Is Your Shampoo Making Your Period Worse?
A woman’s menstrual cycle has three phases: the follicular (before the egg is released), ovulatory (when the egg is released) and luteal (after the egg is released). Each of these phases is regulated by different hormones, primarily estrogen, progesterone, FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone), and LH (luteinizing hormone).
These hormones work in concert with each other and with other hormones, much like the members of a sports team will work together, each performing a separate role in coordination with the other team members.
Image what would happen on a football team if there were three quarterbacks, no tight end, no wide receiver, and six running backs. And no coach. That would make for a very dysfunctional team who would have a lot of trouble winning a game.
The same thing happens when your hormones are disrupted and become unbalanced. Unbalanced hormones can cause all sorts of undesirable conditions including weight gain, insomnia, dry skin or rashes, irritability and anxiety, fatigue, and bloating. Unbalanced hormones can also make menstruation a miserable experience.
How Do Hormones Become Unbalanced?
There are a number of possible causes of hormone imbalance including various diseases such as diabetes and Cushing syndrome; it could be caused by glandular deficiencies such a hypothyroidism and adrenal insufficiency; it could be caused by injury or trauma; hormone imbalance can be caused by stress.
A more recently identified cause of hormone imbalance are substances that are referred to as “endocrine disruptors”.
What are Endocrine Disruptors?
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can interfere with your endocrine system (the body’s system of hormone-producing glands). These disruptive chemicals wreak havoc with your hormones in a number of ways.
They can mimic natural hormones such as estrogen, androgen, and thyroid hormones which creates the potential for an increase or a decrease in the natural hormone level.
They bind to receptor cells, causing the signal from the hormone to be blocked so the body does not respond as it should.
They interfere with the way hormones and their receptors function.
There are multiple categories of endocrine disruptive chemicals, some of which are by-products of industrial or agricultural processes. There are also a number of common consumer products that contain endocrine disruptors.
Endocrine Disruptors in Everyday Products
A common endocrine disruptor is phthalates. Their primary use is to soften plastics and vinyls and make them more flexible. They are also used as lubricants in some cosmetics.
Phthalates enter the body when swallowed. Most people don’t eat plastic, you say. That’s correct, they don’t. But they don’t have to. Ingesting food or water packaged in plastics or drinking water contaminated with phthalates will cause those phthalates to get into the body.
Phthalates can be inhaled when you breathe the dust from a room that has phthalate-containing substances such as plastic miniblinds, vinyl flooring, shower curtains.
Phthalates can be absorbed through the skin by contact with products containing phthalates.
The Bad News
A number of cosmetics products such as some shampoos, hair sprays, nail polish, soaps, and perfumes contain phthalates. According to the US Food and Drug Administration, two forms of phthalates, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and dimethyl phthalate (DMP), are “now rarely used” in cosmetics. They go on to say, however, that diethyl phthalate (DEP) is still commonly used in cosmetics, based on a survey they conducted in 2010. The FDA also notes that “the law does not require cosmetic firms to file their formulations with the FDA”.
While some sources claim that DEP is perfectly harmless, there are those who beg to differ. In a study published in the Alternative Medicine Review, the researcher found that “phthalates have been associated with a number of serious health problems, including infertility, testicular dysgenesis, obesity, asthma, and allergies, as well as leiomyomas and breast cancer.”
The Good News
It’s not hopeless (and no civilized person would expect anyone to go around with dry skin and dirty hair).
One simple way to limit your phthalate exposure is to avoid fragrances and scented shampoos and other cosmetic products. Look for products labeled “no synthetic fragrance” or “phthalate-free”.
Check the recycling codes on plastic containers such as shampoo bottles and toothpaste tubes. If the code reads 1, 2, or 5 there’s a greater risk that the plastic contains phthalates. Codes 3 or 7 are lower risk for phthalates.
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