We’ve known for a while that the electromagnetic fields modern electronics generate can disrupt the pineal and adrenal glands that produce our hormones. What many of us don’t realize, though, is that our hormones are disrupted by more than just cellphones and laptops, and often, to a much greater degree.
These days, endocrine hormone disruptors can be found in the bloodstreams of approximately 93 percent of Americans. Disruptive chemicals can be found in baby bottles, trash can linings, plastic bottles, and even our air and water. In the decades we’ve been studying it, we’ve seen this disruption in men, women, and children alike, and at increasingly young ages.
This means men are exhibiting lower testosterone and sperm counts and women are having irregular menses at younger and younger ages. But it also means younger people are experiencing physical and mental health disorders that are intricately linked to changes in hormonal balance, and more than just chemicals are to blame.
Environmental Stressors Other Than Chemicals
Many threats exist in the environment, from the people you encounter every day to the pollution in the air, water, and food supply. For some, a persistently toxic work environment can cause elevated stress levels that wreak havoc with hormones. Maybe you don’t enjoy your work or your co-workers. Maybe your boss is particularly tough on you.
Such stress causes cortisol levels to jump, which is a response triggered by survival instinct. The fight-or-flight stress response helped our ancestors escape from saber-toothed tigers and woolly mammoths. Today, the triggers are different: Work, family, social, health, and financial concerns make us feel under attack. But our physiological response is the same, only sustained longer, so our hormones are elevated for longer periods.
Adrenal hormones react the most to stress, providing the rush that makes you feel edgy, anxious, and on heightened alert. In the moment, that means your senses are sharper, but over time, it can cause panic attacks, depression, sleep disorders, fatigue, lack of motivation, and a cascade of related health risks (including cancer).
These hormones also suppress other hormones, which can lead to issues with fertility and menstruation in women and low testosterone levels in men.
The environmental stress on our hormones affects our ability to maintain a healthy weight; our sense of well-being; our drive, motivation, and confidence; and more. Puberty is occurring at younger ages, and the imbalance can have long-term effects on concentration and decision-making abilities.
For those with pre-existing genetic and hormonal conditions, including mental health concerns like depression and addiction, environmental stress can complicate recovery.
Because our bodies prioritize survival above all else, adrenal hormones will react to environmental stressors whether we want them to or not. Yet we’re not powerless against them. We can offset the risks of environmental stress by being cautious of maintaining a good hormonal balance.
5 Ways to Protect Hormone Balance
You can help mitigate the endocrine-disrupting effects of environmental stress with these tips:
1. Keep your stress reserve full. Adrenal fatigue affects a lot of people regardless of age and for a multitude of factors. We can prevent this by finding time to recharge our batteries, which requires a good support network.
Find a good stress-relieving outlet, like exercise, but not something rigorous such as MMA training or CrossFit. Instead, something soothing like yoga, meditation, walking, bike-riding, or swimming can bring your stress hormones down so you can recharge properly. Besides exercise, you can also find a calming hobby, like pottery, photography, music, or fishing, or spend more time with friends and family on a regular basis.
2. Make sure you sleep well. Philosophers have long posited that sleep is our most effective defense against illness, and today our understanding of physiology backs that up. Good sleep is the only way our brains and bodies can recuperate and regain strength. If you have trouble sleeping, then develop a routine and make sure your bedroom is set up to facilitate rest.
Hang dark shades over windows to restrict light, and don’t put a TV in the room. Refrain from using your phone or computer, watching TV, drinking alcohol, or eating for at least a few hours before bedtime. If you snore consistently, then find out whether you have sleep apnea, which can deprive you of REM sleep, and treat it as soon as possible.
3. Know what you’re exposing yourself to. If you have a medical condition or take medication for any reason, then speak candidly with your physician about how the medicine will affect your endocrine system. Nutritional supplements and over-the-counter medications can also interact with your hormones, so be mindful of what compounds they contain before taking them.
Also, try to avoid using makeup, using plastic bottles, or eating food from packages that contain BPA or phthalate, two well-known endocrine disruptors. To be safer, opt for numbers 2, 4, and 5 plastics and limit your plastic products’ exposure to heat.
4. Get off the grid once in a while. It isn’t always easy, but get off the grid once in a while and soak up the fresh, natural atmosphere. Whether it’s noise, air, water, or food pollution, you need to extract yourself occasionally so your body can enjoy the benefits of peace, quiet, clean air, and sunshine.
Walk barefoot on a beach or through some soft grass, or go camping for the weekend away from the city. Grounding yourself is vital to both your physical and your emotional well-being.
5. Avoid unfiltered water as much as possible. Flint, Michigan, is a worst-case scenario but one that highlights something prevalent in most U.S. cities: pollution in supposedly filtered public water supplies. For many metropolitan areas, that pollution is in the form of pesticides and bio-hazardous materials like discarded antibiotics and drugs, all of which are endocrine disruptors.
Affordable water filtration systems exist that can protect you and your family from unfiltered water. Be sure to keep the filter clean and changed as often as recommended to keep your water fresh and to avoid exposure to potentially hormone-disrupting pollution.
Several healthcare fields, such as addiction and mental health treatment, are turning toward endocrine balance as a way to understand conditions we didn’t understand before. It’s exciting, but it’s also increasingly important as environmental stressors mount in our modern society.