Xenoestrogens. The name sounds pretty serious, right? That’s because they are! 

What Are Xenoestrogens?

The word ‘xeno’ comes from Ancient Greek, meaning ‘foreign.” Xenoestrogens are synthetic, man-made chemicals which increase the amount of estrogenic activity in the body, and therefore can disrupt how our hormones are supposed to work. 

Where Do Xenoestrogens Come From? 

There are over 20 of these man-made chemicals identified to have estrogenic effects. They are present in an overabundance of products such as:

        •  Plastics of all kinds

        •  Carpet (both residential and commercial)

        •  Air fresheners, cleaning products and detergents

        •  Insecticides and herbicides

        •  Teflon coating on cookware and haircare items, such as flat irons and curling irons

        •  Lotions and sunscreens

        •  Food coloring and preservatives

        •  Perfumes and cosmetics 

Scary as it is, we are constantly exposed to xenoestrogens, making them impossible to avoid. However, with education and awareness you can begin minimizing your exposure to these chemicals. 

BPA is one common xenoestrogens you may be exposed to everyday and not even realize it.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a xenoestrogen used to harden plastics. 

BPA-containing products you may recognize include:

        •  Polycarbonate plastics, such as water bottles and plastic food containers

        •  Metal can linings, such as canned tomatoes, soups, beans, vegetables, ravioli meals, etc.

        •  Dental sealants

        •  Cash register receipts--the shiny looking ones

BPA and Your Health

Human exposure occurs when BPA is leached from the common items mentioned above. The rate of leaching increases at high temperatures and when the polycarbonate plastic is scratched and discolored (1, 2, 3). Think of heating up your leftover dinner in a plastic container in the microwave.

Plastic with BPA + Heat = Health Troubles!  

Research on the estrogenic effects of BPA shows it activates estrogen receptors (4, 5) and stimulates breast cancer cell growth (6).  

In the developing fetus, estrogen controls the development of the brain, the reproductive system and many other systems. Xenoestrogens can duplicate, block or exaggerate hormonal responses. This is very concerning for parents because some animal studies report ill effects in fetuses and newborns exposed to BPA. 

Recent studies suggest BPA may also be linked to obesity by triggering fat-cell activity (7). 

In men, there is increasing evidence both from epidemiology studies and animal models that specific endocrine-disrupting compounds, such as BPA, may influence the development or progression of prostate cancer (8).

What Action Is Being Taken In The US To Ban Products Containing BPA? 

Legislation has been introduced to the US Senate to ban children’s products made with polycarbonate plastic containing BPA, such as baby bottles and sippy cups. This is progress, but not enough. As a consumer, you must be your own advocate to avoid BPA-containing products.

FYI, polycarbonate products which contain BPA are labeled with the recycling symbol “7”.

How Can You Begin Reducing Your Exposure To Xenoestrogens? 

Start small--every little change will make a difference in your health.

  • Always look for “BPA free” on bottles and cans you drink out of.
  • Look for "BPA free" on sippy cups and all plastics your children are exposed to. Those munchkins put everything in their mouths!
  • Limit, and ideally eliminate, your use of canned foods. Consider buying foods in glass jars, tetra pak containers, or frozen foods instead. Some companies have already started using BPA-free alternatives in the lining of their cans.  Unfortunately, most companies aren't disclosing what they're using instead of BPA and we don't know which replacements are safe.
  • Limit your use of plastics--plastic plates, plastic cups, plastic silverware, plastic cutting boards, plastic storage containers, etc. Look around because you might be surprised how much plastic is in your kitchen. I know I was! 
  • Avoid drinking from plastic water bottles and don’t refill plastic water bottles. Also, if a plastic water bottle has heated up significantly, throw it away—do not drink the water. These Klean Kanteen’s are a great alternative to a plastic bottle!

Part 2 features two more common, yet undesirable, xenoestrogens: phthalates and parabens, along with some simple tips to reduce your exposure to these toxins!       

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods




1.  Brede C, Fjeldal P, Skjevrak I, Herikstad H,  2003.  Increased migration levels of bisphenol A from polycarbonate baby bottles after dishwashing, boiling and brushing.  Food Additives and Contaminants 20, 7: 684-689.

2.  Burridge E.  Bisphenol A: product profile. Eur Chem News. 2003 Apr;14–20:17.

3.  Howdeshell KA et al. Bisphenol A is released from used polycarbonate animal cages into water at room temperature.  Environ Health Perspect. 2003 July; 111(9): 1180–1187.

4.  Routledge EJ, White R, Parker MG, Sumpter JP. Differential effects of xenoestrogens on coactivator recruitment by estrogen receptor (ER) αand ERβ. J Biol Chem. 2000;46:35986–35993.

5.  Matthews JB, Twomey K, Zacharewski TR.  In vitro and in vivo interactions of bisphenol A and its metabolite, bisphenol A glucuronide, with estrogen receptors alpha and betaChem Res Toxicol.  2001 Feb;14(2):149-57.

6.  Krishnan AV, Stathis P, Permuth SF, Tokes L, Feldman D.  Bisphenol-A: an estrogenic substance is released from polycarbonate flasks during autoclaving.  Endocrinology. 1993 Jun;132(6):2279-86.

7.  Trasande L, MD, MPP; Attina TM, MD, PhD, MPH; Blustein J, MD, PhD.  Association Between Urinary Bisphenol A Concentration and Obesity Prevalence in Children and Adolescents. JAMA.  2012;308(11):1113-1121.

8.  Prins GS. Endocrine disruptors and prostate cancer risk.  Endocr Relat Cancer. 2008 September; 15(3): 649.

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