evidenced:
1. Oestrogen, in fact one in particular (oestradiol, or estradiol in the USA), can cause havoc in basic biochemical systems and pathways inside the cell. For example levels of sodium are increased, levels of potassium decline. This makes the cellular power stations less efficient, pulling in less oxygen and producing less energy. The waste by-products, sodium salts, are more acid than the potassium salts nature intended, so the cell becomes more acid. At best you have a sick cell, at worst a cancerous one.
2. Oestrogen has been shown to be able to keep stem-cells in their trophoblastic state, dividing in an extremely rapid, almost out of control state. In plain English: Stem cells are the cells you had when you were a very elementary foetus that transformed into specialist eye, heart, lung, brain cells. Stem cells stay all over your body throughout your life. They are the basic repair cells, rushing to sites of inflammation and damage. Wang and his team in America showed that some cancers are caused by the action of oestrogen keeping your repair cells in their elementary state, and not letting them transform into new stomach lining, brain or breast cells. Rapidly dividing cells in your stomach lining? Cancer is likely.
3. Oestrogen has also been shown to be capable of directly altering the structure of DNA, your genetic code, causing mutation.
Oestrogen drives about 70 per cent of breast cancers. It is now shown to be involved in ovarian cancer and uterine, or womb, cancer. Studies from Bristol University first showed its involvement in some colon cancers, and US research shows oestrogen behind some stomach, lung and brain cancers. So clearly, this is not just a female phenomenon. No indeed, studies from Australia to Singapore, culminating in one by Dr Thompson of MD Anderson in Texas showed that oestrogen could turn nice, safe testosterone in men into an aggressive chemical DHT. This drives prostate cancer.
Perhaps more worrying was a research study we covered in Cancer Watch showing 13 chemicals linked to developing prostate cancer – all were oestrogen mimics.
Not all oestrogens were created equal
As I said above, oestrogen is not one hormone but a family. All of this family have a similar chemical ‘end’ to their molecule and this ‘end’ can bind to receptor sites on the membrane of your cells, sometimes passing a message inside the cell, if the receptor is active.
One family member is the highly aggressive oestradiol. As I said above, if this binds to your cellular receptor sites it can create havoc inside your cells.
Another human endogenous oestrogen is oestrone. It is far, far weaker in its effects than oestradiol – about 40 times less so. Research has repeatedly shown that indole 3 carbinol (or I3C, from broccoli and cruciferous vegetables) can convert oestradiol into its safer sister. Indeed I3C can even ‘switch off’ the receptor sites.
But plants have oestrogens too. These are called phytoestrogens. Now, a number of commentators including Wikipedia and some oncologists get awfully confused about phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are exogenous, not endogenous oestrogens. But they are certainly not xenoestrogens. For a start, they are neither man-made or synthetic, but totally natural. The human animal is primarily a herbivore – look at your teeth. Do they look like those of a dog or a leopard? No, humans evolved in balance with the vegetation around them. It kept us fit and healthy.
Phytoestrogens are oestrogens in that they have the same chemical ‘end’ to their molecule that I described above. But, they are about 40 to 100 times weaker than even oestrone. Now, ask yourself this: A chemical is going to bind to the oestrogen receptor sites on your cells – would you rather it was oestradiol, or a phytoestrogen. There really is no contest. Give me the phytoestrogen every time. Women in South East Asia have up to 1000 times the levels of phytoestrogens circulating in their blood than a New York lady has. Cancer Research has produced a number of papers on their protective powers. Professor Trevor Powles who was the top man for breast cancer at The Royal Marsden even calls them anti-oestrogens because they protect your receptor sites from aggressive oestrogens.
Phytoestrogens are commonly found in vegetables, but particularly in pulses. Pulses provided about 30 per cent of our protein in 1900. Who eats them nowadays? But they were protective. Red Clover, the herb of Hippocrates and used in a number of Alternative treatments like the Hoxsey Formula, is an excellent source of a protective phytoestrogen, genistein and its use as a protector in cases of breast cancer has been studied at The Royal Marsden.
When women develop an oestrogen positive breast cancer, the standard treatment is a formula of 5 years on Tamoxifen, followed by 3 years on an Aromatase Inhibitor. The Tamoxifen blocks the oestrogen receptor sites on your breast cells, just as phytoestrogens might, and indole 3 carbinol can turn off. The Aromatase Inhibitor cuts your body’s production of oestrogen.
