Hormones – not just a problem for women anymore!
My new client presented with a laundry list of symptoms; fatigue, weight gain, decreased libido, and hot flashes. The only difference – this client is a 37 year old male, not my usual mid-aged woman suffering from a hormone imbalance.
Lab tests revealed that this man’s testosterone level was in the toilet and his estradiol (a type of estrogen) was 3x’s the normal level for men. The physician’s response, weekly testosterone shots, is the appropriate prescribing guideline.
However, what about the elevated estradiol? Doesn’t anyone wonder how this happened to an otherwise health 37 year old male? As his nutritionist and hormone support coach, I was curious to find the reason for this highly unusual hormonal picture.
My plan – become a “diet detective,”complete a thorough diet history, food frequency checklist, and accepted his invitation to visit his home to peek at his fridge, pantry, and cupboards.
Diet, daily life, and “hormone wanna be’s” …. My sleuthing pays off
The home visit completed the picture that allowed this hormonal perfect storm to brew. This person worked 60-70 hours per week at a desk job; ate fast food daily, used energy-drinks to sustain the long workdays, and had a cupboard full of plastic containers.
His overall diet was the typical SAD (Standard American Diet) composed of few green vegetables (or any veggie some days), over-the-top amounts of sugar from sugar-sweetened beverages and desserts, and refined, ultra-processed grains. Not to mention, his diet provided high levels of omega 6 fatty acids and next to non-existent omega 3 fatty acids fish oils, DHA and EPA.
This person’s work life was a source of daily stress with a commissioned salary. The long work days left no time for planned exercise and the weekends were filled with home demands leaving little time to relax.
This picture is not that different than many others. The difference is that this 37 year old man’s body is showing the results of an imbalanced diet, lack of physical activity, void of regular down time and exposure to a variety of chemicals, in food and objects known as hormone imposters.
Will the real Hormone please stand up!
Hormone imposters are foods or chemicals that mimic the structure of authentic hormones in the body. There also known as endocrine disruptors since they primarily effect the functions carried out by the endocrine system.
The endocrine system is the collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, including reproduction, sleep, and mood, among other things.
The endocrine system is made up of the pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal glands; pancreas, and organs necessary for reproductive.
The mimicry of these chemicals allows them to play tricks on the body such as increasing production of certain hormones; decreasing production of others; turning one hormone into another; interfering with hormonal signaling; competing with nutrients; binding to real hormones; and accumulating in organs that produce hormones.
My client had been exposed to several environmental endocrine disruptors for decades. Add to this exposure a diet lacking in the building blocks needed by the body’s natural detox process. Another factor, unrelenting stress, which turns the hormone cortisol into a larceny-charged burglar, stealing building blocks to make other hormones. I had my answers to his hormonal storm.
Hormone disruptors lurk everywhere
The US Endocrine Society’s landmark 2009 report examined the scientific evidence on endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and their impact on humans. At that time, the Society confirmed that unborn children are particularly at risk when exposed to endocrine disruptors.
Animal studies indicate that exposure to even tiny amounts in the prenatal period can trigger obesity in later years, and some disruptors directly target the pancreas, as well as fat and liver cells. All of this can lead to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
In October 2015 the Society released an update to the report reporting that evidence increasingly links EDCs to diabetes and obesity, among other conditions, for adults too.
EDCs effect on the Hormone Estrogen
Researchers have now identified that excess estrogen is as great a risk factor for obesity—in both sexes—as poor eating habits and lack of exercise. There are two ways to accumulate excess estrogen in the body: We either produce too much of it on our own or acquire it from our environment or diet.
A premenopausal woman with estrogen dominance will likely have pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), too much body fat around the hips, and difficulty losing weight. Conversely, menopausal women and men of any age, may experience low libido, memory loss, poor motivation, depression, loss of muscle mass, and increased belly fat. Sound familiar?
Having the predominately male hormone, testosterone on the low end, has been linked to depression, obesity, osteoporosis, heart disease, and even death. Mitchell Harman, MD, PhD, an endocrinologist at the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine, blames the proliferation of endocrine-suppressing estrogen-like compounds used in pesticides and other farming chemicals for the downward trend in male testosterone levels.
Are you safe?
Nearly everyone has been exposed to one or more EDCs, which includes the well know EDC bisphenol A (BPA) and the lesser known phthalates.
Several years ago the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found BPA present in the urine of 93% of people 6 years of age and older. This substantiates that the body exposure to BPA results in absorption.
Another EDC, known to cause suppression of testosterone are phthalates. Phthalates have a broad use in everyday life, found in plastics, cosmetics, such as soap; flame retardants, and pesticides.
Let’s take a closer look at these two EDCs.
