​Nutrition - Xenoestrogens

Tuesday 08 May 2018

In an earlier  blog where I I looked at some information that may support those with prostate cancer and in the blog I mentioned xenoestrogens. So this week I wanted to explain a little more about these.

What are xenoestrogens and what do they do?
Xenoestrogens can be synthetic or natural chemical compounds. Xeno literally means ‘strange’ or ‘foreign’, estrus translates as sexual desire and gene means to generate and are commonly known as ‘hormone disruptors’, or ‘Endocrine Disrupting Molecules’. In some cases they are referred to as ‘gender benders’. They are said to act as false messengers and disrupt the process of natural reproduction, blocking the body’s natural hormone balance. These compounds once inside the body mimic the effect of the hormone oestrogen by binding to the same receptors on the cells, despite not being identical in structure.

There are lots of speculative articles that believe that they may be responsible for children developing and growing faster and experience puberty earlier than natural. They have also been cited as the cause of male infertility and men developing female characteristics and also for increasing the risk of some cancers. Personally in my private practice I have certainly seen the effects of disrupted hormones on some men

Hormone imbalances and hormone driven cancers and xenoestrogens
Before we look at where they can be found I want to explain that when I do see people for nutritional advice who have hormone imbalances or hormone driven cancers, which may be aggravated by these xenoestrogens,

I want to explain that my first port of call is always is to try and establish a good healthy diet. This I believe is of primary importance. That is to include a high % of vegetables and fruits, to include some protein from animal or vegetable sources or a combination of both, some complex wholegrain carbohydrate types of foods and lastly some essential fatty acids from nuts, seeds and oily fish. This includes using foods in the most natural form possible and of course if it is appropriate to get some form of exercise. Once this is established I would then go onto the subject of xenoestrogens.

Where do xenoestrogens come from?

So with that in mind let us look at where they come from. You will soon realise that it is almost impossible to avoid them but there are some steps that we can take to minimize our exposure which we will also look at. Firstly;


All pesticides, herbicides and fungicides used in the agricultural and food industry. Apparently half of the food eaten in the EU is contaminated with some form of pesticide. There are over 300 different pesticides known and the annual amount used is quoted as 140.000 tonnes per annum, which is a whopping amount. This equates to 280g or 10oz per person. To add to the grim story, over 25% of fruits and vegetables are known to contain detectable residues of at least 2 pesticides. Some fruits and vegetables are sprayed at least 10 times before they reach the supermarket shelves. This is all very sobering isn’t it, of course the farmers argue that without them the yield of crops would be much less and would not sustain the demand. The European parliament has been pressing for radical reforms and as a result has voted to tighten controls over their use. Particular interest has been levied towards dioxins, PCB’s and the insecticide DDT. DDT was banned in the USA but it is still used by some European countries. I did read one article on this and it explained that if you took a blood sample from an average ‘healthy’ adult you could expect to find traces of 250 contaminants in his or her body!!!!!!!


Plastics also contain potentially carcinogenic compounds like bisophenol A and phthalates. This includes food packaging as well as the lining in canned foods.

xenoestrogens can also be found in household toiletries and cosmetics. You may be familiar with the stories about the preservative parabens particularly in deodorants and lotions and most cosmetics and how they were said to be responsible for breast cancer development.


It is worth noting here that when we eat contaminated food the liver does its best to deal with the xenoestrogens but if we rub them onto our skins it is absorbed straight into the bloodstream. It has been said that a skin dose is ten times that of an oral dose.

Increase your intake of fibre rich foods as this helps to discourage the absorption of chemicals and encourages bowel regularity. When someone is constipated toxins are re absorbed into circulation rather than being eliminated.
Fuels and car fumes perhaps more of a problem in towns and cities.
Industrial waste which can pollute our waterways which in turn will affect the fish and wildlife.
xenoestrogens can also be found in the meat and produce from animals fed contaminated feeds that have been fattened with oestrogenic drugs. Oestrogen is stored in the fat of the animal.

As you can plainly see that living in our modern world can be a double edged sword. We have all the convenience of modern technology but the down side is the exposure to the contaminants which can adversely affect our health. It can be incredibly overwhelming trying to do all the things to stay healthy from food and diet choice, the way it is packaged, to which cosmetics and toiletries to buy.


This is why I personally recommend that we do what we can but accepting that we do live in the real world.


Making small changes where you can

Sometimes one small change in the right direction has a huge positive impact on our health. So let us now look at what these small steps might be. I am sure that some of you are already ahead of me as some of the answers are pretty obvious. I always start with what I think is the easiest;


Plastics By looking at plastics and recognising the vast amount that is actually used in packaging food storage and for cooking. Basically the softer the plastic the more the migration of chemicals from the plastic into the food and the warmer or hotter the food the worst the problem gets. The easiest way is of course to buy drinking water and oil in glass not plastic bottles. We are never sure how long the water or oil has been stood in the plastic. The longer a food is exposed the more migration of chemicals into the food. So if you have oil in a plastic bottle use it up and then next time you shop buy glass.
Think of the number of people that use plastic to cook in the microwave, here you have both time and heat. Having said that food stored and frozen in plastic is not such a huge problem because when anything is frozen all reactions become dormant until the food is defrosted.

Organic? The next step would obviously to buy organic!! But I do know that this is not always possible because of purse strings or availability. On one website I did come across a list of foods that seem to be more contaminated and some that appear safer if not organic. I have written a blog on the whole debate of organic v non organic which includes the list called the ‘dirty dozen’. Here you could read more detail on the whole topic. If you cannot get organic then wash or peel the fruits or vegetables.

Reduce your intake of fatty foods as non biodegradable chemicals accumulate in the food chain in the fat of the animal. By minimizing your intake of fat and dairy foods you will naturally minimise your exposure. You could rely on nuts and seeds for natural fats in the diet.

Despite all of this some scientists argue that the observed effects are inconsistent and not true, or that the quantities of the agents are too low to have any effect. A 1997 survey (cannot find anything more recent) found that 13% regarded the health threats of the xenoestrogens as ‘major’. 62% as minor or non and 25% were unsure.


It may be worth however erring on the side of caution and do the best you can remembering that we do live in the real world.

 see also  organic vs non organic food blog

Blog originally written by Caroline  April 2014

Get cancer support near you

To find your nearest Maggie's centre, enter your postcode or town below.

Sign up for our newsletter

Stay up to date with our news and fundraising by signing up for our newsletter.

Sign up