But what if the oestrogen causing your cancer was not being made by you? What if it came primarily from outside sources?
Of course, eating meat will bring the animal’s own oestrogens into your body, especially if those animals have been fed hormones to make them grow. But chemical sources can far outweigh this contribution. Xenoestrogens are everywhere; in our water, food, soil, and many of the products you know and trust in your family home. They come mainly from the petrochemical industry.
Colburn, Dumanoski, and Meyers identified 51 ‘families’ of endocrine disrupters in their book ‘Our Stolen Future’. The most common example of their damage is that of lowered sperm counts, hermaphrodite fish swimming off the coast of California, male babies born with diminished genitalia – such is the power of a female sex hormone mimic on the male population. But this is only the start.
Strong xenoestrogens like organochlorides are produced by petroleum hydrocarbons reacting with chlorine. They are everywhere.
Perhaps the most famous link between xenoestrogens and cancer was the discovery of very high rates of breast cancer in Israel in the seventies. This was directly linked to three organochloride pesticides, DDT, Lindane and BHC, which had contaminated pastures and invaded the food chain in cows’ dairy. You may think these poisons were banned. They were for use in the West; but they are still manufactured and sold to third world countries and could appear on imported vegetables and fruit in a supermarket near you. The Food Standards Agency in the UK has already cried that imported foods exceed pesticide safety levels set by the UK Government on home grown foods. But does anyone do anything about it? Worse, formulations have been changed. So now the compound called Difocal is used as a spray from California to Washington on apples and strawberries alike. It happens to contain DDT.
While the UK White Paper on cancer in 2004 ignored the dangers of pesticides completely, the European Union (July 26th 2006) is quite clear: ‘Long-term exposure to pesticides can lead to serious disturbances to the immune system, sexual disorders, cancers, sterility, birth defects, damage to the nervous system and genetic damage’. So all quite harmless really!
My favourite is an article from a leading newspaper in Australia:
Fatal fish mutations at a fish farm in the Noosa river, Australia, have been laid firmly at the door of pesticides. The fish farm reported that all its Sea Bass larvae had been born with two heads and died. Then chicken, horses and sheep in a neighbouring farm were reported as experiencing birth defects. The cause has been identified as organophosphates used on a nearby macadamia nut plantation. Those in question were carbenzadim and endosulphan, which are recognized and even banned in some countries, but are actually recommended for use in Australia.
The UK Food Standards Agency is on record in 2009 as saying that organic food offers no benefit over mass-market food. Why do I have no respect for the FSA?
Herbicides are not much better, nor are weedkillers or insecticides. Dieldrin is primarily an insecticide, as are endosulphan, methoxychlor and heptachlor, while atrazine has had a lot of very negative comment and is a weedkiller. Toxaphene and dicofol (contains DDT) are other common xenoestrogen pesticides.
2. Synthetic hormone supplements
Some versions of the contraceptive pill use oestrogen and oestradiol. A report a few years ago showed increased risk of cancer with usage, of between 26 per cent if you took the pill in your 20’s to more than 50 per cent if you took it into your 40’s. HRT also uses synthetic oestrogens. Several US and UK studies show that the synthetic HRT pill increases breast cancer risk by 26 per cent. Other cancers, like ovarian, have been shown to have an increased risk of 40 per cent. Cancer Research UK has warned against the use of HRT.
3. Recycled water
Thanks to the use of recycled water in cities and the inability of filtration systems to keep up with the latest drug developments, chemical, pesticides and the volume of synthetic oestrogenic products like the pill and HRT in female urine, big city water has become a real area of concern. More and more people are turning to their own filtration systems at home, or the use of bottled water.
Organochlorines are used in plastics, and in the bleaching of paper. Plastic packaging, plastic bottles, cups, plastic wrappings and can liners may contain PVCs (polyvinyl chlorides), alkylphenols, nonylphenols, Bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates. Long-term storage in plastic containers involving these ingredients can make matters worse.
•BPA has now been banned in Canada. It is found in plastic bottles, babies plastic bottles, white plastic liners in cans. In California its use in toys for children under three years of age has been banned.
•Phthalates are similarly plasticisers. In particular research showed that heat could denature the plastic releasing higher levels of phthalates into the contents – your trendy mountain mineral water left in the car in the heat, your sun cream plastic bottle left in the sun next to you on the beach, your plastic thermos coffee cup re-used over and over again.
