Xenoestrogens are a group of environmental chemicals which mimic estrogen in the body. Excessive estrogen levels, either natural or synthetic, promote the growth of cancer cells. This is why xenoestrogens have been linked to the development and promotion of hormonally sensitive cancers, include those of the reproductive system, breast, lung, kidney, pancreas, and brain.(1)
As of 2003, there were over 160 xenoestrogens that may be involved in breast cancer development.(2) New research is emerging that confirms the negative impact of environmental chemicals such as dioxins, phthalates and parabens which are found in on our foods, household products and cosmetics. What can you do about it?
As part of a hormone balancing and cancer prevention plan, it is paramount to consider reducing your exposure to these compounds that contribute to detrimental estrogenic activity in the body. The following are two simple but powerful ways to reduce your xenoestrogen exposure.
Avoid plastic cups and food containers – Most plastics contain a compound called Bisphenol A (BPA). It is released when liquids or foods are heated, cooled or stored in plastic. BPA has been linked to obesity in children, causing infertility, disrupting genes and stimulating the growth of cancer cells.(3) Specifically in regards to cancer, even the amount of BPA from one plastic cup is potent enough to make chemotherapy less effective due to its estrogenic action in the body.(4) The frightening part about BPA is that it can have a negative impact on fetuses, causing hormone disruption in future generations.(5)
a) What to avoid: Plastic food containers (especially hard plastics), plastic water bottles, the inside lining of cans, thermal paper (receipts), and other plastics. Especially do not heat, microwave, or freeze any plastics since this causes more BPA to be released.
b) Healthy alternatives: glass or ceramic food containers, glass or stainless steel water bottles, “BPA-free” containers.
Avoid conventional cosmetics, creams, cleaners and perfumes – Most topical products and liquids used for cleaning the home contain compounds that can easily be absorbed through your skin and disrupt your hormones. One of the most detrimental category of ingredients is parabens and phthalates which are added to many creams and cosmetics as preservatives and thickeners. They both have been associated with hormonal changes such as lower sperm count, birth defects, obesity, diabetes, thyroid irregularities and cancer growth.(6,7) Parabens are fairly easy to identify since the ingredient name usually contains the word “paraben” in it (i.e. methylparaben, ethylparaben).
Phthalates are more difficult to pick out and often are one of the ingredients in the catch-all term “fragrance.” Since fragrance is a secret formula, companies do not need to disclose the exact ingredients, which means that harmful compounds are most likely still in the product.
Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) are components added to toothpaste, shampoo, body wash, hand soaps and detergents. Studies link SLS and SLES to possible allergies, skin irritation, and DNA damage. As a clinician I have seen these ingredients cause strong allergic responses in patients and even be the culprit behind chronic canker sores. As with all the aforementioned ingredients, the gradual, cumulative effects of long-term repeated exposures are the real concern in cancer risk.
Now that you have limited your exposure to harmful substances, the next goal is to support your natural detoxification pathways (phase 1 and 2 in the liver) that remove excess hormones and xenoestrogens. Most people are inefficiently removing these compounds and need the support of natural compounds found in vegetables and certain herbs that can promote healthy detoxification. This in turn stimulates the removal of unhealthy hormones and reduces your cancer risk.
Many people know that the liver is the most important detoxification organ in the body. It is also responsible for the healthy elimination of hormones as well as toxins. There are two phases to liver detoxification that occur continuously. Most over-the-counter detox kits will stimulate phase 1 which prepares a toxin to be removed. However they don’t always do an adequate job of stimulating phase 2, which is responsible for taking the molecule activated by phase 1 and safely excreting it. To eliminate harmful environmental toxins and xenoestrogens, we need to support both pathways and also make sure that our intestinal elimination is regular and complete. The following are simple ways to promote healthy elimination of xenoestrogens:
Stay hydrated – Every cell in the body requires water to function optimally, which includes waste elimination. Water also flushes out excess waste that builds up around the cells and impairs cellular communication and elimination. Adequate water intake lubricates your bowels, which helps to prevent constipation and maintain regular intestinal elimination. The ideal for most is to drink four large glasses of water a day (approx. 2 litres).
