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How to Protect Your Family From Xenoestrogens

Updated on February 4, 2018

What are Xenoestrogens?

Xenoestrogens are synthetic or chemical versions of the female hormone estrogen.


Where are Xenoestrogens found?

They are found in many places in our environment, including some plastics, pesticides, sunscreens, food preservatives, toiletries such as shampoos or moisturisers, make-up and insecticides. They are in all combined oral contraceptive pills.


Why should we be concerned about xenoestrogens?

Several xenoestrogens have been banned worldwide because of their harmful effects. These include: DDT, dieldrin, endosulfan, and methoxychor. All these are insecticides.

Bisphenol A is a xenoestrogen worth a special mention. In 2011 Canada and the European Union banned its use in babies' bottles because it is a recognized hormone disrupter. It is however, still used in other plastics, and is in the lining of almost every can of food you buy – including organic food. A few years ago I read a report about this, and wrote to several manufacturers of organic canned foods. All used bisphenol A. Since then at least one of the large supermarkets in the UK has stopped selling its own-brand pulses in cans and instead packages them in cartons.

So government bodies and some manufacturers are concerned.

Although few scientists are as yet willing to say for sure that xenoestrogens cause the following issues, there is growing evidence that they are at least partially responsible for:

  • Earlier puberty in girls
  • Reduced fertility in men
  • Some migraine headaches
  • The increase in breast cancer
  • The increase in testicular cancer
  • Some other cancers
  • Deformed fish and alligators found near sewage outflows in a variety of countries around the world. The deformations are to the male reproductive organs. (One such study took place at the Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.)

Fertility and xenoestrogens

As long ago as the 1990s a reduction in men’s fertility was reported in many countries, including Denmark, France and the UK. Many scientists think that this could be a result of the male fetus being exposed to high levels of estrogens. Likewise, several studies have concluded that early puberty in girls could be partly due to exposure to xenoestrogen. A 15 year long study in Denmark found that girls are now developing breasts around a year earlier than at the start of the study. Since it is known that obesity lowers the age of puberty, and childhood obesity is on the rise, the figures quoted in the study were after making adjustment for that. The scientists found that the girls did not have significantly higher levels of natural hormones, which they believe suggests that the cause is environmental.

A study in Mexico found that girls living near farmed land with high pesticide use began puberty significantly earlier than girls in ranch areas where pesticides were not used. After taking all other factors into consideration, scientists concluded that the pesticides used were responsible for this early puberty.


A Cocktail of Chemicals

If you are now feeling as shocked as I was in 2001 when I read an article in the British magazine The New Scientist about xenoestrogens, then you will be pleased to know there is much you can do to protect your children from their effects.

Back in 2001, the place where we lived often had hot and sunny days, and I had no idea which sunscreens were safe so most days I kept my children inside until around four o’ clock when it was safe to go out without sunscreen. Since then I have discovered organic sunscreens that use mineral sun-blocking agents instead of chemical. At the end of this hub I will list several brands that are safe to use.

One xenoestrogen in sunscreens is 4-Methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC). As with most of these chemicals, scientists are not in total agreement on the level of risk this chemical poses, but several studies indicate that it is a hormone disruptor. What that means is that, like all of the xenoestrogens mentioned in this article, using products containing 4-MBC puts you at greater risk of developing cancer. Additionally some scientists think it could lead to hypothyroidism.

Parabens are possibly the group of chemicals in everyday use that cause most controversy. Some scientists claim they are safe, but parabens mimic estrogen, and have been found in breast cancer tumors – a cancer in which estrogen is known to play a significant part. In a study in Japan male rats were given propyl paraben at the rate recommended as the upper-limit for safety in the EU and Japan (10 milligrams per kilo of body weight). After 4 weeks the rats were found to have significantly reduced sperm production compared to rats not given paraben.

Other studies suggest that parabens are most hazardous when mixed with other chemicals – and that’s how we usually get them!

Parabens are found in many, many cosmetics and toiletries.

Much of the disagreement between scientists is on the level at which these chemicals pose a risk to humans. What is increasingly clear is that while individual chemicals may not pose huge risks, we are rarely exposed to a solitary chemical. In 2004 scientists began investigations in the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts, in an effort to explain the area’s high rate of cancers, including breast, lung and prostate. They took samples of dust from 120 homes. These samples turned out to contain 66 chemicals know to disrupt hormones. Among the samples were 27 pesticides, some of which had been banned up to 30 years before. Another study done by WWF on Members of the European parliament found up to 76 hazardous chemicals in the politicians’ blood!

It is this cocktail of chemicals that puts our children particularly at risk, and while we are unlikely to eliminate every chemical from our environments it makes sense to reduce exposure wherever we can.


How to reduce your family's risk from xenoestrogens

If what you’ve read till now seems just a little depressing, please be reassured that there is much you can do to reduce your family’s risks from xenoestrogens.

First, since the link between pesticides and early puberty is clear, eating organic food is a sensible choice. If you live somewhere organic food isn’t readily available or choice is limited, or it the extra cost seems more than you can manage then a good idea is to choose organic produce where it matters most.

Fortunately the USA government provide data of non- organic fruit and vegetables that retain most pesticide reside, and those that have very little residue and a high nutritional value.

So here are:


"The Baddies": The Top 12 Fruit and Vegetables with high pesticide residues

  1. Strawberries.
  2. Green Bell Peppers
  3. Spinach
  4. Cherries
  5. Peaches
  6. Cantaloupe melon – but only imports from Mexico, which largely occur during January to April.
  7. Celery
  8. Apples
  9. Apricots
  10. Green beans
  11. Grapes – imported from Chile, again during January to April.
  12. Cucumber

In Europe this list varies slightly, with nectarines, lettuce and pears joining the list, and cantaloupe, green beans and apricots left off. Once again, however conventionally grown strawberries tops the list.

And the Top 12 “Goodies”: Fruit and Veg with low pesticide residues.

  1. Avocados
  2. Onions
  3. Corn
  4. Sweet potatoes
  5. Cauliflower
  6. Brussel sprouts
  7. Grapes (grown in the USA)
  8. Bananas
  9. Plums
  10. Green onions
  11. Watermelon
  12. Broccoli

If a fruit or vegetable has a thick skin, you will be removing much of the pesticides by peeling it.


Pesticide residue found in various foods

Meat and dairy products.

These often contain pesticide residues and can contain hormones, so if possible eat organic.


A study in Greece during 2004 -2005 tested 29 samples of olive oil, some from organic sources and some from conventionally grown. 10 of the conventionally grown contained no residue of pesticides, and in the others on average 3 pesticide residues were found. Extra virgin olive oil contained the highest residues. One of the most commonly found pesticides was endosulfan, and this was also present in low levels in three of the ten organic oils tested. However, endosulfan is no longer registered for use in olive growing.

According to the New Internationalist magazine, 75% of the pesticides used on crops in the US are sprayed onto soyabean or corn, so you don’t have access to organic oil using olive oil seems a good alternative.


Some chocolate has been found to contain small quanties of the pesticide lindane, which has a variety of toxic effects. This is not necessarily present in all non-organic chocolate, but is the most common pesticide used in West African cocoa growing.


Wholemeal flour has been found to contain more pesticide residues than white, because pesticides collect in the wheatgerm. However, white flour is often bleached with chemicals to make it whiter, so be sure to buy unbleached flour or bread. Additionally, many health experts warn against consuming simple carbohydrates such as white bread because of the added risk of diabetes and obesity. If you cannot easily buy wholemeal bread locally, an alternative would be to buy organic flour on-line and make your own bread in a bread maker.


Things you can to protect your family.

Shop local.

Many farmers don’t spray with pesticides, but haven’t paid the premium to get their land certified organic. Your supermarket chain won’t be able to tell you that information, but your local store can, and so can the farmers themselves. So buy from local stores or farmers’ markets. For instance, you might be able to find organic bread at a farmers' market when you can't at your nearest supermarket. Buying local can often work out cheaper than going to the supermarket too – our local store is our cheapest place to buy organic milk.

Shop around to make the best of both local produce and that from further afield: buy fresh food locally as often as you can, and order store cupboard goods on-line if they aren’t available locally. One supermarket we occasionally go to has few organic fruit or vegetables, but lots of packaged organic products such as rice cakes, bread sticks, yogurts and even little sticks of cheese for use in children’s lunch boxes. So it pays to be flexible.

If you’d like to make changes, but feel overwhelmed, then do so gradually.

I’ve already made suggestions for what foods it’s best to buy organic. With toiletries, when I made the change, I worked on the principle that the more time a product spent on my children’s skin the more likely it was to be absorbed. So I have never rubbed a drop of chemical sunscreen onto their arms, but it took me longer to switch to organic shampoos.

Buy organic toothpaste.

Small children often swallow some toothpaste when brushing their teeth, so make sure what they put in their mouths is safe.

Use safe cleaning products in your home.

This doesn’t need to mean expensive products. For example vinegar is great for cleaning windows and for using as a fabric conditioner. (And no it doesn’t make clothes smell.) Bicarbonate of soda gets stains off cups and removes odors from shoes or sweaty clothes.

Buy a water filter.

The best filters work by reverse osmosis, but even cheaper carbon filters will remove most pesticides and heavy metals from your water, making it safer to drink. (If you use a jug filter, make sure the plastic it is made of doesn’t contain Bisphenol A.)