Bisphenol A (BPS)
BPA is found in the lining of aluminum food and beverage cans, thermal-generated store receipts, water bottles, and plastic containers. The most common sources of BPA are any plastic marked with the recycling number seven.
BPA is so heavily used because of its durability, clarity, and shatter-resistance. The American Chemistry Council states ‘extensive scientific studies have shown that BPA is quickly metabolized and excreted and does not accumulate in the body.”
This is in opposition to the warnings issued by the US Endocrine Society in 2009 and 2015.
Bisphenol A is released from polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. BPA adversely affects both reproduction and brain development in animal studies. Animal studies have shown that BPA is correlated to an increased risk of breast and prostate cancers. When looking at human studies, BPA is linked to heart disease and diabetes.
Canada banned the use of BPA in baby bottles in 2008, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned BPA in baby bottles and children’s drinking cups in 2012.The FDA has not restricted its use in other products, but because of consumer concerns, many companies voluntarily removed BPA from their products. Several states have also enacted restrictions on BPA-containing products.
The upside of the scrutiny of BPA is that it is one of the most thoroughly tested chemicals today. The work of consumer groups has spear-headed this research and the result is that consumers have choices when it comes to purchase BPA-free food and beverage containers.
Phthalates (pronounced thal-ates)
Phthalates are used in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics, lubricants, paint, pesticides, and many cosmetic and personal care items, including baby powder, shampoo, and lotions. Phthalates contribute to that “new car” smell.
Phthalates reduce testosterone levels and are shown to cause infertility, decreased sperm count, un-descended testes, and other reproductive tract defects in laboratory animals. They are linked to attention deficit hyperactive disorder in children. Some research shows that phthalates are possibly linked to abdominal obesity with insulin sensitivity in men.
Several national corporations like Microsoft and Lego plus the cities of Seattle and Olympia, Washington have both vowed to seek alternatives to PVC. The European Union (EU) has banned phthalates in cosmetics since 2003 and has kept them out of toys since 1999.
Researchers at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. found that people who eat the most fast food have up to 39 percent more of phthalates in their blood than those who eat less, or no fast food at all. They found higher levels of two particular phthalates used in food packaging and food contact material.
Another study, with more than 8,000 participants, used self-reported fast food intake and urine samples over a 24 hour period. The results showed that as fast food intake increased, so did evidence of phthalate exposure. The exposures seemed to be tied specifically to how much grain-based or grain and meat-based fast food people ate.
This type of study cannot alone establish causality but the results were both statistically significant and meaningful. In other worsd, they cannot be dismissed.
The FDA does not regulate what can be added to food contact materials or food packaging. Whereas phthalate levels are regulated in food in the European Union and banned in cosmetics since 2003 and kept out of toys since 1999.
Tips to avoid hormone disrupters
Plastics are used in just about everything. You can’t totally isolate yourself from hormone disruptors but you can limit your exposure to these chemicals through your choice of food, beverages, cooking and food storage choices, personal and home products.
Here are several ways to decrease your risk of exposure:
- Buy meat (free-range or organic) in bulk packages (not wrapped in plastics) and when you do purchase plastic covered foods remove them as soon as you get home and re-wrap them in safer coverings
- Avoid produce wrapped in plastic
- Store leftovers in non-plastic containers, like glass
- Limit use of zip-lock and twist-tie plastic food bags
- Use glass or china to reheat foods in the microwave to avoid releasing more chemicals into your food
- Avoid all plastic bottles, even non-BPA bottles (glass is the best) and fill with filtered water from your home
- Limit (preferably eliminate) purchases from fast food restaurants
- Limit ultra-processed foods such as, microwavable meals that come in their own heating trays
- Don’t drink hot beverages through straws
- Avoid plastic containers with the number 7
- Don’t be tempted to re-use food plastic containers for food storage
- All plastic containers should avoid repeated hot water washing to reduce the release of BPA
- Reduce handling of store receipts – tell them “put it in the bag.”
The end of the story …
My client started my “clean eating detox” to jump-start his new eating lifestyle. We also supplemented his diet with known building blocks for the natural detox process and herbs to reduce his cortisol levels. He joined a gym and committed to working out till he worked up a sweat.
He ended his love affair with fast food and a romance blossomed with morning protein smoothies. In the end he was able to increase his testosterone and decrease his estradiol along with losing weight around that cortisol–created middle. Most importantly, he felt like a young man again.
If you’re thinking about eating cleaner, but not sure where to start join me for my whole food “21 Day Clean Eating Jump-Start” program in October. Click here for details and read what alumni have to say about the delicious recipes, weekly calls, daily practices, and results.
Bonnie Roill is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Health and Wellness Coach, and Hormone Support Coach that creates results-driven, health promoting programs for women. Receive your free report “5 SMART Strategies for Healthy Slimming” at www.B3Nutrition.com