Cancer & Chemicals
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so it is only fitting to discuss endocrine disruptors and cancer! Breast cancer currently affects one out of eight women and is one of the top two most common cancers in women (breastcancer.org). Some doctors suggest that genetics is the main cause of this life altering disease and there is nothing one can do to avoid it. I’d like to share the quote, “Genetics load the gun and environment pulls the trigger”, from Dr. Francis Collins who was a director of the National Institute of Health. Our environment, what we eat, what we put on our bodies and in our bodies, what we surround ourselves with over our lifetime is what is turning on/activating the mutated genes.
What exactly are endocrine disruptors? They are natural as well as man made chemicals that can assert a negative influence on hormones. We are exposed to these hormone disruptors daily through foods, pesticides and cosmetics to name a few. Common endocrine disruptors are BPAs (plastic water bottles and food storage containers), phthalates (cosmetics and children’s toys), and triclosan (antimicrobials and personal care products) as well as thousands of others. Xenoestrogens are specific endocrine disruptors that interfere with estrogen (obviously) (Calaf, G. 2020). What makes connecting endocrine disruptors to cancer and other health issues difficult is the fact that it's nearly impossible to conduct trials to test this. Long term exposure over time is difficult to measure and pinpoint cause and effect. So most research is done on mice and monitoring cancerous processes in the population through observational studies.
Most endocrine disrupting chemicals exert an estrogenic (upregulate estrogen) or anti-androgenic (blocks testosterone). These effects can wreak havoc on both women and men as well as children to older adults. Exposure to endocrine disruptors as a child can cause detrimental effects to their growth as well as sexual development. Endocrine disruptors can also influence menstrual cycles as well as thyroid health (Calaf, G. 2020)!
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a man made chemical found mainly in plastics. Food containers as well as plastic water bottles are the main sources of exposure. Exposure to BPA increases when heated, so don’t microwave your food in plastic tupperware! Epidemiological studies have linked BPA to various human cancers (Calaf, G. 2020). Phthalates are used in plastics as well but are also found in cosmetics, shampoos and other personal care products. These chemicals have been linked to decreased testosterone production (yes ladies, you need testosterone too) as well as reduced fertility. Mono-ethyl phthalate (MEP) is one form of phthalates. Women who had the highest levels of MEP in their urine were 2.2 times more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer and that rate increases for premenopausal women (Crinnion, W. 2010).
These are just two examples of endocrine disruptors but there are thousands more utilized regularly in our everyday lives, unfortunately. This is why I emphasize cutting out the toxins in my patients' lives (my hormonal dysfunction patients especially). The Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) is a great resource to check what is all in your personal care products. The “Think Dirty” app is also another great resource as well. I have created a list of my personal favorite clean products and love sharing! If you’re interested in seeing what I use daily email firstname.lastname@example.org for my list!
Calaf, G. M., Ponce-Cusi, R., Aguayo, F., Muñoz, J. P., & Bleak, T. C. (2020). Endocrine disruptors from the environment affecting breast cancer. Oncology letters, 20(1), 19–32. https://doi-org.uws.idm.oclc.org/10.3892/ol.2020.11566
Crinnion W. J. (2010). Toxic effects of the easily avoidable phthalates and parabens. Alternative medicine review : a journal of clinical therapeutic, 15(3), 190–196.