The Hormone Masquerade of Parabens
By now we have all heard that SLS / Sodium laureth sulfate or sodium lauryl ether sulfate is a no-go in skin care products. Whether this is hype related to an elaborate internet hoax or is actually based on scientific evidence remains to be seen - but most green-conscious companies have yanked it from their ingredients list and began production using alternative ingedients. The wonderful thing that DID happen with this media-craze about the dangers of SLS was that people began to focus their attention on the ingredients within their bottled luxuries. It became common-place to scan the list of ingredients for SLS, which was a great start as we work our way towards safer skin care.
Parabens were the cosmetic industry's prized preservatives. (Methyl, propyl, butyl and ethyl parabens) They were said to be harmless, and safe. Recently we have been presented with evidence which says otherwise. Parabens have shown estrogenic activity in lab tests - meaning that they mimic our body’s natural estrogen and may interfere with our endocrine systems. (They are endocrine disruptors.) They may affect our bodies in so many different ways... From the thyroid, pituitary, hypothalamus, adrenal glands, and pancreas to the ovaries and testes - hormones govern the way these glands and organs function.
So how does this affect us ?.... in layman's terms?
To begin - our endocrine systems are made up of glands and receptors.... glands that secrete hormones and receptor sites that "read" and react to hormones. Hormones themselves are the little chemical messengers that run around in our bodies transporting signals and instructions from one cell to another. (The gland writes the instructions, the receptor reads the instructions, and the hormones are the postmen.) Endocrine hormones are carried directly through the bloodstream to different parts of the body and orchestrated by the master conductor- the hypothalamus in the brain. (The hypothalamus is the big cheese of hormone production in your body.) The messages are sent through a hierarchical system - getting passed along through the body and when they reach their final destination they offer an important message for the cell when they arrive. These messages can be anything from growth and production regulation, activation or inhibition of the immune system, metabolism regulation, reproductive cycle cues to mood messages and more. So - needless to say - the messages should get to the cells that they need to direct without the blockades and barricades and masquerades that nasty little hormone disruptors provide.
The theory of endocrine disruptors is that a large variety of synthetic chemical compounds that we encounter everyday are absorbed by the body; and these mimic or block natural hormones and disrupt our body's normal functions. (As if someone else is posing as the postman, and tricks our bodies into thinking that they are receiving authentic messages - but they are not. By acting on these fraudulent messages, a whole array of problems can ensue.) This is a relatively new theory and is difficult to prove or disprove because we could be exposed to literally thousands of endocrine disruptors on a daily basis. Plastics, pesticides, cosmetics - the list goes on and on - and the difficulty lies in pinpointing the bad hormone copycats from the really bad perpetrators, because it is believed that the end result in our bodies - after all of this external chemical exposure - is residual. So little by little these chemicals build up in our bodies. These hormone copycats are smart - and hang out in our fatty tissues- where they are not easily flushed out with water and where they can accumulate.
Recent reports from Britain show that parabens have been found in breast tumors and that they may be linked to breast cancer. The breastcancerfund.org states that parabens are weak estrogen mimickers - but more importantly, that they can increase the expression of certain genes that are directly linked to breast cancer. (eeek!) If you can get medicine into your body via a PATCH - or a topical cream, then certainly the bad guys in face creams can ease their way into our bodies through unsuspecting pores.
It’s a lot to think about - perhaps its time to scrutinize those labels more carefully. The serious health implications mean that taking this issue seriously can have a profound impact on your health in the future! Taking the time to make your own paraben-free cosmetics at home could be one HUGE step in the right direction. More news and recipes to come....