Discussion- Household Cleaners and Hormones
Are our household products limiting our potential? Or worse, are they making us sick? There is an epidemic of hormonal imbalances in Americans today. Low testosterone levels in men and women is rampant and the chemicals in our house may be playing havoc on our endocrine system. With every subsequent generation we are seeing lower levels of testosterone and a flood of new businesses coming to market offering testosterone replacement/supplementation. I think we have all seen the commercials. Read on and we will dive into the demasculinization of our population and how to protect you and your family!
HOUSEHOLD CHEMICALS AND OUR HEALTH
We are surrounded by chemicals in almost every aspect of our lives. More now than any other time in human history. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we consume, and the products we buy can have a profound negative effect on many of our bodies’ systems. Or worse, they can make us chronically ill. It would be impossible to live a chemical free life, unless of course you went off-grid and lived deep in the Rockies. This option, although tempting at times, is not realistic. So, what can we control? What can we do to ensure we limit the amount of chemicals we are ingesting and absorbing? Other than avoiding foods that are sprayed with insecticides and consuming meats that are organic and grass fed (a topic for another discussion), we can take a deep look into the household products we use to clean, the plastics we buy, and beauty products we use. Many of which have chemicals known to cause some nasty health issues. Although some of these chemicals have been linked to cancer, let’s look at two of the major concerns when it comes to performance for athletes and weekend warriors alike.
EFFECTS ON THE RESPIRATORY SYSTEM
Scientists at the University of Bergen in Norway analyzed data from 6,235 participants in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey. The participants, whose average age was 34 when they enrolled, were followed for more than 20 years. The study concentrated on the long term effects of using and breathing in airborne household cleaning aerosols - “while the short-term effects of cleaning chemicals on asthma are becoming increasingly well documented, we lack knowledge of the long-term impact,” said Dr. Cecilie Svanes, a professor at the university’s Center for International Health and a senior study author. “We feared that such chemicals, by steadily causing a little damage to the airways day after day, year after year, might accelerate the rate of lung function decline that occurs with age.” The researchers added that the accelerated lung function decline in the individuals working as cleaners was comparable to smoking the equivalent of 20 packs of cigarettes per year. Dr. Harold S. Nelson, another lead scientist in the study, included- “We need to be careful with spray products, we are breathing in the aerosol like a sponge. It wouldn’t hurt to wear a mask when cleaning to prevent the compounding effects these products have on our respiratory system.” The study tested lung capacity of all participants, along with a control group, and found the individuals that used cleaning spray products regularly had stunted lung capacity. In other words, the amount of air these individuals were able to take in and forcibly exhale was comparably much less than the control group and individuals that did not use cleaning spray products regularly. As you can imagine, this is problematic for our cardiovascular system and our overall performance. Maybe Grandma had it right when she used vinegar, water, and a cloth to clean much of the house!
CHEMICAL DRIVEN HORMONAL CHANGES
In a study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, Thomas G. Travison, Ph.D, of the New England Research Institutes in Watertown, Mass., and lead author of the study said, “Male serum testosterone levels appear to vary by generation, even after age is taken into account. In 1988, men who were 50 years old had higher serum testosterone concentrations than did comparable 50 year old men in 1996. This suggests that some factor other than age may be contributing to the observed declines in testosterone over time.” Keep in mind, this is only a span of eight years. He went on to say, “We observed the same phenomenon over a wide range of ages.” We are seeing a generational decline of testosterone levels throughout the developed world. This goes for women too. Yes, even women need healthy testosterone levels. Essentially, we are having to supplement more and work with less when trying to be active, healthy, and strong athletes/adults.
So, how low is low? Two decades ago, the range for normal testosterone was between 500 to 1500 ng/dL. Meaning that below 500 ng/dL, you were considered eligible for hormonal support therapy. Nowadays, the bottom range to be considered low testosterone is merely 300 ng/dL. This is a large range to work with and likely that bottom number will continue to drop, increasing the “normal range” as normal is redefined for each generation. Testosterone for both men and women is vital for our athletic success. Missing this important ingredient will only slow progress, make us feel tired/sick, and limit our potential.
Now, how do some of these chemicals mess with hormonal levels? Some of them simply act as hormonal mimickers, meaning that the body “recognizes” them as estrogen. Others inhibit testosterone from forming or diminish testes activity. Whether you have estrogen mimickers or chemical compounds that are inhibiting testosterone production, they all have one point in common: they have a negative impact on testosterone/estrogen ratio. Let’s reviews those mechanisms and their main agents.
There is a class of compounds that are called “xenoestrogens”. This means that they are foreign substances (“xeno”) that mimic the action of estrogens in the body. Imagine a lock and key system if you will. Hormones are the key and the receptor sites on the cell membranes are the lock. To produce an effect, a key has to activate a lock.
Well, those xenoestrogens mimic the action of the real estrogens, as they have an affinity with the cell receptors. Thus, they bind to them and activate them, producing the same effect real estrogen would. This is simplified of course, but it’s still a pretty accurate picture of how these substances communicate with the endocrine system.
CHEMICALS TO LOOK OUT FOR