Did you know that pollution could be affecting your hormones? It’s scary to think. Of course, we’re aware of the dangers the current climate crisis brings - from rising sea levels to plastic waste - but it might be shocking to realize that pollution is not only impacting our planet but our bodies. Here we’ll explain a bit about the relationship between the environment, pollutants and our hormones, and give some advice on how to protect yourself.
What is the endocrine system?
Before we get into all things pollution, we’ll be talking about the endocrine system and endocrine disruptors quite a lot in this blog post, so let’s take a trip back to biology lesson. The endocrine system is basically all the hormones in your body. In the world of periods and PMS, it’s easy to assume that our hormones are only integral to our reproductive health (which they are!) but they do so much more than that. In fact - our hormones govern almost everything going on in our bodies - from our development to our digestive system, our stress levels to our blood pressure.
What are endocrine disruptors?
As the name might suggest, endocrine disruptors are chemicals that disrupt our endocrine system! Anything that messes around with the delicate balance of our hormones can impact the rest of our health. Cancers, fertility problems and a reduced immune system have all been linked to these disruptors. Worryingly, endocrine disruptors can be found almost everywhere in our modern world - from cleaning products to some foods. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals like phthalates and parabens have even been found in some traditional menstrual products. That’s why we’re so dedicated to creating period care products that are free from plastic and harmful chemicals!
It’s almost impossible to completely avoid EDCs in life, but understanding the products and lifestyle choices that increase our exposure can help you lead a healthier life. Here are a few key ways in which the environment, pollutants and endocrine disruptors can impact us.
BPA in Plastics Linked to Hormones
It’s no surprise that we are not big fans of plastic here at Lunette. Period products alone send thousands of tonnes of plastic into our waterways each year, killing and harming wildlife. But going plastic-free is not only important for saving the turtles - but it could also improve your health.
One of the worst hormone disruptors is bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that is used to harden plastics. Studies have found that BPA looks and acts in a very similar way to estrogen. That means that when BPA gets into our bodies, it confuses our endocrine system and can send our hormones haywire. Whilst research into the full impact of BPAs is still ongoing, research indicates that it could be linked to fertility issues, breast cancer and other health problems including diabetes and thyroid dysfunction.
How to reduce your exposure: Swap plastic bottles for metal or glass ones and avoid food packaged in plastic - that means cutting out those microwaveable meals!
Air pollution is a big problem - especially in busy cities. When you think of polluted air, you’re probably concerned about the impact inhaling it has on our lung health - and you’d be right! However, air pollution is often full of EDCs that can have far-reaching effects on other areas of our bodies. The hormonal disruption caused by dirty air has been linked to fertility issues for both men and women. Studies have found that people exposed to heavily polluted air are more likely to experience poor sperm quality and irregular periods.
It’s also important to remember that hormones don’t just impact our reproductive health. They are also responsible for our reaction to stress - like when we remember we forgot to send that important work email and suddenly our body is full of adrenaline! Studies have found that exposure to air pollution makes us produce stress hormones in large quantities. Not only does that leave us feeling pretty stressed out, but the physical effects of this sustained flood of hormones can also lead to inflammation of our liver and pancreas down the line.
How to reduce your exposure: Try to limit the amount of time you are spending on busy main roads and other areas of concentrated air pollution. Sometimes that will be avoidable, but where possible try to take quieter back streets and spend time in the countryside, breathing in that fresh, chemical-free air!
Lead poisoning was a huge problem back in the day, but with tighter regulations, it’s not something you hear about so much anymore. However, sustained exposure to lead can still impact hormones. In 2009 a study revealed that lead accumulates in almost every organ involved in the endocrine system over time. In 2016 further research found that levels of lead in our blood were connected to levels of reproductive hormones such as luteinizing hormones (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH) in both men and women.
How to reduce your exposure: As we mentioned, lead exposure is less prevalent than it used to be, but there are still times you should be careful. Lead can be found in paints and metals, especially in old houses, so if you are doing any DIY make sure to wash your hands and clothes once you’re done working!
Pesticides are used in farming and can cause all sorts of health issues (it’s part of the reason organic fruit and vegetables are so popular.) Some interesting research found that pesticides could be linked to thyroid problems - particularly in pregnant women. The thyroid plays a really important role in our endocrine system - it produces hormones that regulate the body's metabolic rate, controlling heart, muscle and digestive function as well as brain and bone development.
Low levels of thyroid hormone can also affect ovulation and our menstrual cycle. With such an important job to do, it’s essential that we look after our thyroid health and try to stay away from pesticides where we can!
How to reduce your exposure - Try to eat organic where you can, make sure you wash fruit and vegetables before eating them - or even, better start to grow your own produce!
Hormones in water
It’s not only chemicals that can play around with our hormonal balance. Exposure to hormones themselves can also cause health issues. Scientists have found that in recent years there are hormones in our water that are not supposed to be there - mainly estrogen. It’s thought that this is largely down to the number of people taking birth control - and that ending up in our waterways through peeing.
In theory, most water filter systems should get rid of the estrogen, but with such an increase there are concerns that some could be slipping through. Estrogens at pollutant levels have been linked with breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men, so it’s definitely something we as a society should keep an eye on.
The above might sound scary, but it also acts as a reminder that we are more connected to the environment than we realize. Whilst we must protect ourselves from these pollutants and endocrine disruptors, we must also remember that, in most cases, we as humans are the ones putting these pollutants out there! The fact is, that if we live a more eco-friendly life, it will have far-reaching benefits for both our bodies and the planet.
Want to be an everyday activist and do your bit for the environment? Swap to reusable period care products like our cups and intimate care! They are free from harmful plastics and chemicals making them better for mother earth and for you.