What is environmental estrogen?

Environmental estrogen is much different from natural estrogen, in a sense that it is not produced by our endocrine system; environmental estrogens are thus known as “endocrine disruptors”. Environmental estrogen, usually referred to as xenoestrogens, which literally means, “foreign estrogen,” comes from chemical components that exhibit some degree of estrogen-like activity that are obtained from  the environment. The release of environmental estrogens can lead to estrogen dominance in males and in females. Estrogen dominance can lead to infertility, breast cancer, endometriosis, accelerated aging, fibromyalgia and many other pathologic issues [1,2,3]. So what should people watch out for?  This is not an easy as everyone might think, since xenoestrogens play a huge role in our society today. Environmental estrogen can be found in many things that our industrialized society relies so heavily upon, such as food, cleaning products, drugs, electronics, and many more [1].

In the past few decades, environmental estrogen has had a huge toll on how our society has developed. With the help from manufactures adding preservatives, adding artificial food coloring, producing plastics that contain bisphenol A, and many others. According to Jessica A. Knoblauch of Environmental health news, “More than 3,000 preservatives, flavorings, colors and other ingredients are added to food in the United States, and none of them are required to undergo testing for estrogenic activity, according to the Food and Drug Administration” [1]. Xenoestrogens are not only found in food products, but also drugs such as birth control. Other sources of environmental estrogens include plastics that contain bisphenol A, our household products such as detergents, heavy metals such as lead and zinc, DDT that was previously used in the United States as a pesticide (DDT is now banned in the U.S., but not in most other countries), and several others [2].

Below is an image of the chemical make-up of natural estrogen (boxed) and several other sources of foreign estrogen that have the ability to bind to estrogen receptors and act as an endocrine disruptor such as DDT, PCB’s, Nonylphenol, DES, and phtalates.

It becomes clearer why organic foods are becoming more and more popular; people want to avoid the environmental estrogens that are present on and within fruits and vegetables as well as meat and seafood products, especially those that are imported from overseas where pesticides such as DDT have not been banned from use [2]. Although the studies done have clearly not been enough to cause a revolution, the evidence is there, and it is becoming a scary situation.

Although people are trying to slowly ban certain commonly used chemicals, it seems hard to avoid environmental estrogen, since it has already had such a huge impact on our society, our eating habits, our reproduction, and many other situations. No one stops to think about what is being put in their bodies when they eat those processed meats such as hot dogs or pesticide-treated fruits and vegetables. A war has begun between our naturally produced estrogen and the endocrine disrupting xenoestrogens and this war is going to be a hard one to fight and win in the end.

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