One of the biggest stressors we face in our world is the ever-increasing load of toxins we are exposed to on a daily basis. Everything that we eat and are exposed to affects our health, both inside and out.
Today, more than 80,000 chemicals are registered with the National Toxicology Program and nearly 2,000 new chemicals are introduced each year. National toxicology regulations follow the principle of innocent until proved guilty and are less comprehensive and restrictive than similar regulations in in Europe, for example. Most studies are done on one single chemical and may show there is no danger.
However, when several of these chemicals are added together exposure to even small quantities of EDCs can add up to a large impact.
Remember that individual toxins are studied for safety based on the effects of certain levels of toxic exposure of just ONE toxin. What is not taken into account is the total number of toxins humans are exposed to every single day and the effect on health – the total body load principal. It becomes like a chemical soup exposure.
Many of these toxic chemicals are commonly referred to as Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs). These hormone imposters are particularly detrimental to hormone-sensitive organs, such as the uterus, prostate, testes, ovaries, thyroid and breast, as well as our immune and neurological systems. In addition to endocrine organs, it is indicated that EDCs effect sexual development, obesity, metabolism, thyroid systems, and insulin resistance.
The major sources of toxins include:
- 60–70% from food
- 10–15% from water
- 5–10% from the air
- 5% from house and yard chemicals
- 5% from body care and beauty aids
Thousands of chemicals found in the environment are EDCs and the biggest offenders for men’s hormones include:
- Phthalates better known as plasticizers, are found in most plastics and cosmetics. Phthalates cause sperm damage, have negative impact on testosterone production and increase the risk of diabetes and thyroid irregularities. Over 75% of the US population has measurable levels of phthalate metabolites in the urine.
- Bisphenol A (BPA) is a common toxin found in plastics and food container linings. It is known to cause reproductive disorders in both men and women.
- PCBs increase diabetes risk and decrease testosterone.
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PBDEs) are found in fire retardants used in textiles, furniture polyurethane foam. Studies in Canada have found significant concentrations of PBDEs in common foods such as salmon, ground beef, butter, and cheese.
It is more commonly recognized how these EDC’s affect women, leading to the development of estrogen dominant conditions such as breast cancer, PMS, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, infertility, miscarriage, early onset puberty and menopause.
However, little is spoken about these hormone disruptors and men’s hormones. Symptoms of estrogen dominance in men include: man boobs, balding, weight gain especially around middle, fatigue, brain fog, erectile dysfunction and low libido.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals can act as anti-androgens, anti-estrogens, and enzyme inhibitors that interfere with steroid action/production as the mechanism to alter male reproductive health. The testicles are an important target organ for EDCs which can disrupt sperm production, development and motility. When levels of estrogen climb at the same time that testosterone levels are lowered, it is called estrogen dominance.
EDC’s and Men
Sperm Development, Quality and Infertility
Multiple studies have shown a 50% to 60% decline in sperm concentration between 1973 and 2011. Endocrine-disrupting compounds and the infertility problems they cause are taking a significant toll on human physical and emotional health.
Even though sperm count does not associate specifically with fertility, men with very low sperm counts frequently have fertility problems. As early as 1996, studies expressed concern regarding decreasing semen quality in men and in the last few decades, studies show that exposure to environmental chemicals can be responsible for adverse trends in male reproductive health.
The effect of EDCs on male puberty has received relatively little attention compared with that on female puberty. EDC exposure in boys was associated with earlier pubertal onset, and delayed pubertal progression.
Urinary phthalate metabolites and BPA levels were negatively associated with testosterone levels. These chemicals exert anti-androgenic actions directly inhibiting testosterone production. Low testosterone levels also contribute to depression.
Benign Prostatic Hyperplasia (BHP)
Estrogen dominance can cause testosterone in men to be converted to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). Studies have found that higher estrogen levels in men lead to BHP.
Until governments decide there is enough evidence to ban phthalates, BPA, and other EDCs, consumers can take matters into their own hands.
Here are other things you can do to minimize your exposure to some of these common hormone disruptors:
- Remove any food packaged in plastic from its packaging and place it in glass. Use glass, stainless steel, and/or food grade plastic containers to heat or store your food.
- Try to avoid BPA water bottles and containers with plastic linings (tinned goods). Plastics with 1, 2 and 4 are safer choices.
- Do not let children suck or chew on soft plastic products that are not intended for that purpose.
- Look for products labelled as phthalate free.
- Read the labels on cosmetics to check the ingredients.
- Never heat or store food in plastic containers that are not intended for food.
- Use only plastic bowls (or wrap) in the microwave that are labelled as microwave safe.
- Try to eat organic foods whenever possible.
Because of their ubiquitous usage and because they are not listed on all product labels, phthalates and other toxic chemicals are next to impossible to avoid completely. Do the best you can.
Support to Help Detoxify EDCs
Curcumin has been shown to reverse reproductive toxicity caused by phthalate exposure. When rats were exposed to phthalates (DBP), testosterone levels were reduced and there was significant sperm damage. The DBP-induced reproductive toxicity was reversed by adding curcumin.
Resveratrol has been shown to protect the male reproductive system from the damaging effects of phthalates and other EDCs.
Vitamin E has also been shown to protect from testicular toxicity and prevent decreases in testosterone levels when animals were exposed to phthalates.
Diindolylmethane (DIM), a component of Indole-3-carbinol is found in cruciferous vegetables, such as broccoli, kale, and cauliflower. It affects estrogen metabolism and prevents drastic increases or decreases in estrogen.
Calcium D-glucarate helps the elimination of excess estrogen and other toxins and protects against re-absorption.
There are some great combination formulas available that contain many of these ingredients. Speak to the knowledgeable staff at the Vitamin Shop.
We need to be aware of what these chemicals are doing to hormonal health. And, if we continue to ignore the warning signs and do not change the way we are headed, our ability to reproduce will be drastically affected.
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Environmental Endocrine-Disrupting Chemical Exposure: Role in Non-Communicable Diseases
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Jeng HA. Exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals and male reproductive health. Front Public Health. 2014 Jun 5;2:55.
Geng S, Wang S, Zhu W, et al. Curcumin suppresses JNK pathway to attenuate BPA-induced insulin resistance in LO2 cells. Biomed Pharmacother. 2018; 97:1538-1543.
Habib N, Tahir M, Lone T, et al. Protective effect of vitamin E on phthalate induced toxicity on spermatogenesis and testosterone level. Biomedica. 2016; 32(2):83-7.
Varshavsky JR, Morello-Frosch R, Woodruff TJ, et al. Dietary sources of cumulative phthalates exposure among the U.S. general population in NHANES 2005-2014. Environ Int. 2018; 115:417-29. Vitku J, Heracek J, Sosvorova L, et al. Associations of bisphenol A and polychlorinated biphenyls with spermatogenesis and steroidogenesis in two biological fluids from men attending an infertility clinic. Environ Int. 2016, 89-90:166-73.
Karen Jensen was in clinical practice for 25 years and although she is retired, she continues to write books and educate on the naturopathic approach to wellness. She is author or co-author of seven books, her most recent is Women’s Health Matters: The Influence of Gender on Disease.