Endocrine Disruptors: How Plastics Wreak Havoc on Your Hormones (And How to Avoid Them)

Feel like your hormones are out of whack? If you’re a woman, maybe painful periods have you dreading your monthly cycle like the plague. Or your weight keeps creeping up, even though your diet hasn’t changed. 

Maybe you even did your homework and tried nixing soy and adding in hormone-friendly supplements — all to no avail. You may start to blame all your hormone woes on aging when really there’s another culprit to blame.

Plastics. Yep, hormone-disrupting chemicals lurk in everything from water bottles, food wraps, and even sippy cups! 

In this article, we’ll explore how these harmful plastics mess with your hormones and offer healthy alternatives to help get your hormones back in check.

Endocrine Disruptors 101

Your endocrine system is the network of glands that produce and secrete hormones — the chemical messengers of your body. Your hormones do a lot! They regulate most major bodily systems, including:

  • Appetite
  • Body temperature
  • Growth & development
  • Heart rate
  • Metabolism 
  • Mood
  • Reproduction
  • Sexual function
  • Sleep cycles
  • Stress responses

Your hormones operate on a delicate balance. Even small hormonal imbalances can echo throughout your body.

That’s where plastics enter the picture. Most plastics contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that interfere with your body’s hormones. Some endocrine disruptors increase or decrease hormone levels, while others mimic hormone action or interfere with natural hormone production. 

Endocrine disruptors can have adverse effects on several hormones, but EDCs hit estrogen especially hard. Estrogenic EDCs such as the dreaded BPA (Bisphenol A) mimic the actions of estrogen, leading to hormonal imbalances such as estrogen dominance. 

Years ago, the health dangers of BPA went mainstream. Studies linked BPA with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and several other chronic illnesses. To ease minds, many manufacturers tweaked their packaging and started slapping BPA-free labels on their products. Problem solved, right? 

Not quite. Often manufacturers simply swapped BPA for other estrogenic chemicals such as BPS (Bisphenol S), which can have even more estrogenic activity than BPA!

Common Symptoms of Hormonal Imbalance to Watch For

hormonal imbalance
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As we’ve gone over, endocrine disruptors throw off many hormones — but they really do a number on estrogen. Having any hormonal imbalance can be frustrating at best and debilitating at worst. 

Check-in with yourself and see if any of these hormonal imbalance symptoms ring true for you:

  • Unexplained weight gain or weight loss
  • Changes in appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Frequent urination
  • Thinning or brittle hair
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
  • Painful periods
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Joint stiffness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Skin rashes
  • Dry skin
  • Change in libido

Were you nodding your head reading that list? If so, you’re not alone. A recent survey found that 47% of American women suffer from symptoms of hormonal imbalance

Yes, hormonal fluctuations are a normal part of aging. However, hormone-disrupting chemicals add fuel to the hormonal imbalance fire — big time. So let’s delve into what to watch out for so you can make healthier choices.

Avoid These 7 Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals

Clearly, the endocrine disruptors in plastics are trouble. So let’s map out which chemicals in plastics to avoid so you can make healthier choices to keep your hormones happy.

1. Phthalates

wrappers
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Phthalates are what keep plastics soft. They’re found in food wrapper linings, personal care products, children’s toys, household items, and oral medications, to name a few. Phthalates are a double whammy, as they are both a potent endocrine disruptor and obesogen. Obesogens are chemicals that mess with your metabolism and cause weight gain. 

2. Bisphenols

Endocrine Disruptors
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Bisphenols (such as BPA and BPS) are everywhere! They’re in many hard see-through plastics like baby bottles and food containers and even in can linings, CDs, and dental sealants. Because bisphenols have a structure similar to estrogen, they bind to estrogen receptors, impacting growth, cell repair, fetal development, reproduction, and energy levels. 

3. PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals)

plastic
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Per- and polyfluoroalkyl chemicals are commonly used in grease-proof paper and packaging like pizza boxes, sandwich and pastry wrappers, french fry bags, and candy wrappers. They’re also in carpets, textiles, and even some dental floss. PFAS are a known endocrine disruptor linked with irregular periods, longer cycles, earlier onset of menopause.

4. Perchlorate

perchlorate
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It is an antistatic agent in plastic packaging that comes in direct contact with food. Perchlorate disrupts your thyroid function by blocking iodine uptake. This interferes with your body’s ability to produce thyroid hormone, impacting metabolism, growth, development, and much more.

5. Polyvinyl chloride

Endocrine Disruptors
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PVC, #3 is found in most commercial cling wrap, cooking oil bottles, and some water bottles. PVC is an endocrine disruptor associated with an increased risk of lymphoma, leukemia, liver, lung, and brain cancers

6. Polystyrene

thermapol
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PS, #6 is used in disposable plastic cups, bowls, and most colored plastic utensils. Styrofoam ring a bell? That’s polystyrene. Its main component is styrene, identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a human carcinogen. Styrene is also a known endocrine disruptor that mimics estrogen, which may lead to thyroid issues, menstrual irregularities, and breast and prostate cancers. 

