The old phrase, ‘when you’ve got your health, you’ve got everything,’ may sound a bit corny but if the last few months have taught us anything, it’s this — truer words were never spoken. Now, millions of people are rushing to upgrade their health habits to build immunity so they’ll be ready to fend off the next viral spike should it come (and it probably will). That’s at least one positive sea-change to come out of our current pandemic era.
Whether you’re among the newly inspired masses or the healthy-living old guard, ramping up your immunity (right now!) should be at the top of your to-do list. A great way to start is by removing the toxins that undermine it, and topping that list are the endocrine disrupters (EDs). A few of the most common EDs on the “must avoid” list: BPA (bisphenol-A), parabens, phthalate, PBDE’s (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) pesticides and herbicides.
Why do we care so much about keeping EDs out of our systems? Because endocrine disruptors are chemical compounds that interfere with the body’s normal hormone function. EDs make hormones misbehave, by blocking or mimicking them, making them do things they shouldn’t. EDs have an adverse effect on immune function, as well as metabolic and cognitive function, and are especially toxic to the developing bodies of children. My advice? Kick endocrine disrupters to the curb, stat! Here’s how to start:
Everyday things, with a side of EDs.
What’s particularly galling about EDs is that they’re insidious, turning up in so many everyday products that they can be challenging to keep out of your system if you’re not paying attention. So please do pay attention and steer clear of as many common sources as you can, among them:
- Personal Care Products: Standard cosmetics, moisturizers, shampoos, and conditioners often contain ingredients that disrupt your hormonal balance.
- Drinking water: Community water supplies often have too-high levels of EDs like atrazine, arsenic, and perchlorate (even though they may technically meet EPA standards).
- Canned foods: Many are lined with BPA film, a common endocrine disruptor.
- Conventional or industrially-farmed fruits and vegetables: Pesticides, herbicides, and industrial runoff can ‘bake’ endocrine disruptors into produce as it grows.
- Factory-farmed meat, poultry, and dairy products: Most animal products that come from industrial feed lot operations will contain disruptive antibiotics, hormones, and industrial chemicals.
- High-mercury fish: Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, marlin, and tilefish are high in mercury and other heavy metals, which disrupt hormonal balance and function.
- Kitchen products: Common hazards include nonstick cookware, plastic wrap, and plastic containers, especially when heated.
- Cleaning products: These are frequently loaded with industrial chemicals that disrupt hormones.
- Cash register receipts: Most, as in up to 93% of them, contain BPA.
Swap out the endocrine disrupters in your food.
Once you know where the EDs lie, the next step is to swap them out – and swap in healthier alternatives, in as many areas of your life as possible, starting with the food you eat:
- Trade out plastic bottles of water for bottled-in-glass mineral water (which actually confers health benefits). If your tap water meets the basic EPA standards, then, as a bit of added insurance, drink tap that’s been filtered through the best filtration system From there, you can brew up your own organic teas, coffee and other drinks instead of buying pre-made drinks in plastic containers.
- Trade out factory farmed animals for organic, grass-fed ones, raised without antibiotics or hormones. Factory farmed animals store environmental toxins and EDs in their fat, which gets passed on to you when it ends up on your plate. For poultry, choose pasture-raised and organic options, or purchase from small producers at your local farmers’ market who tend to raise healthier animals.
- Trade out industrially farmed produce for organic and/or farmers’ market produce. If you have to buy conventionally grown, do so according to the EWG’s Dirty Dozen/Clean 15 list, its scientific rating of fruits and veggies raised with the most and least amounts of endocrine-disrupting pesticides. Also with produce, whenever possible, choose fresh, whole fruits and veggies, but when choosing between frozen vs. canned, buy frozen. If canned is the only option, only purchase ones in BPA-free cans.
KITCHEN AND COOKING
- Trade out endocrine-disrupting plastics for glass or stainless steel options for drinking and storage, especially if you have young children — they are especially vulnerable to the effects of EDs. Never cook in plastic and skip plastic wrap. If you need to wrap items, opt for unbleached wax paper.
- Trade out plastic cooking utensils, strainers and cutting boards for steel or sustainable bamboo versions.
- Trade out non-stick cookware for good old-fashioned, cast iron, stainless steel and ceramic versions.
- If you have an outdoor grill or a stovetop one, consider hanging up your tongs, or at least cutting way back on your grilling frequency to curb exposure to endocrine-disrupting PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) which turn up in significant amounts in grilled foods (particularly when over-cooked or charred).
Keep those endocrine disrupters off of you!
What goes on your body can matter as much as what goes inside it — all those EDs in your lotions and potions can seep into your system and cause plenty of trouble. Here are the quickest swaps you can make:
FACE & BODY
- Trade personal care products which may contain EDs like parabens, pesticides, triclosan and phthalates – think synthetically-fragranced shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, body washes, powders, perfumes, sunscreens, etc. – for safer alternatives. Search out cleaner, greener and minimal-ingredient products from smaller organic and/or artisanal brands. Check your existing stockpile of personal care items against the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Skin Deep database, and either throw out or phase out the ones with poor marks, and replace with items that score well on the EWG scale. If you’re not ready to toss all your offending ‘beauty’ products just yet, the next-best advice is to cut back on the volume of products you use in a day to minimize daily ED exposure.
- Take the same approach with your cosmetics, many of which can contain endocrine disrupting lead – we’re looking at you lipstick, eyeliner and hair dye.
Clean up your household act, safely.
There’s nothing wrong with keeping your home clean, but, it’s the stuff you clean it with that matters most health-wise. If your conventional cleaning products are loaded with endocrine disrupters (which most of them are), you need to consider a different approach, trading out the most toxic cleaning products for ones that are kinder to your body and the earth, while still getting the job done. To do that:
- Start by replacing cleaners with failing grades. In other words, when each bottle or pack of soap, detergent, spray, polish, or scrub runs out, take a minute to look at its rating on the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning, to help determine if your current brand is OK or if it’s too toxic to buy again. Be sure to rate your window cleaners (which may contain toxic solvents), harsh surface and toilet bowl cleaners, and anything fragranced, as fragrances typically use a cocktail of unknown ingredients including phthalates.
- If your brew gets a grade C or below—and especially if it has a warning of any kind on the packaging—use the Guide to find a safer alternative. There are plenty on the market, and they can be easily ordered online if you can’t find them in a store near you. Another option is DIY household cleaners made from baking soda, vinegar, and natural antibacterial and antifungal agents like tea tree oil. They tick all the boxes – they’re safe, effective, natural, and best of all, won’t poison the air, surfaces or your body as you use them – which we think is a win for all.