8 Ways to Avoid Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals

8 ways to avoid hormone-disrupting chemicals

Endocrine disruptors like BPA and phthalates lurk in everything from cleaning products to fragrances.

Our bodies are run by a network of hormones and glands (the endocrine system) that regulate everything we do.  It plays a crucial role in all phases of development, metabolism and behaviour.

Certain synthetic chemicals found in everyday products and materials that we use in our homes and on our bodies such as plastics and fragrances, can mimic hormones and interfere with or disrupt the delicate endocrine dance.  We are exposed to these chemicals daily, and we are especially vulnerable to them during phases of accelerated development - in the womb and throughout childhood.

“We have very tight windows of when, say, our brain and liver are made,” explains Kristi Pullen Fedinick, an NRDC scientist.  “When a hormone-disrupting chemical gets in the way during these windows, it can change the ways these processes happen.  The change is often irreversible.”

Whilst this sounds scary, there are measures we can easily take to prevent or minimize exposure by doing our best to steer clear of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).  Here are a few ways you can do this:

1. Wash Your Hands 

The number one way and perhaps the most simple action to take:  Wash your hands frequently (avoiding fragranced and antibacterial soaps), and most importantly, ALWAYS before eating.  You’ll rinse a substantial amount of chemical residue down the drain.

2. Dust and Vacuum Often

Despite being linked to hormone disruption (along with cancer and other serious diseases), flame retardant chemicals are used in many common household products.  Research shows that these chemicals escape from electronics, couches and baby products, and they collect in your household dust.

Most of us simply don’t have the budget to replace all these items with flame-retardant-free options, but we can all do our best to keep our house clean by dusting with a damp cloth and vacuuming frequently.  It is also really worthwhile if you can, saving up for a vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter, which traps small particles of dust instead of releasing them back out into the air and blowing them around the house. 

Cleaning regularly also reduces your exposure to other chemicals that can accumulate in your home like lead (in older buildings), phthalates and fluorinated chemicals.

3. Turn Your Nose up at Fragrances

The word fragrance on a label signifies a mix of potentially hundreds of ingredients, and the exact formulas of most companies claim their formulas are trade secrets.  

Chemicals such as phthalates are frequently found in fragrances and are known to disrupt hormones.  Fragrance is known to be an irritant and has been linked to asthma, skin irritations, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, obesity, cancer, nervous system disorders and respiratory disorders to name a few.

Fortunately fragrance isn’t necessary for a product to function properly or be effective.  Choose fragrance-free personal care products, cleaning products and laundry detergents.  Also look out for products like scented rubbish bags, deodorisers and scented candles (opt for plain candles and add your own organic essential oils to melted wax or buy naturally scented candles).

Read labels carefully as a lot of ‘fragrance-free’ products are not truly fragrance-free and contain even more chemicals to mask fragrance. Go as natural as possible and buy only products that have recognisable safe and natural ingredients.

For safe and effective ways to freshen your indoor air, open windows, use fans and keep your home clean by removing rubbish regularly and making sure you dust, vacuum and wash floors often. You can learn more about how to freshen up your home naturally here.

4. Reduce Your Use and Exposure to Plastics

We are surrounded by plastic.  It’s wrapping our food, bottling our hair and skincare, encasing our phone and electronics.  It’s even lining the cans that house our food.  Some plastics contain hormone disrupting chemicals.  Bisphenol-A, commonly known as BPA, and flexible vinyl (PVC#3) contain phthalates.  These chemicals are known EDCs and research shows even very low-dose exposures can have a significant impact on our health.  

It’s very difficult to eliminate all plastics these days, but you can take some easy steps to reduce your plastic use:

  • Swap plastic food storage containers for glass or stainless steel - a cheap and zero waste option is to reuse the jars your food comes in
  • If you plan to keep plastic containers you already have, do not use them for fatty food or food that is still warm.  And avoid using to warm food in the microwave.  
  • Replace plastic wrap with beeswax wraps, luncheon paper or glass / stainless steel storage containers.
  • Recognise plastic products and always look for plastic-free natural alternatives 

    5. Pay Attention to Your Canned Food Goods

    Canned foods are super convenient and a big part of modern-day life.  But most cans are likely lined with BPA to keep them from corroding (even cans labeled BPA-Free may use a similar chemical that hasn’t been proved any safer, according to a study in the journal of Environmental Health Perspectives).  Choosing fresh, frozen or dried foods (like legumes) that are not packaged in cans is a smart preventive measure.  

    6. Watch What You Eat

    Certain pesticides have been linked to hormone disruption.  Eat organic food as much as you can afford to.  If eating organic or spray-free is not available to you, keep yourself up to date with the EWG’s (Environmental Working Group) lists of the Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen fruit and vegetables, which lets you know which varieties are safe to eat non-organic and which ones you should avoid.

    As a general rule, try to eat food that is as close to whole as possible.  When you can, avoid any food packaging and consider how your food is prepared.  EDCs also hide in nonstick pots and pans, so cook in stainless steel or cast iron instead.

    7. Filter Tap Water

    Drinking tap water out of a glass will reduce your exposure to BPA and other chemicals in cans and plastic bottles. But tap water can contain a bevy of its own potential hormone disruptors.  Whether you are on town supply or rural tank water, adding extra filtration to your drinking water (and whole of house if you can) will help in the removal of chlorine, heavy metals and any pesticides and environmental contaminants that can enter both sources.

    Check out Top Reviews 'The 8 Best Water Filters in New Zealand' to learn about a variety of recommended filtration systems available on the market today.

    8. Clean Smarter!

    While “cleaning,” many of us actually introduce indoor air pollutants into our homes in the form of harsh chemical products. It’s difficult (and often impossible) to know what chemicals any given cleaning product contains because companies aren't required to list the ingredients on the label.

    To encourage transparency and safer products, buy from companies that voluntarily disclose ALL their ingredients on the label.   You can also easily make your own cleaners from safe household staples like vinegar and baking soda.

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