After a weekend at the Whole Life Expo, I think I’ve seen and heard it all. Walking up and down the aisles, I’d hear these snippets of mostly nonsense, everyone searching for the magic pill, copper hat, or light therapy that will resolve their health challenges.
Like you, I wish it were that easy. Health, however, isn’t as simple as that. There are so many factors involved, and often we forget about some of the most obvious ones – like how well we’re sleeping, pooping, moving, breathing and yes, laughing.
One of the biggest areas of impact on our health that I see overlooked so often is something that is around us all the time, something we should give thought to: our environment.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve talked about the importance of hormonal balance quite a few times over the years. You and I have chatted about the importance of lowering that glycemic load to keep your hormones in check, eating an overall nutrient-rich diet, avoiding the horrors of estrogenic soy products, minimizing sugar and caffeine intake, and getting yourself off that awful pill.
One thing we haven’t talked about much is the effects our environment can have on that body of yours — hormones included. The result can have a cascade of challenges for us. Though there is much we can’t control in our environment, like the chemicals sprayed in our community (though petitions can help — remember dandelion poison? Illegal now!), we still have control over how things like body care products, cleaners and our water supply affect us. But we need to take charge, be aware, and make some tough choices about the products we purchase.
Here are just a few symptoms of hormonal imbalance:
- Night sweats
- Mood swings
- Foggy thinking
- Ovarian cysts
- Heavy periods
- Unexplained weight gain
These symptoms are a sign that something is not right. So aside from cleaning up your diet, what can you do to start to re-balance your system? Let’s take a look at some of the things that may be throwing your hormones out of whack in the first place.
Toxic Beauty Products and personal care products
How They Harm:
The average woman uses 12 personal care products daily containing as many as 168 different ingredients — and many of those ingredients are disruptive to our hormones.
But if it’s sold on store shelves, it must be safe, right? Not so, according to the Environmental Working Group:
Biomonitoring studies have found that cosmetics ingredients – such as phthalate plasticizers, paraben preservatives, the pesticide triclosan, synthetic musks and sunscreen ingredients – are common pollutants in the bodies of men, women and children. Many of these chemicals are potential hormone disruptors (Gray 1986, Schreurs 2004, Gomez 2005, Veldhoen 2006). Cosmetics frequently contain enhancers that allow ingredients to penetrate deeper into the skin. Studies have found health problems in people exposed to common fragrance and sunscreen ingredients, including increased risk of sperm damage, feminization of the male reproductive system and low birth weight in girls. – Environmental Working Group
And it’s not just our hormones that are being disrupted. Studies have shown that hormones in wildlife can also be disrupted by the products we use going down the drain and into our water systems.
What to do instead: If you’re going to purchase cosmetics, do a little digging on EWG’s cosmetics database first and don’t purchase any products with a risk rating above 0-1. These are some of my favourite beauty care products. Better yet, make your own safe, edible beauty products in your kitchen.
How They Harm:
After cleaning your house, what does it smell like? If the answer is “Creamy Caribbean,” “Pumpkin Spicecake,” “Sierra Springs” or some other poetic descriptor from a marketing firm, you’re probably using some pretty gnarly chemicals to blast through that dirt and grime. To cover up the chemical smell, companies use artificial fragrances, many of which contain hormone-disrupting phthalates and synthetic musks.
What to do instead: Buy a re-useable spray bottle, add some water and white vinegar plus a few drops of your favourite essential oils. There — you’ve got your new cleaning spray. The EWG also has a database for cleaning products so you can choose wisely at the store. And when disposing of your old, toxic products, follow this guide to do it safely and responsibly.
The Pill (Even If You’re Not Taking It)
How It Harms:
So you’ve done your research, thought long and hard about it, and finally decided to get yourself off the pill. Except even when you finally do come off those artificial hormones, you’re still taking them, sort of — via your tap water.
Really?! Yes. According to Scientific American, trace amounts of birth control and other medications can be found in the water supply. Pill-taking ladies pee those hormones into the water system, affecting the reproductive systems of fish and eventually us, too. And according to SA, “with such contaminants proving elusive to municipal filtration systems, the burden of protection often lies with the end user.”
What to do: Might be time to look into a water filtration system. A reverse osmosis filtration system with pre- and post- carbon filters should be enough to get those trace chemicals out of your water supply, but it also depends on where you live and what kind of water you’re dealing with. Or better yet, get your drinking water from a spring near you.
How It Harms
You are bound to find several studies that claim organic food is no healthier for you than conventional. That’s open for debate (though not with me, thank you very much – for example, this meta-analysis of 343 studies concluded that organic produce is higher in antioxidants, lower in pesticide residues and lower in heavy metals than conventional).
What many anti-organic food studies fail to mention is the high toxic load of these foods. The massive amounts of chemicals have been shown to cause higher levels of cancer in farmers. Additionally, the chemicals used in GMO seed and pesticides are having a huge and terrifying effect on the world’s bee populations and without bees, there goes most of our food supply. Lastly, and as it relates to hormones, the pesticides used in chemical agriculture disrupt our hormones.
Some chemically grown food contains only one or two pesticides after harvesting and there are some conventional strawberries that contain 45 different pesticides. Visit WhatsOnMyFood.com where you can see the thousands of pesticides and where they’re found in your food. Many of these chemicals are what we call xenoestrogens, which have estrogen-like effects on the body and have been linked to cancers of the sex-hormone cells in the breasts, uterus, cervix and prostate. These pesticides can also contribute to infertility for both men and women, as well as developmental issues in unborn children.
What to do: Be mindful about where you’re shopping and what you’re buying. Aim for local and organic produce wherever possible. If your local supermarket doesn’t have any, ask for it. It may also be time to seek out a local farm where you can participate in a CSA (community supported agriculture). If you’re able, try growing your own food. There are a number of things you can grow on your windowsill, while other nutrient-rich foods like sprouts and mushrooms can thrive indoors.
Everyone on the planet has a right to clean, non-toxic food. It is true that carrot-for-carrot organic produce costs more, but in the grand scheme of things, it actually costs us significantly less and is well worth the investment.