Common Chemicals Linked to Endometriosis
As many of you know, endometriosis is a known estrogen-dependent condition, affecting approximately 10-15% of women of reproductive age. Although it has been associated with debilitating menstrual pain, due to the complexity of diagnosis (laparoscopic surgery), the average woman can be stuck waiting seven and a half years before a proper diagnosis is made. Although the root cause of endometriosis is often multifactorial ranging from genetics and immune dysfunction, endometriosis does appear to be strongly influenced by our environment, specifically our exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, otherwise known as EDCs.
EDCs are synthetically produced environmental chemicals that appear to mimic hormones, like estrogen. EDCs can potentially influence signaling pathways making the symptoms of endometriosis worse. Although researchers are unclear as to whether EDCs cause endometriosis itself, they do believe that EDCs are likely involved in activation of certain immunological or genetic pathways. This means that if you or someone you love is struggling with endometriosis, limiting your exposure to these common chemicals should be a top priority.
Although we would like to eliminate all EDCs from our environment, the reality is, synthetic chemicals are extremely difficult to completely avoid because well, they are found just about EVERYWHERE. From our mattresses, beauty products, food containers, paints and home products, endocrine disrupting chemicals are hard to avoid. That being said, there are a few important steps you can take today that can make an important difference in your daily exposure.
The following information is based on a systematic review that included 29 different studies. Of the EDCs evaluated, there were a few chemicals that appeared to be most associated with endometriosis specifically. For example, phthalate esters were specifically associated with endometriosis. Phthalates are most commonly found in personal care products including nail polish, fragrances, soaps and hair sprays. Limiting your exposure to these products can be an important first step to limiting your exposure to phthalates. Now for my makeup loving, personal care loving ladies, it is important to remember that it doesn’t mean you need to avoid all products.. It simply means, it's time to ditch the old conventional products and find new less toxic alternatives. My favorite non-toxic nail polish has to be Rooted Woman. Not only is it phthalate-free but their polishes are free of 10 of the most toxic endocrine disrupting chemicals including oluene, Dibutyl, Phthlate (DBP), Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin, Camphor, Xylene, Ethyl Tosylamide, Acetone and Parabens. As for fragrances, I love using Henry Rose created by Michelle Pfeiffer. Not only are the scents luxurious but her entire line is EWG verified, one of the toughest certifications available in the non-toxic space. (if you are interested in finding a non-toxic alternative to some of your favorite products, check on the Skin Deep EWG database for the best and most up to date list of non-toxic alternatives).
The majority (71%) of the studies involved in this systematic review also found a significant association between bisphenol A, organochlorinated environmental pollutants (dioxins, dioxin-like compounds, organochlorinated pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls) and the prevalence of endometriosis. Bisphenol A, otherwise known as BPA, is found in most plastics. Ditching your plastic food containers and water bottles is a huge first step. (Please remember that “BPA- Free plastics” are often just as toxic, so stick to glass and stainless steel). Organochlorinated environmental pollutants, on the other hand, are most commonly found in food; in fact, dioxin and dioxin-like chemicals which often accumulate in food chains and are mainly concentrated in the fatty tissue of animals. More than 90% of our exposure appears to be from food intake, specifically animal fats, including meats, dairy, fish and shellfish. Avoiding high fat meats and consuming low fat dairy products appear to reduce our exposure to dioxin as well as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Making sure the meats you do eat come from grass-fed, grass-finished sources can also be extremely helpful. ( I love using Butcher Box for high quality meat sources).
According to the systemic review, there was only one study that demonstrated an association between copper, chromium and endometriosis. Cadmium, lead and mercury on the other hand, did not appear to have any association of the prevalence of endometriosis. Although eating heavy metal rich foods like sushi is not ideal for other reproductive reasons, including fetal brain development, having sushi from time to time is most likely not associated with endometriosis.
Not only is avoiding your exposure to EDCs important but, it is equally as important to make sure your body is able to handle the synthetic chemicals it is exposed to. Our body has an extremely sophisticated and powerful detoxification process and although you may hear about supplements or therapies including “detoxes” and “cleanses” that improve your detoxification pathways, they are often not worth your money. Instead, there are a few simple ways you can naturally support your powerful detox pathways that don’t include restrictive cleanses or a handful of supplements.
The first, and honestly the most important, way to support your body’s detoxification pathways is to make sure you are having regular daily bowel movements. A regular daily bowel movement should occur 1-3 times per day and be fully formed and cohesive in color. If you experience mucus, blood or undigested food in your stools, or have a bowel movement every few days, this can be a huge problem, especially when it comes to proper detoxification. In fact, in our clinical practice, we have seen time and time again that supporting regular daily bowel movements has been an important way to reduce endometriosis-related pain symptoms. If you are experiencing irregular or abnormal bowel movements, it’s time to consult with your doctor.
The second, sometimes forgotten way to support your body in relation to its exposure to EDCs is by supporting your skin. Your skin is not only the largest organ in your body but a vital part of your detoxification system. Making sure to avoid EDC containing products like lotions and perfumes should be a must. I also love supporting our skin with regular daily exercise and a quick sweat session each and every day. Moving your body for 20-30 minutes every day is a great way to support your circulation, lymphatic system and skin. Regular exercise has not only been shown to support your detox organs but it has also been shown to help reduce the risk of endometriosis by up to 40-80% in several case-control studies.
Since endometriosis is an estrogen-dependent disorder that can be associated with EDCs, supporting your body’s natural estrogen detoxification pathways is an essential way to reduce symptoms associated with endometriosis. One of the key ways you can do this is by increasing your fiber intake. Although fiber in the form of vegetables is best, if you are not consuming between 0.5-1lbs of organic vegetables per day, I would consider asking your doctor about adding a fiber supplement for additional support, especially in women with endometriosis. (our favorite fiber supplement is Paleo Fiber)
About the Author: Meet Dr. ZenAlissia Zenhausern- Pfeiffer, NMD, FABNE, (commonly known by her patients as Dr. Zen), is a licensed naturopathic doctor board certified in naturopathic endocrinology and the founder of NMD Wellness of Scottsdale, a premier naturopathic medical practice that focuses on helping women to take a proactive approach to their hormone and fertility health. Dr. Zen has been featured as a lead expert in Forbes, Shape Magazine, and Instyle and is deeply passionate about bridging the gap between traditional and natural medicine in the world of fertility. She works with a variety of hormone related issues including PCOS, endometriosis and unexplained infertility. Her goal is to help more women get back into the driver’s seat of their own health to make lasting transformational changes to their health to bring more cute and adorable babies into this world. Read More About Dr. Zen...