Q: I have been told that there are increasing levels of oestrogen in our bodies as a result of the water supply and I need to be careful as it increases my hormone levels. Apparently drinking water from glass bottles and taking something called DIM will help reduce the oestrogen in my body. Is this true? What is it all about?
A: Well, I need to take a deep breath before I start this one.
There are certainly concerns over the number of chemicals in our modern lives that can increase or interfere with hormone levels, in particular oestrogen, and many of these chemicals can easily find their way into the water supply, or indeed our food supply. There are so many of these chemicals and so many different factors at?work here, that it is almost impossible which is most responsible, but there are a few things you can do to avoid the worst effects.
There are three main sources of external hormones that we are exposed to.
Firstly there are the so called phyto-oestrogens that are found naturally in a number of plants and foods such as red clover and soya. These are very mild oestrogens that can actually have a balancing effect on the body’s natural oestrogen levels, which is?why they can often prove beneficial during the menopause. These are good guys, not bad guys.
Secondly, there are artificially made oestrogens that are now used commercially in a surprising number of ways. These have been structurally altered to make them patentable, and are usually tweaked to make them a lot stronger than natural hormones. The biggest source of these is probably HRT and the pill. Now you may not be taking either of these, but there are plenty of women who are, and I don’t want to think about the amounts of very synthetic oestrogen rich urine that is passed by these collective women each day. Synthetic hormones also find their way into a lot of the meat we consume as they are given to fatten up young animals?to make them ready for slaughter much earlier. Milk is also more hormone rich than it has been in the past, either because the cows have also been given routine hormone injections, or simply because they are milked for many more days in the year, and much later into pregnancy when their milk is naturally more oestrogen rich, than would have been typical in the past.
The third source, and by the far the hardest to quantify, are the so-called xenoestrogens. These are synthetic chemicals, usually petro-chemical derived, that because of their structural similarity to naturally occurring oestrogens can have a potent hormonal effect in the body. It is estimated that there are up to 100,000 registered synthetic chemicals that can be included in this group, and they include plastics used in water bottles or food packaging, preservatives used in skincare products and breakdown products from detergents and pesticides.
The problems caused by this hormonal soup that we live in are many-fold.
Hermaphrodite fish and even alligators have been found in coastal waters, while children fed on hormone rich milk are experiencing puberty earlier and earlier. The effects of raised hormone levels in your body are difficult to calculate, but certainly too much oestrogen is implicated in a range of conditions from PMS to poly-cystic ovaries, and while the exact link between these chemicals and breast cancer is yet to precisely determined there is enough evidence to cause concern at the very least.
So other than living in a bubble, what can you do? The good news is that there are a few simple changes that can reduce the majority of your exposure. These have the double benefits that not only do they reduce you own personal exposure, but they also reduce the total sum of hormones let loose into the world each day.
- Eat organic meat and drink organic milk – organically reared animals are not given routine hormones, and organic dairy cows are milked less than their conventional sisters.
- Where possible eat organic fruit and veg to reduce the amounts of artificial pesticides and fertilisers used.
- Avoid synthetic colourings and preservatives in the food you eat.
- Use natural personal care products.
- Avoid plastic food packaging and choose glass over plastic when it comes to bottled water.
- Use a good water filter.
As for DIM, or di-indoly-methane, this is a compound found in brassica vegetables that is now touted as reducing oestrogen dominance. Brassicas are the cabbage family and include broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts. Certainly these vegetables have been recognised by naturopaths as aiding some hormonal conditions, which may be due to the DIM content, but as yet it is a very new supplement that I do not think is even available yet in the UK, and there is not enough known about it for me to able to recommend it.
I would focus on reducing your exposure to artificial chemicals and hormones where possible, and watch this space on DIM while more studies are carried out.