Broccoli and broccoli sprouts – Cruciferous vegetables are the food group that has shown the most powerful anti-cancer effect.(12) Theses vegetables contain a group of natural compounds (the main one being sulforaphane) that support liver detoxification (specifically phase 2) and hormone elimination pathways.(13) Broccoli and broccoli sprouts are the vegetables with the highest levels of these beneficial compounds. For optimal effect they should be eaten raw (heat inactivates this enzyme) and chewed well so the enzyme that activates sulforaphane is released.
Flax seed – Flax seeds are well known as a source of omega 3 and dietary fibre, and new research suggests that they have unique and direct anti-cancer properties such as preventing the growth of new blood vessels.(14) The impact of fibre is especially important in hormonally sensitive cancers, such as breast and prostate cancer, because fibre can bind hormonal products excreted from the liver and ensure they are eliminated rather than be re-absorbed in the digestive tract. Freshly ground flax seeds provide a great source of inexpensive fibre plus hormone balancing properties.
Antioxidants – Every cell in the body uses antioxidants to protect itself from damage, but the liver has the highest requirements in order to support both phases of detoxification. It even produces large amounts of its own powerful antioxidant called glutathione. Colourful fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidant compounds so they should be included in your daily diet. Studies have now shown that, for cancer prevention, variety (i.e. different colours) is even more important that quantity. Aim for at least nine different colours of fruits and veggies daily.
Herbal support – Many people prematurely jump right to herbal detox kits without reducing their xenoestrogen exposure and modifying their diet first. The basics listed above should be the first priority before finally taking an herb like milk thistle or dandelion to protect the liver and stimulate glutathione production.
Consult your Naturopathic doctor about which detox product is right for you, especially if you have been diagnosed with cancer, or are on any medications. There many different options and some are better suited to certain people since many people can feel temporarily worse when starting a herbal formula and detox program.
Cancer-causing compounds and xenoestrogens surround us on a daily basis so we should look at every source of exposure in our homes and workplace. This process can be overwhelming, especially if you have never looked into some of the chemicals that may be hidden in products you have been using for years. My advice is to start to detoxify your environment slowly and make small, manageable changes.
The first step to protecting yourself is to learn about the ways that these compounds enter our bodies, and then minimize or avoid those things. The second is to promote their removal from your body by supporting your own elimination pathways. The good news is that there are great resources available in the wholistic health community, and with the help of your naturopathic doctor you can make the process of eliminating harmful substances safe and manageable.
(1) Fucic et al. Environmental exposure to xenoestrogens and oestrogen related cancers: reproductive system, breast, lung, kidney, pancreas, and brain. Environ Health. 2012 Jun 28;11 Suppl 1:S8.
(2) Brody and Rudel. Review Environmental pollutants and breast cancer. Environ Health Perspect. 2003 Jun; 111(8):1007-19.
(3) Vom Saal FS, Nagel SC, Coe BL, Angle BM, Taylor JA. The estrogenic endocrine disrupting chemical bisphenol A (BPA) and obesity. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2012 May 6;354(1-2):74-84.
(4) Lapensee EW, Tuttle TR, Fox SR, Ben-Jonathan N. Bisphenol A at low nanomolar doses confers chemoresistance in estrogen receptor-alpha-positive and -negative breast cancer cells. Environ Health Perspect. 2009 Feb;117(2):175-80.
(5) Singh S, Li SS. Epigenetic effects of environmental chemicals bisphenol a and phthalates. Int J Mol Sci. 2012;13(8):10143-53.
(6) Crinnion WJ. Toxic effects of the easily avoidable phthalates and parabens. Altern Med Rev. 2010 Sep;15(3):190-6.
(7) Charles AK, Darbre PD. Combinations of parabens at concentrations measured in human breast tissue can increase proliferation of MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. J Appl Toxicol. 2013 May;33(5):390-8.
(8) Dann AB, Hontela A. Triclosan: environmental exposure, toxicity and mechanisms of action. J Appl Toxicol. 2011 May;31(4):285-311. doi: 10.1002/jat.1660.
(12) Clarke et al. Multi-targeted prevention of cancer by sulforaphane. Cancer Lett. 2008 Oct 8;269(2):291-304.
(13) Sulforaphane Glucosinolate Monograph. Altern Med Rev 2012;15(4): 352-360.
(14) Flower et al. Flax and Breast Cancer: A Systematic Review. Integr Cancer Ther. 2013 Sep 8.
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