Everyday we are exposed to toxins within our environment. Many of the exposures are out of our control, while others come from things we utilize daily. Environmental toxins can bring harm to our health, and even cause cancer. Studies have illustrated a relationship between endometriosis and man made environmental toxins; specifically dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and phthalates. These toxins are known as endocrine disruptors, and mimic and disrupt hormone balance within the body. Exposure to these toxins can play a role in the development and worsening of endometriosis. Having an understanding of where these toxins are found, how to avoid them, and how to detox them from your body can vastly help in the treatment of endometriosis.
Dioxins are a group of environmental toxins that belong to the "dirty dozen" list, not to be confused with "The Dirty Dozen" food list. The "Dirty dozen" is a list of highly toxic chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs), which have been banned globally by the UN (4). Dioxins are found throughout the world within the environment and take decades to break down. Long-term exposure is linked to impairment of the immune system, nervous system, endocrine system and reproductive functions. More than 90% of human exposure to dioxins is through the food supply, mainly meat and dairy products, fish and shellfish (4). Very low levels are found in plants, water and air.
Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCB's)
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are man-made compounds that were used extensively in commercial products (ink, insulating material, flame retardants, and plastics). They were heavily manufactured until being banned in the United States in 1979 (5). They are also one of the POP's on the "Dirty Dozen" list. International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) categorized PCBs as carcinogens in humans in 2012 (5). Similar to dioxins, PCBs are extremely stable and resistant to degradation. About 10% of the original PCB's are present in our environment today. Exposure occurs primarily by ingesting high-fat foods; such as dairy products, eggs, and animal fats, as well as, some fish and wildlife (3). These toxicants have been linked to developmental disorders of the reproductive tract, disruption of pregnancy and diseases such as endometriosis (5).
Phthalates are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. They are found in hundreds of products, such as vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, dust, food packaging and wraps, shower curtains, automotive plastics, plastic clothes (ex. rain jackets), and personal care products (soaps, shampoos, hairsprays and nail polish) (1). Phthalates are rapidly metabolized and excreted in urine without accumulation within the body. However, due to widespread use, continuous human exposure is inevitable. It has been estimated that phthalate metabolites are detected in more than 78% of the U.S. population (2)
How To Avoid These Environmental Toxins
Unfortunately, there is a certain amount of unavoidable environmental toxin exposure. Nonetheless, there are things that you can do within your home to lessen your exposure and body burden of these toxins. I will share a few tips below, but for more information check out the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
Clean out your personal care and household products
Go through all of your cosmetic and beauty products and read the ingredient labels. You may be surprised to find that phthalate is a common ingredient. Phthalates can also be labeled as DEP, dibutylphthalate (DBP), dimethylphthalate (DMP), DEHP and fragrance (1). There are a ton of alternative beauty lines that have removed phthalates from their ingredient list. You can find these brands in the "Skin Deep" section of the EWG's website.
Household cleaning products are another source of environmental toxin exposure. Fragrance free and all natural are words you want to look for and grab when shopping for detergents. Dryer sheets and fabric softeners are typically full of fragrance and synthetic chemicals that can be absorbed through your skin, so avoiding use of these items will also help decrease your exposure.
Reduce your use of plastic
Avoid using plastic containers to store your food and liquids, especially plastic water bottles. Glass and stainless steel are great alternatives for storage. Additionally, avoid heating your food in plastic or Styrofoam containers within the microwave. Styrofoam is made from the plastic polystyrene. When pthlatates and polystyrene are heated in the microwave they leach into the food or liquid (tea, soups) being warmed.
Reduce your intake of animal products
As mentioned above, many of these toxins accumulate in fatty tissue. Decreasing your intake of meat, fish, and dairy is an ideal way to decrease your dietary exposure. The foods lower on the food chain have less bio-accumulation of environmental toxicants. Fruits and vegetables are not only less toxic, but they contain vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that support the detoxification of these chemicals. A diet closest to plant based (Vegan, Vegetarian) can significantly reduce the toxin body burden that occurs from animal consumption.
Eat organic as much as possible
As stated previously, 90% of human exposure to the three mentioned environmental toxins is through diet. The use of the "Dirty Dozen", and "Clean Fifteen" food lists is an excellent guide to determine the foods that you should always buy organic. Here is a link to both lists: The Clean 15 and The Dirty 12
Cleanse your body
There are 4 major organs that help remove toxins from the body: 1. Liver, 2. Skin, 3. Kidneys, and 4. Digestive Tract. For now I am going to focus on the liver. Your liver plays a role in hundreds of metabolic processes within the body. A major responsibility of the the liver is to excrete chemicals, toxins, and old hormones. Below are a list of ways to support the liver in eliminating toxins from the body.
Liver-friendly foods to increase in your diet are carrots, kale, dandelion greens, cabbage and artichokes. In my blog, "Diet and Endometriosis", I go into detail on which foods to consume to support the liver's detoxification pathways.
Supplements that support liver detoxification include Indole-3-carbinol (I3C), milk thistle, selenium, and alpha lipoic acid. For more information on how to properly utilize these supplements contact me.