Understanding Xenoestrogens: How They Impact Hormones during Menopause

You’ve probably heard of the term xenoestrogen, but have you ever wondered what they are?

Xenoestrogens are a subset of an even larger group of compounds called endocrine disruptors. They are synthetic, man-made compounds that mimic or block our body’s natural hormones, specifically oestrogen, and have the ability to disrupt the normal, natural hormonal balance in the body, especially during menopause.

Oestrogen is one of our principal sex hormones, it is essential for regulating many biological functions, ranging from menstruation to maintaining bone health and, during the menopausal transition, oestrogen levels start to decline. 

While scientists are still unravelling the full effects of xenoestrogens on hormones, these misfit molecules have no business meddling with our finely tuned hormonal orchestra. You could say it would be like adding a heavy metal drummer to the string quartet of your endocrine system. And let me tell you, it’s no symphony. 

Some well-known xenoestrogens include bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, and certain pesticides. You’ve undoubtedly come across them without even realising. They’re lurking in your daily life, in items such as canned foods, plastic containers, cosmetics, and even household cleaners. 

How do xenoestrogens enter the body?

As unnerving as it may sound, xenoestrogens are all around us. They cleverly disguise themselves as harmless substances, only to launch an attack on our hormonal balance once inside the body. 

The first and possibly the most widespread route of entry is through our diet. And no, I am not only talking about that cheeky fast-food indulgence. Xenoestrogens can be found in many pesticides and plastics that come into contact with our meals. So, does it mean we could be ingesting these hormone disruptors every time we sip tea from that favourite plastic cup? Ah, yep, I am afraid so.

In the same vein, xenoestrogens can be absorbed through the skin.  Various personal care products, cosmetics, and even detergents used in daily routines can contain xenoestrogens. Yes, the perfume you spritz each morning might come with unwanted extras – xenoestrogens. And even the fragrance of that supposedly ‘clean’ laundry detergent that seems to linger forever – yep, xenoestrogens. 

The third route of ingestion for xenoestrogens is inhalation; the air we breathe can also carry these substances. And it’s not just that perfume you have just inhaled, certain industrial processes and combustion, such as those involving plastics and pesticides, can release xenoestrogens into the air. 

Wide-ranging as these sources are, the remarkable part is how they all contribute to the same effect – disrupting the delicate balance of our hormones. 

How do xenoestrogens affect hormones?

The endocrine system is considered to be the maestro that conducts the harmonious symphony of hormones in our bodies. This includes the chorus of oestrogen, which, beyond its role in reproductive functions, also plays a part in bone health, blood clotting, and even the health of our skin and hair. 

Imagine if a cheeky imposter sneaked into this orchestra, posing as a legitimate player. That’s precisely the role xenoestrogens play, they mimic oestrogen, tricking the body into thinking they’re the real deal, only to belch out a horrendous tune that wreaks havoc in our hormonal symphony. 

So how do they do this? 

Well, xenoestrogens are shape-shifters – they mimic the chemical structure of our own oestrogens, which enables them to bind to oestrogen receptors, the ‘listening posts’ for oestrogen’s messages. Because they can occupy these posts, they effectively out-compete our natural oestrogen – sitting on the receptor and blocking the actual hormone’s message. 

But it’s not just mimicry that xenoestrogens indulge in; they’re also endocrine disruptors. Xenoestrogens can block normal hormone regulation and disrupt the normal feedback systems that control our hormone balances. This means that even when they aren’t mimicking the action of oestrogen, they still can interfere with how oestrogen and other hormones function. 

Now, here’s the kicker – while some research suggests xenoestrogens’ effects can be relatively weak, their impact can cascade through the hormonal system, causing a ripple effect that creates imbalances and dysregulation far beyond ‘just’ oestrogen. This can lead to numerous health complications and could potentially exaggerate certain symptoms, especially when it comes to menopause. 

Can xenoestrogens worsen menopause symptoms?

Well, the short answer is yes.

The science behind this isn’t entirely black and white, mind you; xenoestrogens, as we’ve come to realise, mimic our natural oestrogen. Now imagine the delicate balance of hormones in our bodies getting disrupted; every woman who has experienced a change in hormones knows it isn’t a walk in the park. And when external compounds like xenoestrogens intervene, it’s like having an uninvited guest at a party, creating more confusion and havoc. 

As the levels of natural oestrogens diminish during menopause, our bodies try to adjust to this new relative balance of hormones, and it’s a challenging period, no doubt. But simplified, it’s akin to getting accustomed to driving on a new side of the road after a lifetime of familiarity with the opposite. Tossing xenoestrogens into the mix during this period is like throwing a spanner in the works, forcing the woman’s body to deal with an abundance of ‘pseudo’ hormones. 

Of course, these gatecrashers of the endocrine system, xenoestrogens, might exacerbate common menopause symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats. More severe symptoms like sleep disturbances, mood swings, or memory problems may also be amplified. 