7. Polycarbonate

Endocrine Disruptors
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PC plastics are found in most clear plastic baby bottles, five-gallon water jugs, clear plastic sippy cups, clear plastic utensils, and hard plastic cups and bottles (like Nalgene bottles). Polycarbonate plastics are labeled #7 and contain BPA. As said earlier, BPA is bad news, so you’ll want to steer clear of PC plastics. 

However, there is an exception to this rule. Any #7 plastics with a PLA on the packaging are made from polymer polylactide, a plastic made from plants (like corn or sugarcane). Clearly, this a much safer than PC plastic. Always check #7 plastics for PLA. It’s often near the recycling symbol. Some manufacturers use a leaf to indicate it’s PLA as well.

Cliff notes version: Avoid plastics labeled with #3, #6, and #7 (unless it says PLA or has a leaf symbol)

How Endocrine Disruptors Get into Your Body

Even if you live a healthy lifestyle, you’re not immune to EDC. In our modern world, exposure to endocrine disruptors is unavoidable. Unless you live in a cave, almost everyone has EDC in their bodies. 

EDC comes your way through food, water, personal care products, cosmetics, and even the air you breathe! Our bodies are fine-tuned machines that respond to even small hormonal changes. So, even low levels of EDC can interfere with hormone balance, especially as they accumulate over time. 

However, some things amp up EDC exposure to scary levels. Dishwashing, sunlight, continued use, and heating increase plastic leaching — and your risk of exposure to harmful endocrine disruptors. 

If you do use plastics, be old school and wash them by hand, never use them for hot liquids, and toss them when they show signs of wear and tear.

8 Helpful Tips to Kick Harmful Plastics to the Curb

Endocrine Disruptors
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The International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN) estimates plastics production to increase by 30-36% over the next six years. Clearly, plastics aren’t going anywhere!

Not to worry, though. While you can’t avoid harmful chemicals entirely, you can significantly reduce your exposure by your daily choices. 

Here are eight ways to give plastics the boot:

1. Do a kitchen makeover 

Those plastic bottles and storage containers need to go! Marie Kondo your kitchen and swap out the plastics in favor of glass, ceramic, or stainless steel containers. Especially for hot foods or drinks!

2. Never heat food or beverages in plastics

Heat increases leaching, so plastics and your microwave should never be friends. Keep them away from each other. Also, avoid using steaming or roasting bags.

3. Always wash plastics by hand

Did you know it only takes 20 trips in the dishwasher before BPA starts leaching considerably? Yikes. And the leaching only increases as the plastic ages. Always wash plastics by hand, even if it says, “dishwasher safe.”

4. Swap out your water bottle

Say sayonara to plastic water bottles and invest in a quality reusable stainless-steel or glass one. You’ll be doing something kind for your body and the environment.

5. Bulk it up

No, I’m not talking about pumping iron (although that’s great as well). I mean, stock up on seeds, nuts, grains, and beans in the bulk section. The plastic used to bag bulk items isn’t on the no-no list, and you’ll be saving some dough as well. I often transfer bulk items into mason jars when I get home.

6. Be a label detective

Always read your labels! Avoid any plastics labeled #3 and #6. For #7 plastic, look for PLA or a leaf symbol on the packaging. Plastic labeled #1 is okay for single use only. Plastic marked #2, #4, and #5 are the safest options. However, glass wins over any plastic every time!

7. Don’t be clingy

Meaning don’t use cling wrap. The more contact plastic has with food, the greater the chance of leaching. Instead, transfer leftovers into glass storage containers or mason jars. There are also some cool eco-friendly alternatives like silicone stretch tops and beeswax wrap you can check out here.

8. Frequent the farmer’s market

Is your kitchen collecting a mountain of plastic produce bags? Put a stop to that by visiting your local farmer’s market. Getting your fruits and veggies at farmers’ markets ensures you get the freshest nutrient-dense foods available. Plus, you’ll get do-gooder points for supporting local farmers. Just don’t forget to BYOB (bring your own bag).

Takeaways

Most plastics contain harmful endocrine-disrupting chemicals that do a number on your hormones. It’s impossible to avoid plastics altogether. However, armed with the information we’ve covered, you can make healthier choices that support proper hormone balance and optimal health.

Are you tired of struggling with hormonal imbalance symptoms? Ready to finally solve your hormone puzzle? Let’s chat! Instead of slapping bandaids on symptoms, I utilize a functional medicine approach that addresses the root cause of imbalance.  

Click here to schedule your complimentary discovery consultation. We’ll chat about your health concerns and develop an individualized plan with targeted nutrition, supplement, and lifestyle recommendations designed to restore harmony to your hormones. 

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