Use a barrier method of contraception. This is another topic on which there is not a consensus view on its implications, but residues of both the birth control pill and antibiotics have been found in drinking water. An Irish study concluded that this is not currently a major concern in that country because most of the effluent is discharged into the sea instead of into the rivers. That doesn’t sound too encouraging to me, and I will continue to use my water filter!

Which sunscreens and other skin care products are safe?

First, the bad news.

I wish this was as simple as telling you to buy organic skin care products, but as ‘organic’ can have a different meaning on toiletries if manufacturers use the definition as applied in chemistry. My dictionary defines this as: “of, relating to or belonging to the class of chemical compounds that are formed from carbons.” Even toiletries claiming to be certified organic aren’t always 100% trustworthy. Look a little closer, and you often find that what the packaging actually says the product has: “certified organic ingredients”. This doesn’t mean the entire product is organic.

If the toiletry has an Ecocert label, stating “natural and organic” then a minimum of 95% of its plant-based ingredients must be organic. For their “natural” label it’s 50%. By weight the figures are much lower, because water is a common ingredient in toiletries, and cannot be certified organic.

If a product contains a long list of chemical- sounding ingredients, I would be very wary of using it. Anything containing Phthalates should be avoided but manufacturers don’t usually include it in the ingredients list. DBP and DEHP are phthalates. Most large manufacturers have now removed these from toiletries. The EU has much tougher laws on what can be used in toiletries than the US does.

The good news.

However, the website has tested many sunscreens and provides a search facility where you can enter the sunscreen of your choice to find out if it is safe to use. It also has lists best and worst sunscreens, in a number of categories, including children's sunscreens. Ratings are based on scientific studies and take into account effectiveness and safety.

Be aware that simply picking one company and buying their products will not guarantee your children’s safety. Aveeno have one baby sunscreen listed among the best, and another, also for babies, in the hall of shame.

As this website lists very few British companies, my favorite is not among them. For years we have bought our sun protection from Green People, whose products are both safe and fairly traded.


Research findings on xenoestrogens.

As much as possible I have used references to studies done by government bodies or other reputable sources. As I can no longer find the original report on Cape Cod study I have included a link to an article in the British newspaper The Guardian.

Here are some links to information about studies done on early onset puberty in girls:

From PBS Newshour: Early Puberty in Girls on the Rise

A study done in Mexico Altered Breast Development in Young Girls from an Agricultural Environment

A 15 year study done in Denmark:

Recent Decline in Age at Breast Development: The Copenhagen Puberty Study

The Japanese study:

Effects of propyl paraben on the male reproductive system

More information on the study done at Cape Cod:

A sharp intake of breath

WWF have researched Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals extensively, and this is one of their reports:

Problems with toxics: EDC's


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    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi Eliminate Cancer,

      Thanks for referring me to the article. It’s very interesting how taking something in isolation gives such a different viewpoint - the ‘expert' interviewed says men needn’t be worried because the amount of estrogen that would need to be ingested to cause harm is much higher than they’d be likely to get from water. I’ve seen this sort of argument over and over, from cosmetics companies, food manufacturers etc, and what they ignore is that there are many sources of toxin and it’s the cumulative effects that matter. That’s why I found the WWF study and the one in Cape Cod so interesting.

      I am optimistic though because as people become aware of this they make changes, and awareness is growing.

      Thank you for your comment.

    • Eliminate Cancer profile image

      Eliminate Cancer 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts

      Interestingly, a recent article connected the 'pill' with environmental estrogens and increased prostate cancer risk to men.

      I think it's more than the pill, as your article states, estrogenics are all around - and we are hard pressed to avoid them. With a direct link to breast cancer in women, and the risk to children, and complications in men, nobody is safe. Thank you for your informative hub - very useful!!

    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi RTalloni

      I’m glad you found this subject important, and that you think it useful. Thanks for your comment and the vote up.

    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi cardelean,

      Thanks - for your kind comment and for sharing. You are right it concerns everyone, but particularly children. I could have added even more in here, but it was getting long already.

      Your hub on the rise in male infertility sounds very useful too. Let me know when it is up and I will link to it.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      So glad to see this covered here at the New Year. The concerns are important for us to think through. People rethinking their lifestyles this time of year will benefit from this info. Thanks for including links so we can do more reading on the topic. Voted up.

    • cardelean profile image


      8 years ago from Michigan

      Such an important and well researched hub. I've been working on a hub about the rise of male infertility and this is one of the causes that has been linked. It is very concerning to anyone, especially when you are raising children. Thanks for this great hub and I'll be sharing this one.

    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi Pam,

      Good to see you here. You make a valid point about scientists working for large chemical giants - it must be hard to be objective if doing so could cost you your job.

      I agree there is much we can do to help ourselves, and if enough of us who do make changes it will make a difference.

      Thanks for your comment, and glad you found it useful.