Why reducing xenoestrogens is essential during menopause

Perimenopause can feel like a hormonal roller coaster ride, and like any roller coaster, it has its fair share of ups and downs, twists and turns. One critical aspect that often doesn’t get a seat at this roller coaster discussion table is the role of xenoestrogens. Believe it or not, these little chemicals can make that ride much more dramatic than necessary.

So why is reducing exposure to xenoestrogens so vital during menopause? It’s down to the body’s hormone levels and how xenoestrogens play their part. As I briefly alluded to earlier, (peri)menopause is a period marked by hormonal changes, specifically a gradual reduction in the body’s oestrogen production. This declining oestrogen level can result in several well-known symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats, mood swings, and even bone loss. 

Now comes the twist: when you introduce xenoestrogens into the equation – which mimic oestrogen in our bodies – they can potentially throw the entire hormonal balance out of whack – this exacerbation can make the menopausal symptoms worse.

In pre-menopausal women, the presence of xenoestrogens can be less consequential as the body’s naturally higher oestrogen levels can counterbalance the influence of xenoestrogens to a degree. However, in a menopausal woman with lower natural hormonal levels, the impact of xenoestrogens can be much more significant, causing a dramatic imbalance. 

Moreover, there’s an additional concern for post-menopausal women: many xenoestrogens are stored in body fat and are released slowly over time. Since body fat tends to increase during perimenopause, a greater accumulation and ongoing release of these xenoestrogens may create a persistent hormonal disruption. 

In conclusion, it’s safe to say that reducing the effect of xenoestrogens in the body can play a crucial role in managing symptoms associated with the menopausal transition. In the next section, we’ll explore practical strategies to do just that.

How to reduce exposure to xenoestrogens

With xenoestrogens in our food, our body care products and the air we breathe, it would be easy to get caught up in thinking that there is no escaping their effect. It might sound like a plot of a dystopian novel, but trust me, it’s not. So, how can we reduce exposure to these unwanted hormone imposters? Here’s how: 

Know Your Enemy 

Informing yourself about where xenoestrogens lurk is the first step: they are commonly found in plastics, personal care products, and pesticides. Initially, it might seem like you’re trying to navigate you’re way through a field of landmines, but with a mental map of xenoestrogens, you can at least learn to navigate your way around them. Always check labels before purchasing – a time-consuming but necessary task. 

The Plastic Problem 

If plastic were a disease, we would be declaring it a pandemic. Its overwhelming ubiquity is alarming, considering it is a xenoestrogen troop’s barracks; start by trying to minimise its use. Avoid plastic containers, especially when reheating food, and switch to glass or stainless steel. And that water bottle of yours, is it plastic? 

Get Personal with Personal Care 

Personal care products such as creams, lotions, and soaps often harbour xenoestrogens. And while we’re talking about landmines, cosmetics, conventional perfumes, and body care products are where many people will be ingesting xenoestrogens.

My suggestion? Progressively seek natural alternatives to your regular products from your local health store. Start with your lipstick and deodorant and gradually work your way through your bathroom products. It’s about being conscious of what goes into and onto your body – speaking of which… 

Watch What You Eat 

What we eat plays a significant role in xenoestrogen exposure; from pesticide-laden vegetables to hormone-injected meat, our meals could be xenoestrogen banquets. In an ideal world, switching to organic produce is the gold standard, and then, if you’re buying conventional fruit and veggies, wash them thoroughly before consuming them. Opt for hormone-free meat and consume natural foods over processed foods.

Detoxify Your Environment 

It’s not just about personal habits; it’s also about our environment. Invest in central air purifiers, use natural cleaning products and consider the materials of your furniture and clothing. Synthetic fabrics are, you guessed it, xenoestrogen magnets; our homes should be our sanctuaries, not toxic caves. 

Reducing xenoestrogen exposure is a lifestyle choice that requires commitment and consistent effort. It’s about understanding what’s at stake and making informed decisions about the smallest facets of our daily lives. And remember, every step might seem small, but together, they could forge a path to better health during perimenopause, menopause and beyond.

The information provided in this article is for information purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. We recommend you consult with a GP or other healthcare professional before taking action based on this article. While the author uses their best endeavours to provide accurate and true content, the author makes no guarantees or promises regarding the information’s accuracy, reliability or completeness. If you rely on any information in this article, you do so at your own risk.

About The Author

Leonie Satori

Naturopath and Herbalist Leonie is passionate about women’s health, especially perimenopause and all that midlife encompasses for women - anxiety, gut health and hormones. Her holistic and down-to-earth approach to well-being incorporates wisdom from traditional healing practices, including Western herbal medicine and Ayurveda plus over a decade of clinical experience. In her free time, you’ll find Leonie bush-walking, gardening and living life slowly.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply