One of the most common (yet under-diagnosed) health issues facing women today are thyroid related disorders. Allied health practitioners like health coaches, nutritionists, chiropractors, and women’s health experts are seeing more and more clients and patients who are struggling with thyroid issues that can show up as low energy, weight gain, muscle weakness, hair loss, insomnia, and even depression.
Here are some interesting facts about thyroid disorders (1):
- Approximately 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease
- Up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition
- 1 in 8 women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime
Nestled in the front of the neck, the thyroid is a vital hormone gland that’s responsible for weight regulation, metabolism, heart & digestive function, brain development, energy, mood, muscle control, how quickly glucose is both synthesized and metabolized. It’s an incredibly important and delicate part of our body; even slight disruptions in it’s function can lead to the kind of health issues that cause people to seek support from their practitioners.
The Thyroid & Chemicals Connection
Lots of things can affect the health of the thyroid, but environmental chemicals are one of the worst culprits in thyroid disruption. And yet very few health professionals actively discuss thyroid targeting environmental chemicals with their clients or patients – and this is a mistake!
If your clients have thyroid disorders or other hormonal imbalances, it’s essential that you help them avoid endocrine disrupting chemicals that can wreak havoc on this delicate system!
A large number of environmental chemicals are known as endocrine disrupting, which means that they can block or mimic the natural hormones that control just about every bodily function. Many of the endocrine disrupting chemicals have a direct effect on the thyroid specifically, and it’s these you’ll want to prioritize when working with clients!
The Top 5 Thyroid Disrupting Chemicals To Avoid
1. Flame retardants
Brominated flame retardants belong in a class of chemicals called ‘halogens.’ Halogenated chemicals make a bee-line for our delicate thyroid and can lead to thyroid disruption and thyroid related diseases like Hashimotos!
The backstory on these bad-boy chemicals is fascinating as it is infuriating. In short, it’s a whole lot of chemical industry manipulations & lobbying. Bottom line is that they are useless at preventing fires, are highly toxic, and extremely persistant in the environment.
Primarily in upholstered furniture, the average home contains around 2 pounds of these chemicals.
Additionally, flame retardant research shows links to weight gain, reproductive problems, decreases in sperm counts and even neurodevelopment issues. (2)
In 2013 the law on flame retardants in upholstered furniture changed; companies were no longer required to use chemicals to meet fire safety standards. (3)
Consumers hip to this issue rejoiced, but what about all those flame retardant filled couches we already all have?
While swapping out a couch isn’t likely something you’ll be recommending to your clients, giving them guidance on how to minimize their exposures to flame retardants is super important! If your clients are looking to swap out their furniture, check out Green Science Policy Institute’s consumer resources page.
If you’re looking for a deeper understanding of chemicals in home furnishings, including flame retardants, I cover this topic in great detail in my Environmental Health Certificate Course.
2. PCBs aka. Polychlorinated Biphenyls
The main source of PCB exposure to humans is from seafood. PCB’s were banned in the US (mostly) in 1977, but these chemicals are persistent; they never seem to go away entirely. (4)
Most people jump on the “eat wild caught!” as a die hard mantra for choosing seafood, but that isn’t going to help you avoid PCBs. Some types of wild caught fish have PCB levels that make them unsafe to eat (I’m looking at you lake fish).
A rule of thumb for avoiding PCBs in seafood is by eating low on the food chain. In other words, smaller, shorter lived fish. A good way to remember this by remembering the word “SMASH.” SMASH fish include Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovies, Sardines*, and Herring. For the most part, these smaller, nutrient dense fish are what you want to be pointing your clients towards.
*Sardines actually have fairly high levels of PCB’s, but we each such small quantities of this fish, that I believe the benefits of the omega-3 rich fish outweigh some of the risk of PCB exposures. Those with serious thyroid issues may wish to avoid sardines.
Safe seafood is a complex topic, but I teach about it in depth in Blueprint: An Advanced Environmental Toxins Training!
Phthalates should be pretty high on everyone’s shit-lists. This group of chemicals serve as a fixative for fragrance and color and to make plastics supple and flexible.
Phthalates are in tons of products. Everything from perfumes, personal care products, makeup, nail polish, household cleaners, scented candles, air fresheners, etc, to vinyl flooring, shower curtains, plastic food containers, kids toys, and even the interior of your car.
Studies from the CDC show that adult women have higher levels of urinary metabolites than men mostly because women use more personal care products and household cleaners that contain phthalates.
This ubiquitous chemical has been found in ~98% of people tested by the CDC, which is a problemo, because even low levels of exposure can cause or contribute to a giant list of chronic health issues, including thyroid dysfunction and hormone disruption in general. (5)
Getting your clients to decrease exposures to phthalates (and all these endocrine disrupting chemicals) can be THE thing that moves the needle for them on their health!
GOOD NEWS: Phthalates are metabolized pretty quickly, so we can lower the circulating levels of these chemicals in our bodies by avoiding exposures!
If you’re searching for phthalate-free and nasties-free skin and beauty products, check out my favorites here.
Also known as bisphenol A, is a chemical plasticizer you’ve likely heard about before. It’s one of those things that everyone knows to avoid but doesn’t always know why. BPA exposure is linked to thyroid disruption in men & women: animal studies have shown that BPA blocks thyroid receptor sites. (6)
A 2011 study found that greater concentrations of urinary phthalate metabolites and BPA were associated with greater impacts on serum thyroid levels. (7)
While it might seem that avoiding BPA is easier than ever thanks to BPA-FREE plastics, think again! Plastics labeled “BPA-FREE” are usually a load of BS. Companies jumped to take out BPA after consumers made their voices heard about this endocrine disrupting chemicals, but they just pulled a switcheroo and replaced BPA with nearly identical chemicals from the same family (BPS, BPF, BPG, etc). Research into these is showing they’re just as bad, if not worse.
Here are some tips on avoiding BPA. Get good at regularly sharing these with your clients & patients!
- Don’t tacitly trust a BPA-free symbol on a product. That doesn’t mean it’s safe. Skip plastic whenever possible.
- Avoid canned foods, heating foods in plastic, storing foods in plastic, or eating with plastic.
- Pass on cash register receipts! That powdery coating on thermal paper is BPA or similar alternatives; both are absorbed through our skin.
- And guys: please stop it with the hot bulletproof coffees and fancy coconut milk & adpatogen elixirs that you’re blender in your vitamix. Hot water and plastic are a hard NO. Whip out your old glass blender, or use a stainless steel immersion blender.
5. Perfluorinated Chemicals aka. PFCs
PFCs (or perfluorinated chemicals) are an umbrella for some more familiar sounding names like PFOA, PFOS, etc. These chemical compounds have properties that reduce friction making them ideal for non-stick applications.
Perfluorinated chemicals can be found in drinking water, non-stick cookware, Scotchguard/stain proofing sprays, paints, cleaning products, and many other sneaky places! PFCs can reduce immune function, cause birth defects to children in utero, and is associated with pancreas and liver toxicity. (8)
Phasing these chemicals out of products is a good thing but the goal is to eliminate them from production altogether. Unfortunately, it can take several years for some of these compounds to leave the body. (9)
With all that bad news, it might make you (and your clients) overwhelmed. Don’t go there. Going forward there are some things we can do to avoid additional exposure:
- Ditch the non-stick cookware and switch to cast iron, enamel, and stainless steel
- Filter your drinking water (properly)
- Teach your clients to avoid using stain resistant sprays
Go forth and teach your clients how to avoid these endocrine disrupting chemicals while protecting their thyroid!