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3 surprising sources of hormone disruptors in your home

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Did you know that many chemicals that are commonly found in household products and cosmetics are endocrine disruptors? These synthetic chemicals mimic hormones that naturally occur in the body, like oestrogens and androgens. Endocrine system disruptors can play all sorts of tricks on the body, from altering the production of certain hormones to accumulating in the body. Here are a few surprisingly common sources of endocrine disruptors in the home and how to avoid them…

1.      Your tap water

Residues of pesticides and herbicides may be found in tap water. These chemicals can be washed off crops by the rain and find their way into our water supplies. Although there are strict legal limits on pesticide levels in drinking water, tiny traces may still be found. To reduce your exposure, consider using one of these drinking water filters. Filters with carbon or reverse osmosis technology are ideal.

Lead is linked to reproductive hormone disruption, along with stomach and bladder cancer[1]. This soft metal hasn’t been used in plumbing since the ’70’s due to regulations. However in older homes you could find lead in the pipes that connect mains water to your kitchen tap. Traces of lead can find their way into tap water from coming into contact with solder or galvanised pipes. For peace of mind, you could use a drinking water filter that removes lead.

Fluoride occurs naturally in some regions of the UK. In others, it is sometimes artificially added to water supplies due to the belief that it helps to prevent tooth decay. The U.S. National Research Council identified fluoride as a hormone disruptor in 2006[2]. Even very small amounts of this chemical have been linked to hypothyroidism – see this blog post for more details. You can remove fluoride from your drinking water with these filters.

Perchlorate has tradiationally been used in rocket fuel, fireworks and medicines. It can also occur naturally. Ingesting too much perchlorate can disrupt thyroid hormone balance[3]. There may be very small amounts of perchlorate in drinking water supplies in England and Wales. This is as a result of “low level background contamination”[4]. Very little information is available about perchlorate levels in UK water. The normal methods that water companies use to filter our water do not seem to be able to remove this. A reverse osmosis water filter removes perchlorate if you are concerned.

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2.      Your decor and kitchen

Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) are synthetic compounds. These are often added to household products to make them more resistant. They are sometimes found in non-stick cookware, on stain-resistant coatings of carpets and furniture, in food packaging and in waterproof mattresses. Studies on animals show that PFCs may cause health problems, such as disruption of hormone activity and developmental issues. It has also been linked to low birth weight, kidney disease and low sperm quality. However, more research needs to be done on its effects on the human body.

The EWG claims that 99% of Americans have PFC in their bodies. PFC can take years to leave the human body and one of its compounds (PFOA) never breaks down[5].

To reduce your exposure to perfluorinated chemicals, look for more natural alternatives to everyday products. For example, swap non-stick cookware for 100% ceramic or stainless steel. Try natural carpet or wood flooring as an alternative to stain-resistant carpets. Organic sofas are available from various sources online. Some items of stain-resistant and water-resistant bedding may have been coated with PFCs. Look for organic bed linens instead.

Two chemicals in plastics that you may want to avoid in particular are phthalates and BPA (bisphenol A).

 95% of the population may have detectable levels of phthalates in their urine[6]. This chemical is so ubiquitous it is almost impossible to avoid. It may be found in carpets, vinyl flooring, raincoats, shower curtains and more. Its purpose is to make plastics more flexible, but it is not found in all soft plastics.

How do you reduce your exposure to phthalates? Avoiding the use of plastics where possible is a good start. Look for natural flooring, fabric shower curtains and organic cotton clothing. Also, going fragrance-free can really help to reduce the ‘chemical load’ on your body. Ditch the strong synthetic air fresheners and perfumes. If you want to freshen up the air in your home, an air purifier with a metal casing is a much healthier way to do it!

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BPA (bisphenol A) has been used for almost 50 years to make plastics hard but flexible. When it gets into the body, this chemical may affect the natural production of hormones like oestrogen. Some research has found that it may cause health problems such as liver damage in animals. The FSA claims there is no conclusive evidence that it causes harm to humans at current levels. However, some charities like Breast Cancer UK are calling for it to be banned due to health concerns. BPA doesn’t appear on the food label, but if a food can has a white lining then BPA may have been used in its production.[7] 

Small amounts of BPA can seep into food and drinks from packaging, especially when the packaging is heated or scratched[8]. You might find this chemical in the linings of some tinned food, plastic food containers, water bottles and fizzy drink cans.

It can be difficult to avoid BPA as it doesn’t always appear on the label. But drinking filtered water via a glass bottle and avoiding plastic food containers and tinned foods (unless labelled BPA-free) may help reduce your exposure.

3.      Your bathroom and make-up bag

Triphenyl phosphate (TPHP) is used as a fire retardant and in the manufacturing of plastics. This suspected hormone disruptor is also present in some popular brands of nail polish. A study at Duke University has suggested it could end up in the body too. Researchers found that all the women in their study who had painted their nails with polish containing TPHP had evidence of the chemical in their urine. The chemical has been linked to problems with metabolism and development[9].

Phthalates can also be found in many cosmetics, such as perfumes, hair spray, nail polish and shampoo. Look for natural-based gentle toiletries, labelled organic where possible. 

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[1] Lead – US National Library of Medicine 

[2] Fluoride Action Network

[3] Environmental Working Group – Endocrine Disruptors 

[4] DEFRA report on Perchlorate 

[6] Avoiding Phthalates – Huffington Post

[7] Health fears over BPA

[8] No More BPA – Breast Cancer UK 

[9] Endocrine disruptor in nail polishes – EWG

Disclaimer: Information included in this website is intended for information purposes only and is not to be used as a substitute for consultation with a medical practitioner. 

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