It’s not news that environmental toxins cause cancer. But there’s one category of environmental toxins that may be worst of all, especially when it comes to causing breast cancer.
These toxins disrupt your body’s endocrine system, which regulates hormones involved in your metabolism, sleep, mood, sexual function and many more important biological processes. These toxins are called endocrine disrupters, or EDCs for short.
The good news is that you can learn how to avoid them and in the process, help stop breast cancer from developing.
The endocrine system gets a lot of attention when it comes to adolescence and puberty, but the truth is, it plays a major role in your health no matter your age. Your endocrine system is essentially a collection of glands that produce hormones.
The endocrine system consists of the pituitary gland, thyroid and parathyroid glands, adrenal glands, pancreas, ovaries for females, and testicles for males. Each gland secretes its own hormone, and each hormone targets specific organs or tissues. A few other organs have secondary endocrine functions, such as the kidney secreting renin and erythropoietin hormones.1
In short, your endocrine system is massive, complex, delicate, and wholly essential to the overall balance of your health and ability to stay free of cancer and other diseases. So it’s alarming, to say the least, to read the results of a massive new epidemiological study on the prevalence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
Xenoestrogens: the worst offenders
The study, published in April in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, shows just how many EDCs are in our world today. You’ll find them in pesticides, in plastics, in virtually anything from a pharmaceutical company, and even in food, water, and air.
Basically, we’re surrounded.
Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Hong Kong pointed to EDCs with estrogen-mimicking capability, called xenoestrogens, as the worst offenders when it comes to the development of breast cancer.2
Xenoestrogens are most commonly found in pesticides and synthetic chemicals. They also include mycotoxins, which are naturally-occuring toxins produced by molds and fungi. Studies have confirmed that xenoestrogens are routinely absorbed into our bodies, as they’ve been found in urine, blood and fat tissues.3 Here are just a few xenoestrogens to watch out for…
The pesticide DDT is one of the most aggressive xenoestrogens and is strongly linked to the development of breast cancer. In fact, eleven out of 43 epidemiological studies found associations between DDT and breast cancer incidence, and nine reported higher DDT levels among breast cancer patients than a control group.4
Next are polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are found in electrical devices such as surface coatings and other materials. The researchers from Finland found 19 studies that linked PCBs to a higher incidence of breast cancer. In addition, both DDT and PCBs were found in the food chain and can be detected in fat tissue and in breast milk.5
Three out of five studies linked PFOAS, which are perfluorooctanoic acids, to breast cancer risk. These are found in both food packaging and cookware. On top of this, four out of six studies linked phthalates—found in shampoos and cosmetics— to increased breast cancer risk, and BPA was linked to more aggressive tumors in one study, though two other studies found no link.6
Parabens, which are commonly used as preservatives in foods and cosmetics, were linked in one study to increased risk of breast cancer as well as an increased risk of death from the disease.7
When it came to mycotoxins, the toxins produced by mold in crops or from fungi, links to breast cancer risk were actually scarce. The same was true of chemicals called PBDEs found in household furniture coatings and appliances, as well as the herbicide atrazine and the industrial by-product dioxine.8 Now, that’s not to say that any of these toxins are good for you, they just didn’t appear to trigger breast cancer.
More good news: phytoestrogens, which occur naturally in plants, such as genistein from soy products, appear to help prevent breast cancer. Researchers found 18 out of 29 epidemiological studies linked genistein to lower breast cancer risk.9
What to do about EDCs
It’s certainly unsettling to think how our endocrine systems are being attacked from all corners with these EDCs, but the researchers behind the massive review point out that some people appear to be more affected by EDCs than others, and a person’s reaction depends on numerous factors. For example, researchers say the time of exposure matters, the toxin dose and duration, the age of the individual as well as your specific genotype, meaning your DNA type, can all add up to influence any risk of breast cancer following EDC exposure.
So what should you do? Fortunately, there are lots of simple, easy ways to protect yourself and your family against dangerous EDCs.10 For instance:
- Wash your hands thoroughly and often. If the pandemic didn’t get you in this habit, I’m not sure what will. Regular handwashing sends a substantial amount of chemical residue right down the drain. Just do your best to avoid scented soaps and, believe it or not, antibacterial soaps. And make sure you always wash up before eating.
- Vacuum and dust frequently. Flame-retardant chemicals are in many of our common household products, including electronics, furniture, and baby products. By dusting with a damp cloth and using a vacuum with a HEPA filter, you can trap a lot of those small particles and keep them from accumulating in your home where you’d end up breathing them in. A lot of these chemicals are linked to both hormone disruption and cancer.
- Buy organic foods in their most natural state. Consume organic foods to the maximum extent your means and opportunity permit. And whenever you can, choose whole food products that aren’t processed or packaged. If possible, cook your food in cast iron or stainless steel since EDCs can lurk in nonstick pots and pans. When it comes to tap water, you can reduce your exposure to BPA and other chemicals by running your water through an NSF-certified water filter.
- Go scent-free. Fragrances can contain hundreds of synthetic ingredients, and many perfume formulas from companies are claimed as “trade secrets” so it’s hard to know what you’re actually breathing in. But consider that phthalates typically found in perfumes are known hormone disruptors. The fix is to opt for fragrance-free personal care products, cleaning products, laundry detergents, diapers, and even garbage bags.
- Avoid plastics when possible. The truth is, plastic is everywhere! And a lot of everyday plastics contain hormone-disrupting chemicals like BPA, PC #7, and PVC #3. (These are the ones where even low-dose exposure can cause significant problems.) Instead, use glass or stainless steel where possible, never microwave anything in plastic, choose beeswax-coated cloth over cling wrap, and replace plastic bags with reusable lunch bags.
- Curb your can habit. Canned food is a staple of many kitchens, but too many cans in our food system are lined with BPA to prevent corrosion. Instead, buy fresh, frozen, or dried foods, or opt for glass packaging when possible.
Doing your part to reasonably avoid chemical exposure, whether from EDCs or other synthetic chemicals, really can make a difference in your fight against illness. I’ve heard from a number of medical professionals who talk about “toxin load” in relation to cancer development, treatment and even recurrence.
In other words, consider your toxin levels and how they accumulate over the years. I like to picture one side of a weighted scale is toxins and on the other side is your health. As toxins start to accumulate, the scale can shift out of balance. Toxins weigh you down and your body’s natural ability to resist their ill effects is overcome by their sheer number. The result can be cancer and other diseases of aging.
Don’t despair because a one hundred percent reduction is nearly impossible. A 25 percent reduction helps and a 50 percent reduction is excellent.
Adopting healthy lifestyle habits to avoid chemicals will limit an astounding number of chemicals from entering your body over the course of years and decades, limiting your toxin load and helping you preserve your good health. In addition, eating a diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables and little to no processed food will support your body’s natural detoxification process to help it better eliminate any chemicals in your bloodstream.