What are Xenoestrogens (XEs)?

XEs are a group of highly variable compounds that mimic the effects of estrogen. They do this by taking a similar shape to naturally occurring estrogens (estrone, estradiol, and estriol). XEs bind to estrogen receptors throughout the body and can cause the same effects as estrogen itself.

Exposure to compounds that mimic effects of naturally occurring hormones can result in unnecessary over or under-activation of endocrine system. XEs contribute to estrogen dominance within the body, a term that describes the over activation of estrogenic pathways within the body.

For centuries humans have been exposed to naturally occurring XEs (phytoestrogens and mycoestrogens) that are found in foods like legumes, soy products (isoflavones), nuts and oilseeds. Although over the past 100 years, our exposure to XEs has increased dramatically. This is attributed to an in increase in the amount of industrially made XEs that are used in the manufacturing of a wide variety of consumer products.

The recent attention directed towards XEs results from studies that have shown that exposure to some XEs (DDT, PCBs, Zeranol) could increase the risk of humans developing dangerous health conditions. As a result of this research, regulatory health bodies in most countries have banned the inclusion of particular XEs in commercial products.

Despite this ban, these compounds remain in the environment. However it should be noted that other health studies have shown neutral effects of other XEs on human health.

Do XEs affect our health?

XEs have been related to several other conditions including cardiovascular disease, obesity and infertility in non-human studies. They emit their effect on the body via estrogenic pathways and could enhance effects of estrogen that include:

  • Positive: Prevention of artherosclerosis (cholesterol build up) and heart disease by activating lipoprotein lipase.
  • Negative: In prolonged doses XEs may over activate pancreatic beta-cells which can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
  • Positive: Estrogen stimulates muscle regeneration after exercise and increase muscular contractile force by activating white blood cells and satellite cells.
  • Negative: Pre-pubescent males could be most at risk because alterations in systemic estrogen levels could disrupt normal sexual development
  • Some research suggests that some estrogen sensitive cancers (e.g. breast, prostate, ovarian) are boosted by XEs, however this research is very controversial because separate studies have found protective effects of some XEs in cancer.
How are we exposed to XEs?

We are mostly exposed to XEs from the food and drink that we ingrest. The gradual accumulation (via pollution, non-organic food consumption, increase in plastic production etc.) of these artificial XEs in our environment is cause of the major health concern surrounding XEs. Some examples of abundant XEs include:

  • Phthalates can be found in plastic food containers, plastic wrap, plastic based coating on some medications, pesticides, nail polish, some moisturizers, perfume and more.
  • Bisphenol A (BPA) is used to make polycarbonate plastic in drink bottles and epoxy resins. The current level of BPA in consumer products is safe and poses no health threat to humans (FDA and EFSA), although researchers are still uncertain.
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are listed as a persistent organic pollutant (USA) used in production of electrical equipment. Pollution has led to PCB bioaccumulation across the globe and PCBs are found in fish, beef, lamb and pork from animals that are bread in contaminated areas.
  • Food coloring dyes found in processed foods such as lollies, chips, soft drinks, some grain products and some yoghurt.
  • Oral contraception medication (the only source of XEs that is intended to influence the endocrine system).
Tips to avoid long-term exposure to XEs:
  1. Support organically grown food and always wash fruit and vegetables before consumption. This washes off any XEs as well as any bacteria or viruses.
  2. Don’t microwave foods in cheap plastic containers or with plastic wrap covering your food. Buy glass or good quality plastic food storage containers. Most brands will indicate on the label if they are free of XEs.
  3. Limit intake of processed foods.
  4. Avoid reusing cheap plastic drink bottles because heat and UV light can release XEs from the plastic and into your water.
  5. Use gloves when handling harsh chemicals and avoid breathing exhaust or chemical fumes.
So what’s the take home message?

The take home message of this article is to minimize long-term exposure to XEs by keeping your diet and lifestyle as natural as possible. This will additionally enhance other factors of your health. Research into some XEs provides conclusive evidence for negative health effects of some harsh XEs. Other research indicates that communities do not need to be concerned about current levels of the XEs found in food and the environment.

Are you worried about your consumption of XEs? Comment below and I’ll help you!

Article by William Hunt,
JamesCantFitness.com Writer

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