Personal Health

Are You Ingesting Estrogen Without Realizing It From These Everyday Products?

It goes way beyond meat.

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It is no secret that our bodies and our environment are swimming in estrogen. Puberty is occurring in children as young as eight and in 2010 babies in China were reported to be developing breasts. In 2011, the United Kingdom’s Daily Mail observed that women's bra cup sizes were growing even when the women themselves were not gaining weight and speculated it was estrogen exposure. And frogs and fish are becoming "intersex" and losing their male characteristics from endocrine disrupters in the environment and waterways.

Over 10 years ago, the routine administration of estrogen to women as they approach menopause and afterward (called hormone replacement therapy or HRT) was found to cause a 26 percent increase in the risk of breast cancer, 41 percent increase in the risk of strokes, 29 percent increase in the risk of heart attacks and double the rate of blood clots.

Unfortunately, the public has a short memory. HRT is making a comeback even though it is such a definitive cause of breast cancer that U.S. cancer rates sharply dropped when women quit in 2002. HRT is still billed as a fountain of youth despite its links to the “elderly” conditions of cataracts, urinary incontinence and joint degeneration as well as lung, ovarian, skin and gall bladder cancer.

But a lot of the estrogen we are exposed to is under the radar. Endocrine disrupters (chemicals that mimic estrogen) are found in plastics like BPA, petroleum-based products, agricultural pesticides, herbicides and fungicides, detergents and cosmetics and even everyday items like furniture, carpeting and thermal receipts. Do you have Colgate's Total toothpaste or Ajax and Palmolive antibacterial dish detergents at home? Triclosan, the endocrine disrupter they contain, is considered so dangerous the state of Minnesota has banned it.

The U.S. meat industry is also steeped in estrogen, using hormones like zeranol and melengestrol and the steroid trenbolone to fatten animals and increase profits. Zeranol is especially controversial. A 2009 paper in Anticancer Research says, "Our laboratory has reported that long-term exposure to either Z [zeranol] or E2 [estradiol-17β] can induce transformation of human breast epithelial MCF-10A cells." Translation: it can cause  breast cancer. Another paper reports that "breast irritation" can occur in people only exposed to the clothes of those working around zeranol! No wonder the European Union bans U.S. beef.

Do you remember the outbreak of precocious puberty and breast development in children in Italy and Puerto Rico in the late 1970s and '80s? A paper in Science of the Total Environment attributes the symptoms to "deliberate introduction of zeranol into livestock to enhance meat production." In both the Italy and Puerto Rico outbreaks the symptoms disappeared when the hormone-laced food was removed.

Zeranol is "banned for use in animal husbandry in the European Union and other countries, but is still widely used in the U.S.,” says the paper. “Surprisingly, little is known about the health effects of these mycoestrogens, including their impact on puberty in girls, a period highly sensitive to estrogenic stimulation." Another scientific paper called, "Detection of Six Zeranol Residues in Animal-derived Food by HPLC-MS/MS" found clear drug traces in the food.

What can we do to avoid dangerous estrogens in the environment? Avoid meat, dairy and seafood products grown with hormones or pesticides, herbicides and fungicides. If in doubt, say no. Avoid plastics, petroleum-based products and household items with endocrine disrupters as well as soaps and personal care products with “germ killing” agents like triclosan, “fragrance” and parabens. In addition to boycotting such products, tell your lawmakers to stop letting Big Chem and Big Meat poison us with estrogen.

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter and the author of "Born With a Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp the Public Health (Random House)."

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