•DEHP, a PVC plasticiser, when found in the blood of pregnant women, resulted in 11 per cent of the male offspring having some form of genital deformity.
If you are using bottled water, stick to glass!
One big area of discussion is the preservative class of chemicals called Parabens. Esters of para-hydrobenzoic acid, they are found in foods and cosmetics from moisturizers to shampoos they are used because of their anti-bacterial and anti-fungicidal strengths. But they are now know to be mildly oestrogenic. However, they are ubiquitous.
Another such preservative and xenoestrogen is BHA, butylated hydroxyanisole, used as a food preservative in packaged foods to increase shelf life. Yet another is propyl gallate, which is used as a preservative in foods to help prevent fats and oils from going off. And a fourth is 4-hexylreorcinol, which is used as an additive to help shrimp and other shellfish from losing their natural colour. Erythrosine, which is a red food colouring agent sometimes used in sweets is also a proven xenoestrogen.
6. Household, personal care and toiletry products
Where do I start? Possibly by worrying you that Euro MP’s voted to restrict over 1000 common ingredients until a non-elected EU Commisioner asked them to rethink. Companies like Neways which make toxin-free products have banned over 3,000 ingredients from their list.
Go and find yourself a supplier of toxin-free products. The Chris Woollams 4 Health Shop has one of the UK’s most extensive ranges from a number of top supplier click here.
Perhaps the worst offender is perfume and perfumed products. Over 150 different ingredients can be called upon to make a perfume, and not one has to be listed. So DEHP may be an ingredient, as may toluene. And you are going to plaster body lotion containing xenoestrogens all over your skin? Nail polishes commonly use toluene. Your nails are porous and it will pass straight into the blood stream. Nail polish solvents ditto.
Never use perfumed products on your skin. Put perfume on your clothes.
Then there are ingredients like nonylphenol in liquid laundry detergent and all-purpose cleaners.
Or how about Triclosan? What a waste of time. Perfectly safe until you mix it with water, it is found in toothpaste, soap and shampoo to name but three of the hundreds of products. There is debate over whether its use in hand sanitisers and so on even causes the destruction of bacteria that is claimed. It is certainly pretty destructive when it gets into our waste water systems though. If you want to avoid it, why not use "Tee-Tree" oil; naturally anti-bacterial? Put some into your liquid soap and shampoo bottles.
Or Aluminium Chlorohydrate used as an antiperspirant and an xenoestrogen to boot.
Finally, I should mention Dichlorobenzene. This again is a family of chemicals, all found in-home and designed to make your toilet or living room smell like a fresh mountain meadow. But, in research conducted by Harvard and UCLA jointly, they were found to be the second most polluting airborne chemical after class A carcinogen Formaldehyde, and ahead of benzene (petrol, diesel etc). And there are serious concerns about these ‘deodorisers’ in connection to cancer risk. And they are xenoestrogens.
Some final thoughts:
i) Remember – you may consume these xenoestrogens from pesticides, or breathe them because of an incinerator nearby, or simply put them on your skin. They could have been an ingredient in the contents, or have leached into it from the plastic container, especially after heat. Your skin is a carrier not a barrier. If it were otherwise, nicotine and HRT patches would not work. Plasticisers can get into your sun creams, shampoos and body lotion, not just your sandwiches.
ii) Levels of beneficial bacteria decline in your gut as you age; if you do not eat whole foods; if you consume too much alcohol, chlorinated water and salt, or too many drugs and antibiotics. However, research is clear that some of these little helpers can chelate (bind) to oestrogenic products with the help of fibres like lignans, and expel them from the body. A daily multi-strain probiotic may be very helpful to keep levels up.
iii) Green foods like Broccoli which contains Indole 3 Carbinol, can help detoxify your cells of many of the xenoestrogens and research shows they can even prevent the effects of dioxins. Glutathione levels inside cells are increased in people who have a high intake of vegetables and fruits - especially ´greens´. Glutathione is a powerful antioxidant; and it detoxifies free-radicals and drugs and chemicals inside cells. Other ´greens´ that will help are whole foods like chlorella, and wheatgrass.
iv) If you can’t afford organic, there is a list of most polluted to least polluted foods in ´The Rainbow Diet´, my book. Alternatively, it’s time to get the vegetable patch going. With the added benefit that the exercise will quickly break down that toxic visceral fat. If you can release these toxins from your fat stores, then eating fibres and greens will help clear them from your body