    • profile image

      Pam Bennett 

      8 years ago

      I am really horrified at the extent of this, but the up side is that we can all do a lot to help ourselves and by doing that, things change.

      I am not surprised that a lot of the scientists don't agree - so many of them are working for the large chemical giants...

      At one stage when I was reading this it did seem all overwhelming, but now I have lots of information to refer back to.

      This must have taken ages to write this, lots of useful information, well done!


    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi K9keystrokes

      I can understand your frustration as I have often felt that way too. What I find most frustrating is that there has been evidence of the harmful effects of many of these substances since around 2000 or longer, but little was done about it for years. Even when I told people about the canned food linings a few years ago most people paid no attention. I think it feels overwhelming for many people so they don’t want to think about it.

      On the other hand, I am very encouraged by moves such as the EU and Canada banning BPA in babies’ bottles. It shows that some governing bodies are taking this seriously, and where they lead others will follow - at least I hope so.

      These days mostly I try to take steps to clean up my act wherever possible, then at least I know I’m doing my bit. Our small actions are as important as the big government ones.

      Thanks very much for reading and for your comment.

    • K9keystrokes profile image

      India Arnold 

      8 years ago from Northern, California

      Outstanding research! What a frustrating time we live in. It continues to amaze me just how much the well-being of fiduciary health of businesses takes precedence over the physical well-being of children. I can get very angry over this topic, it is despicable in my opinion! I really appreciate this article and just how clearly you state your information. Really Nice work.



    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi Sally’s Trove,

      I feel really pleased to be able to share this information and that people are finding it useful. Thanks very much for your comment and the vote up.

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Like stephhicks68, I've rated this Hub up across the board. You're bringing light to a subject most of us have little awareness of. For sure, I will be following the news about xenoestrogens.

    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi Maren Morgan,

      The research did take a while, although much of it I already knew, I needed to find the right sources. But it’s worth it, and I learned more when than I already knew, which was very useful. Thanks for your comment.

    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi Tammy,

      Glad you found this useful. I hadn’t heard about arsenic in grape and apple juice! That doesn’t sound good. I got a email newsletter yesterday that says that some orange juice imported into the US from Brazil contained carbendazim, a banned pesticide. The FDA have not ordered a recall, but are stopping any further shipments that contain carbendazim. Here’s the link if you’re interested

      Thanks for your comment.

    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi Simone, Glad to be of service. Forewarned is forearmed! Thanks for your comment.

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 

      8 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Really comprehensive research - thanks, Melovy!

    • tammyswallow profile image


      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Wonderful, vital information. I try to stay on top of these things, but it is hard to keep up with the pace of new toxins. I just saw on Dr. Oz that apple and grape juice are both dangerously high in levels of arsenic. Thank you for this. Apparently we can not expect the federal government to protect our health!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      8 years ago from San Francisco

      Yikes. I'd heard of people suggesting avoidance of certain packaged foods and non-organic fruits and vegetables, but had not read much about xenoestrogens. Good to know!

    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi Nanospeck, and thanks for your comment. I think that all of us need to take care with this, though it is extra crucial for kids as they are more likely to experience adverse effects.

    • nanospeck profile image

      Akhil Anil 

      8 years ago

      Well written article. I'd definitely suggest it to those who have kids! Votes up!

    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi stephhicks,

      I agree this is such an important topic, and I can relate to you feeling it’s scary to think you children may have been exposed before you heard of BPA and xenoestrogens, as I’ve had many moments of worrying about it!

      But from what I’ve read making the change at any time it going to make a huge difference so these days I try to be as proactive as possible while not worrying too much.

      Thanks for your kind comment.

    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi Robin,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I am really pleased to see that this helped you understand the issue, and that you feel more abel to make informed purchasing choices. That was my aim, so it’s great to know I’ve succeeded!

    • Melovy profile imageAUTHOR

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      Hi arusho,

      I am glad you found this useful. I have now added the information I forgot to add last night, giving some information on how to know which toiletries are safe, so I hope you find these useful. Thanks for your comment.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Marshall 

      8 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Very important topic and you have thoroughly covered it so well! Hard to believe that just 2 years ago, I hadn't even heard of BPA or xenoestrogens. Even more scary to think that my kids were likely exposed without anyone raising red flags back in the late 1990s/early 2000s.

      Rated up across the board! Best, Steph

    • profile image

      Robin Kemp 

      8 years ago

      Your article is phenomenal. My understanding level has increased tremendously on xenoestrogens and pesticides. You offered a clear presentation of information keeping the reader engaged. I look forward to becoming more informed and proactive in my purchasing choices. Thanks for a superior hub.

    • arusho profile image


      8 years ago from University Place, Wa.

      Good hub and information. Everything we buy is mostly organic, but it is hard to make sure everything you have is safe.


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