Let’s Get Science-y About What Affects Our Hormones

Several months ago we discussed the importance of addressing hormone imbalances. Inspired by reader responses from that post, we wanted to explore the environmental forces that may be affecting our hormones. To help us learn more, we reached out to two specialists who shared their knowledge on the topic.

These outside “forces” are categorized as something called endocrine disruptors or EDCs. Scientifically speaking, an EDC is “a molecule that can act like naturally occurring hormones in the body—such as thyroid hormone, estrogen, or androgens. The action can include binding hormone receptors and causing cells to react in many different ways,” explains Dr. Shruthi Mahalingaiah, Assistant Professor of Reproductive & Women’s Health at Harvard.

“EDCs are in our everyday products…the goal should be to reduce your overall toxic burden.”
— Melissa Grove

Essentially, endocrine disruptors are chemical compounds that interfere with our hormones.

They are often found in personal care products, such as cosmetics, lotions, and soaps. “Some of the major endocrine disruptors we’re exposed to include bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, dioxin, perchlorate, fire retardants, perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), organophosphates, and metals such as arsenic, lead, and mercury,” shares Melissa Groves, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and founder of Avocado Grove Nutrition & Wellness. Because EDCs are in our everyday products, “it’s nearly impossible to avoid endocrine disruptors entirely,” she adds. “The goal should be to reduce your overall toxic burden.”

How To Reduce EDC Exposure

According to Groves, we can implement practices to minimize our exposure to endocrine disruptors: “Invest in a good water filter, ban plastics from your kitchen, and buy organic foods when possible to help reduce exposure,” she instructs. “Buying fish that are smaller/lower on the food chain helps reduce exposure to PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and mercury.”

When it comes to cosmetics and home goods, “use nontoxic beauty (and organic makeup) products for anything that touches your skin. Avoid candles with synthetic fragrances and air fresheners. And as you buy new furniture or make improvements in your home, use natural materials like wood, wool, and cotton and avoid pressed woods and treated fabrics,” Groves further emphasizes.

Symptoms Of Hormone Imbalance

With all of that in mind, there are common symptoms to watch for if you think you’re experiencing a hormone imbalance caused by EDCs:

“What I see the most are symptoms of estrogen dominance (painful, heavy periods, sore breasts, PMS, menstrual migraines),” Groves shares. “In men, too much estrogen can cause weight gain and development of breasts. I’d say that if you’re suffering from any sort of hormone imbalance, you’ll want to take a good look at where you might possibly be being exposed to hormone disruptors.”

We know it can feel intimidating looking at the ingredients list on the back of our common cosmetics, but equipped with the knowledge of what to look for, we can rule out products harmful to our bodies’ chemistry.

The Filthy Four: EDCs To Avoid

Below are the four main EDCs to look for, and how to avoid them:

  • Phthalates | Buy fragrance-free cosmetics, check the ingredients list for phthalates, do not warm foods in plastic, and reduce the use of plastic products in general.

  • Dioxins | Consume less fatty meat and dairy products; a plant-based diet will help to clean the system of toxins and be less contaminated with dioxin chemicals.

  • Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs) | Get serious about drinking filtered water, as these chemicals can contaminate water systems. Check ingredients in processed and greasy fast foods. Also, avoid personal care products with “fluoro” or” perfluoro” named in the ingredients list.

  • Metals | Using toxic-free products whenever possible will help lessen exposure to harmful metals. This goes for toxic-free children’s toys, paint, dyes, plastics, and clothing.

We live in a world where we are exposed to forces outside our control, but knowledge is power. Acknowledging that these toxins do exist will help in creating a more toxic-free lifestyle with our long term health in mind. If you feel you are experiencing hormonal imbalances, consider looking at your everyday products. And, if possible, switch to nontoxic alternatives—every little bit can make a difference.

We would love to hear your recommendations for toxic-free products in the comments below!


Courtney Jay Higgins is the Associate Editor at The Good Trade. She is also a Yoga Instructor, vegetarian, wellness and fashion enthusiast. Originally from Colorado, her soul found California when she came to get her degree in Visual Communications at the Fashion Institute Of Design & Merchandising. She has a background in telling a story through writing, creative direction and content creation. Check out her blog and Instagram for her unique perspective on the mergence of fashion and spirituality.