Harmful environmental toxins are all around us. They’re in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and even the clothes we wear all contain hazardous chemicals. So far, at least 350 environmental toxins have been found to pollute the human body. Over 200 of these toxins have been linked to breast cancer.
What Kind of Environmental Toxins Exist
Some of the most common toxins that Americans are exposed to every day include:
- Heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium and silver, which can contribute to hormonal disruption, depression, low libido, lack of energy and chronic pain
- BPA, a chemical used to make plastic clear and hard and that can cause egg chromosome abnormalities, leading to birth defects and infertility
- Phthalates, used to make plastics more flexible, can have negative effects on many systems of the body including the liver, kidneys, and reproductive system
How Do Environmental Toxins Affect Women Differently?
Because women worldwide live different lives than men and are even possibly more biologically prone to toxin intake, the issues surrounding female toxin exposure are unique. More research is needed in this area, as the health impacts of toxin exposure in women are less-studied, less-documented and less-acknowledged compared to the health impacts for men, such as testicular cancer, genital malformation and reduced sperm count.
Lifestyle differences contribute to the unique types of exposure to environmental toxins in women. Commercial personal-care products including soap, shampoo, hair conditioner, lotion, deodorant,and make-up are notorious for containing chemicals such as BPA, parabens and phthalates. These products also contain lesser-known toxins such as surfactants and anti-bacterials that can disrupt hormones, heavy metals, and carcinogenic dyes. Because women use more personal care products than men (an average of nine different products daily), they’re more likely to be exposed to environmental toxins in this way.
Household cleaning supplies and laundry detergents are also a huge source of harmful chemical compounds. Women are more likely to do most of the cleaning around the house, and more likely to work in a cleaning-related job. Studies have found higher cancer rates among people who clean for a living, and for women in particular, invasive cervical cancer is five times more common in women who clean for a living than in other women.
Unique hormonal balances and other biological differences contribute to women’s toxin issues. Research done on animals has indicated that males are able to detoxify their own body five times more efficiently than females, and this inequality could potentially apply to humans as well.
Studies Have Shown Us How Bad the Problem Is
Researchers have analyzed blood taken from umbilical cords and found more than 280 environmental chemicals. 180 of these chemicals are known to be carcinogenic, 217 of them are neurotoxic, and 208 of them can cause birth defects and abnormal development. Toxins from the environment are a health hazard for expecting mothers. The International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics has stated that “exposure to toxic environmental chemicals during pregnancy is ubiquitous and is a threat to healthy human reproduction.” Countless studies have also linked environmental chemicals to breast cancer.
As mentioned earlier, women use many more personal-care products than men, leaving them at a higher risk of exposure to cosmetic toxins. According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, adult women have higher levels of phthalates in their urine than men. These phthalates have been directly linked to birth defects. Levels of phthalates are so high in girls and women that even three days using phthalate-free cosmetics is enough to reduce levels of this toxin significantly. Researchers analyzed urine samples from 100 teenagers before and after they underwent a three-day period of no phthalate exposure via personal care items. After just three days, the girls’ levels of diethyl phthalate decreased by 27 percent, and their levels of methyl and propyl parabens decreased by up to 45 percent.
Much more research and legislation is needed to fully understand the health effects of environmental toxins and to reduce public exposure. Reducing exposure to compounds such as parabens, BPA and phthalates whenever you can can decreases your risk of numerous negative health effects, ranging from low libido and depression to infertility. If you’re concerned about exposure to toxins, it’s a good idea to choose BPA-free plastics for your kitchen and children’s toys, use paraben and phthalate-free cosmetics and opt for all-natural cleaning supplies for your home.