When you think of things that throw your hormones out of balance, you probably think of stress, or maybe trans fats or alcohol consumption, or perhaps pollution you breathe. You probably don’t think of a visit to a local restaurant, a dinner out at a nearby bistro or an evening at your favorite pub. But, eating out may be wrecking your hormones more than you realize, according to a new study.
The research, published in the medical journal Environment International, found that eating out in restaurants, cafeterias or other food establishments may be exposing people to increased amounts of the hormone-disrupting chemicals known as phthalates.
Phthalates, pronounced THAL-ates are chemicals that are well-established as hormone disruptors that have been linked to asthma, birth defects, cancer (especially breast cancer), infertility (in both men and women) and obesity. They have been linked to increased androgen levels in both males and females.
Androgens are sometimes called “male hormones” even though both men and women have them. In healthy amounts androgens can help regulate sexual development, libido, hair growth or loss, and other characteristics. However, when we are exposed to chemicals like phthalates they can throw our delicate hormonal balance out of whack.
The researchers examined the diets along with urine samples from 10,253 study participants to determine their exposures to phthalates in food they ate at home compared to food they ate out at a range of establishments. They found that eating out significantly increased peoples’ exposure to the toxic compounds. Some foods like sandwiches or cheeseburgers were found to increase phthalate exposures when eaten out but not when they were eaten at home, which could be a reflection of peoples’ tendency to make certain foods from scratch or use more wholesome ingredients compared to many of the packaged, processed foods that are used in restaurants, replete with all the phthalates and other chemicals found in these foods.
In addition to food sources, phthalates are also prevalent as a coating used in pharmaceutical and over-the-counter drugs, in shower curtains, vinyl flooring, in cosmetics and body care products, hairspray, in baby care products, as an ingredient in insecticides and in most ingredients that contain “fragrance”—perfumes, colognes, air fresheners, fabric softeners, laundry detergents, etc.
How Can You Reduce Your Exposure to Hormone-Disrupting Phthalates?
There are many ways you can reduce your exposures to these nasty chemicals. Here are a few to help you reduce your risk:
1) Avoid fast food establishments as most use packaged and processed foods that contain phthalates.
2) Eat out less often. It takes only minutes in a day to make a quick salad, sandwich or soup for your workday lunch or dinner from scratch with wholesome, unprocessed ingredients.
3) If you’re going to eat out, choose places that refrain from using frozen and packaged foods or sauces as most of these items contain phthalates. If in doubt, ask. Even many so-called “high end” or fine-dining establishments use packaged sauces that are best avoided.
4) Avoid scented personal care products, including: hairspray and other hair care products, skin care products, cosmetics, deodorant, body washes, etc. Choose unscented varieties devoid of fragrance and other toxic chemicals.
5) Use only unscented laundry detergent available at your local health food store. Avoid using fabric softeners which only add a layer of toxic fragrances and hormone disruptors to your body.
6) Avoid using vinyl-based products as much as possible. While vinyl plank flooring has become popular, it tends to be high in phthalates, and increase your risk of exposure to the toxins.
7) Choose natural water-repellent shower curtains instead of vinyl ones since the latter tend to contain phthalates.
8) Choose wooden windows over vinyl ones.
9) Use only glass containers for food storage, not plastic.
10) Avoid products that have the #3 recycling symbol on the packaging, since they contain PVC.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-news World’s Healthiest News, president of PureFood BC, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: The Cultured Cook: Delicious Fermented Foods with Probiotics to Knock Out Inflammation, Boost Gut Health, Lose Weight & Extend Your Life.