I missed a recent NYT article “Puberty Before Age 10: A New Normal” as we were away. I had a chance to read it thanks to electronic edition’s “most emailed section" (love that section). The article refers to 2010 research confirming 10% white girls and over 20% black girls have breast development by 7. This presents potential problems with growth, bone health, and if accompanied by early periods breast cancer. However, this isn’t only a “girl” problem the same factors causing this can result in increased risk of fertility and sperm problems for boys and a higher risk of prostate cancer. And in case you come to the table from a vanity perspective, the things disrupting endocrine function in our children increases risk of obesity in adults.
These “things” I so scientifically mentioned are environmental factors that mimic estrogen and known as xenoestrogens (xeno meaning foreign or different, xenophobia that great SAT word meaning fear of foreigners). It turns out we need to be skeptical and xenophobic when it comes to these “foreigners” and our bodies and our families’ bodies. It’s not just one source but the cumulative effects of so many estrogen mimics in our environment that’s so hazardous.
The more I research this topic the more concerned I become. And because my intent with this blog is not to incite fear, I always return to the question what can we do to minimize risk? While many feel the most crucial period is in utero, there are improvements we can all make. Short of moving to an organic farm a la Woody Harrelson, here are my suggestions:
Crucifers or cruciferous vegetables are one of your best nutritional defense tactics against xenoestrogens. Broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts are rich in a compound that's abbreviated I3C. I3C converts to another substance that can block some of these harmful estrogens. So sauerkraut, kale chips, and healthy slaws should definitely have a prominent place in your diet and make sure you’re purchasing organic produce because pesticides are a source of xenoestrogens.
Exercise- exercise is one of the only tools with the potential to delay early puberty. It lowers estrogen levels and can reduce body weight. Increased weight increases the hormone leptin which increases estrogen. Dr Lustig the endocrinologist quoted in the NYT article explains “higher estrogen levels leads to greater insulin resistance causing more girls to have more fat tissue, more leptin and more estrogen, the cycle feeding on itself.”
Sunscreen and lotions- of all personal care products the ones absorbed and therefore most toxic are topical creams applied to the skin. If you are going to make one change with “cosmetics” start here. There are many carcinogenic and hormone disrupting ingredients such as oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate in sunscreens. Make sure what you’re using isn’t in the Sunscreen Hall of Shame from the Environmental Working Group, many popular brands are on this list. I used Viva Sana on our recent trip; Badger, Kiss my Face and Aubrey Organics are other good choices. As far as lotion Weleda and Hugo Naturals are two reliable companies. I mentioned some other favorites in “Is Your Food Organic but Moisturizer Carcinogenic” post. If you’re already on the good sun protection bandwagon, toss your conventional dryer sheets (another source of xenoestrogens).
Plastics and cans- perhaps most of you know not to microwave plastics (do you all know?) but I cringe when I see all the plastic people are still drinking out of and transporting food in. Drink water from glass bottles and invest in glass food containers. The less plastic the better, even at room temperature chemcals from plastic leaches into the water. My current favorite are the Takeya bottles.
Meat- was that Easter ham or Passover brisket organic? Cows and chickens are fed estrogens to increase milk and egg production. Organic animals are not allowed to have hormones administered. And less hormones administered means less circulating in our environment. Hormones in meat are especially concerning because estrogens are fat-soluble meaning they accumulate in fat tissue of animals. Aside from organic meat, we can all benefit from less meat in our diets.
I heard the term “toxic soup” and it’s easy to feel that applies to our environment. Our governmental agencies aren’t proactive in limiting our exposure to these hormone disruptors (recently denied BPAs are problematic). It’s really up to each of us to make decisions to improve our health and spread the word to friends and others who may not be aware of the problems lurking in their food and home products.
Did you read the NYT article? Were you familiar with the term xenoestrogen? What measures have you taken to decrease your exposure or your families' exposure?