Are Chemicals Turning Men into Women?


There’s a disturbing trend in the field of health:  men are getting breast reduction surgery like never before.  No, I’m not joking – or making light of the problem.  In fact, male breast reduction has grown more than 2000% in the past decade.  What’s behind this growing need?  It’s hormones.  When we eat too much sugar or flour, we over-produce insulin, a hormone that in excess will block our production of sex hormones like testosterone, making a man look more like a woman.  But there’s a bigger hormonal driver that’s even more disturbing to me:  it’s estrogen.

When healthy, our bodies make just the right amount of sex hormones.  In women, estrogen is primary.  Men produce a little estrogen too but make predominantly testosterone.  The problem is that the female hormone estrogen is increasingly prevalent in our food and in our environments.  Especially in chemicals we encounter on a daily basis.  And it’s changing the balance of hormones in men, giving them larger breasts, smaller muscles, larger bellies, and less sex drive.  In women, higher estrogen makes for more troublesome PMS, worse menopause symptoms, increased depression, and a higher risk of breast cancer.  In children, excessive hormones encourage premature sexual development.  In everyone, excessive estrogen increases risk of cancer, heart attack, and stroke.  In women, the breast and the uterus are most sensitive to estrogen; in men, it’s the prostate.

An external flood of estrogen also makes your body reduce or stop production of hormones internally.  In women, this is problematic because the body will not only make less estrogen but will also make less progesterone.  The result can be a debilitating hormone imbalance called “estrogen dominance”.  I see many clients who are low in progesterone, what I call the Calm-and-Relaxed hormone, and these women typically struggle with depression, anxiety, low energy, belly fat, and fatigue.

So where are we getting all this estrogen?  First of all, from our food.  Today’s modern “factory farmers” use hormones to accelerate weight gain in animals and increase profitability.  This practice includes chickens, cows, pigs, and even fish farmers.  Hormones also keep dairy cows lactating on a constant basis, including while they are pregnant.  When we consume foods from these animals, we absorb the hormones.   You can avoid this source by always choosing “hormone-free” animal products, ideally also organic and free-range to avoid exposure to other chemicals in animal feed and drugs.  The greatest source these days is likely conventionally raised beef.

We are also absorbing large amounts of “estrogen mimickers” from our environment.  These are chemicals that look enough like real estrogen to fool our bodies into making hormonal changes.  In my December 2009 issue, I warned you about the dangers of bisphenol-A (BPA), a potent estrogen mimicker found in most food can linings, some plastic wraps, and plastic cups and containers labeled #7 in the little recycling triangle.  Instead of plastic water bottles, choose stainless steel or glass-lined models.  If you use canned foods, make sure you rinse the contents thoroughly before using; otherwise, choose whole, fresh foods or those in glass containers (or next best: paper cartons).  Since then, I’ve written much more about estrogen-mimicking chemicals in your bathroom cabinet , in food packaging , and even in the grocery store check-out line.

Another common culprit of hormone disruption is a chemical called triclosan.  It’s found in antibacterial soaps, tooth­paste, mouthwash, deodorants, and first-aid creams.  Make sure you read labels to find out what you’re putting on your body.  I believe soap and water remain our best weapons against the spread of infection.  Skin is our largest organ and a powerful absorption site that sends ingredients straight to our blood stream.  In general, don’t put anything on your skin that you wouldn’t eat.

Another major estrogenic chemical category includes pesticides and gardening chemicals.  Practice natural, organic gardening.  Don’t subscribe to putting a regular flood of chemicals on your lawn or flowers.   Even if you don’t sit on the grass, the chemicals are carried indoors on pets, shoe soles, and even the wind.  Wherever possible, choose organic foods or those certified as pesticide-free.  Some produce retains more chemicals than others, so use the EWG’s latest research data to help you spend your organic food dollars wisely.    Especially if you have pets who go outdoors, please don’t use lawn pesticides and chemical treatments!  Pets absolutely absorb these chemicals into their bodies – which does damage on its own – and then transfer them to us via their coat and feet.

The threats can appear overwhelming, but don’t let that keep you from doing anything.   With some simple choices, you can begin to protect your body from the chemical threats common in our modern lifestyle.