Toxins and hormone imbalance: are they related?
Toxins play a huge but often overlooked role in hormone imbalance. The way the body handles toxic exposure is so complex that it can be an intimidating subject to try to understand. And when you add hormones to that picture it gets even more confusing. So sometimes it can be easier to just not deal with it at all!
Today I’m going to try to break things down a bit so the relationship between toxins and hormone imbalance isn’t so confusing. The more we understand about this relationship, the more power we’ll have to take control of, and correct, hormone imbalances.
What is hormone imbalance?
When we talk about hormone imbalance, it means that some hormone levels in your body are too high while others are too low. Hormone imbalance could also mean that the ratio, or comparison, between hormones is out of balance. For instance you may have symptoms of too much estrogen but, in reality, your estrogen level is not high on its own, it’s just too high compared to progesterone, so a healthy balance is not there.
First thing’s first – get rid of xenoestrogens!
When talking about the relationship between toxins and hormone imbalance, it’s important to address what are called “endocrine disrupting” toxins first. These are chemicals that influence how the certain glands in our body make hormones. In fact, once they get inside your body, some of these chemicals actually mimic the hormone estrogen. These are called “xenoestrogens”. BPA is a good example. Short for Bisphenol-A, BPA is a plastic compound considered to be an endocrine-disrupting “xenoestrogen”. Your body treats it just like the hormone estrogen and uses it in the same way that it uses your own estrogen. The problem is, chemical xenoestrogens like this are very strong. Much stronger than our own hormones. So these things throw hormones out of balance right off the bat. Check out this helpful list of xenoestrogens and avoid them!
Think twice about eating conventional meat and dairy.
I’m big on eating organic, especially when it comes to meat, eggs and dairy. Here’s why: conventionally farmed livestock and poultry can be loaded with hormones that, once eaten, will end up in your body throwing your hormone balance out of wack. These hormones build up the animals so that farmers can get the highest possible meat, milk or egg yield. Just think, those same hormones used for making a cow huge are going into your body when you eat the meat or drink the milk. Is it any wonder that so many folks, both men and women, have hormone imbalance issues these days?! My suggestion: eat organic when possible. You can also inquire with a local farmer who may not be “certified organic” yet may not use hormones or antibiotics on the animals.
What about toxic load?
Doing away with xenoestrogens and hormone-saturated food is a great first step to balancing hormones. Now, there is something else to consider: toxic load. What is it? To illustrate, think of a half-full glass of water. The water represents all of the toxins you are exposed to, including stuff you put on your skin like lotion and makeup, artificial ingredients that are in your food, medications, and pollution from the air you breathe. Even stress is considered a toxin. Anyway, with each additional toxin comes an additional drop of water in the glass – that’s the “load”, until the water begins to spill over the top – an overload.
Just as the excess water is spilling over the top of the glass, excess toxins in your body “spill over” into your bloodstream. You see, your liver – the body’s main filter – does an incredible job of taking what you eat, breathe and absorb and sending those things through what are called detoxification pathways. These pathways are responsible for changing dangerous and threatening toxins into not-so-dangerous and threatening substances. But sometimes, for reasons that can include age, toxic overload, dehydration, nutrient deficiencies and a long list of other variables, the liver can’t move the toxins through efficiently enough. When that happens, we get sort of “backed up”, which causes the toxic substances to spill out into the bloodstream.
So let’s talk in more detail about how the detoxification pathways work.
The Amazing detoxification pathways of the liver
I’m going to explain this in the the context of a real-life situation. Let’s say you are taking a trip to the beach in your new convertible (a very cool real-life situation, right?!) To prepare, you lather on sunscreen because you’ll be exposed to the elements for a couple of hours. Unfortunately you have a headache, which is no way to start a trip like this, so you throw down a Tylenol and then grab a bag of Doritos to snack on. Already your body is inundated with toxins. First, the chemicals in the sunscreen. Then, a medication along with the artificial ingredients in the Doritos. And finally, the exhaust from all of the cars on the highway.
So how does the body handle this? Well, the Phase 1 detoxification pathway changes the chemical makeup of some of these toxins to make them less harmful. This is a good thing, but it isn’t without a price: this form of detoxification results in some potentially harmful byproducts called “free radicals”. You’ve probably heard of, and maybe even take, antioxidants like Vitamin C. Well, this is why. Antioxidants do a great job of limiting free-radical damage.
So the second detoxification pathway, called Phase 2, adds something to the chemical to change it from fat-soluble to water-soluble. You see many chemicals love fat. No, really! Once absorbed into the body they seek out fat cells and hold on for dear life. And it’s not just excess fat or belly fat where these toxins reside. Fatty organs like the brain and our endocrine glands (the glands that produce our hormones) often bear the brunt of toxic buildup, leading to issues with memory and thinking as well as – you guessed it – hormone imbalance! So, during Phase 2 detoxification, the liver does what it can to make chemicals love water more than they love fat so that you can more readily flush these nasty things out of your body.
Can’t the liver handle just about anything??
Yes. But just like every other function of the body, detoxification doesn’t work without the proper fuel. The liver needs certain amino acids, minerals and other nutrients in order to keep detoxification pathways running at their best. Compounds found in garlic and cruciferous veggies are a big help to detoxification. In fact, a compound called DIM (Diindolylmethane) is awesome for helping to move excess estrogen through the detox pathways. Read more about DIM here.
Okay, so how does toxic load affect hormone balance?
Excess hormones, including the strong xenoestrogens, are filtered through the liver so they can exit the body. If the liver is bogged down with a bunch of other toxins, the hormones are held up and forced to recirculate through the bloodstream. Not only does that increase your overall hormone level, but this recirculation also gives a hormone like estrogen the time to metabolize into stronger versions of itself. Not sure what I mean by that? Some estrogens are protective to us while others trigger the growth of cells (like cancer) – not a good thing.
So, the more that you decrease the “load” of toxins to which you’re exposed, the quicker you’ll be able to move any excess hormones out of your body and the less likely it will be that strong hormones will develop and do damage.
The bottom line.
Get rid of toxic xenoestrogens to the best of your ability. Consume high quality meat and dairy that has not been treated with hormones. Make sure you are eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, as the compounds within those foods will help fuel the detoxification efforts of the liver. Drink lots of water to keep your cells hydrated and allow waste products to move through, and out, of your body. And finally, find out what’s in your cosmetics, personal care, and cleaning products and avoid those that have toxic chemicals. Here’s a great resource for helping you determine which products are healthy and which are not: Environmental Working Group
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