Black Women Harmed by Toxins in Hair Relaxants

845 hair relaxants toxic

Chemicals to straighten and relax hair are a part of life for many black women, for reasons that range from societal expectations to ease of care. But our society’s discomfort with black women’s natural hair comes with a cost — these products contain chemicals associated with early puberty, obesity, asthma, and increased cancer risk.

True, the majority of hair, body, and makeup products aimed at all women contain multiple toxic compounds. However, researchers believe that some health disparities that exist between black and white women may be due to the use of more toxic hair chemicals among African American women.

This was demonstrated in a 2016 study that showed black women’s bodies contained more of these toxic chemicals than in women of other ethnicities.

Relaxers, root stimulators, and anti-frizz products contain almost 70 chemicals identified so far that are known toxins to the human body.

For instance, parabens and phthalates have been shown to disrupt hormone function and are linked to early puberty in girls and pre-term births.

Nonylphenol is associated with obesity and increased cancer risk.

Formaldehyde increases the risk of miscarriage and respiratory issues.

Many of these products also cause eye and skin irritation, burning and blistering the scalp, damaging hair follicles, and causing hair loss. They also cause respiratory disorders.

One product can contain as many as 30 different toxic chemicals and we don’t yet know how these chemicals react in combination with one another.

It’s no wonder black women are shown to suffer more health disorders related to these chemicals compared to other ethnicities.

Black women are more likely than white or Hispanic women to suffer from disorders related to the endocrine system, or their hormonal system.

In fact, hair relaxers have been linked to uterine fibroids in black girls and women at a rate that is two to three times higher than in other women. It’s estimated uterine fibroids affect up to 80 percent of black women during their lifetime.

Other studies have shown that cosmetologists exposed to these products during pregnancy experienced twice the rate of miscarriages.

Breast cancer is a leading cause of death among black women, who generally experience more aggressive forms of the cancer compared to white women.

Additionally, studies show a link between the use of these hair products in girls and early puberty.

Although the black hair care market is an industry estimated to account for $500 billion in sales, very few products are tested for toxicity or the effects they have on human health. In the few cases when they are tested, they are found to be the most toxic hair products on the market.

The Black Women for Wellness Report addresses the complexity around the harmful and toxic nature of black women’s hair products, cultural expectations for black women’s hair, and the positive role of hair salons in black communities.

Other factors that cause early puberty and disrupt hormone function and balance

Although scientists have established a clear link between the synthetic toxic compounds and hormonal imbalances such as early puberty, other factors play a role as well.

One of the most common is consistently elevated blood sugar from a diet high in processed carbohydrates (such as pasta, bread, pastries, etc.) and sugars. These foods raise the incidence of obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes, which in turn raises the risk of early puberty and other hormonal disorders.

Excess body fat and high insulin stimulate the production of estrogen. Both diabetes and obesity are prevalent among African Americans. Genetics play a role in this, as does the fact that many black people in the US do not have access to healthy foods, nutritional education, or safe outdoor spaces to exercise.

Also, compounds in common foods are estrogenic. One study showed infants fed soy formula had estrogen levels 13,000 to 22,000 times higher than normal (soy is a known estrogen mimicker). Also, sex hormones are given to beef and dairy cattle, and the antibiotics given to animals may be a factor.

Puberty also begins earlier in populations who live further from the equator and more prone to vitamin D deficiency. Studies show black people and people with dark skin in the US tend to be deficient in vitamin D due to insufficient exposure to the sun. Taking 10,000 IU a day of vitamin D can be helpful.

A whole foods diet that restricts sugar and limiting exposure to chemicals can help prevent hormonal disorders.

Ask my office for advice on how to reduce the toxic burden on your body, support the organs that help remove toxins, and how to reduce your risk of chronic and serious health disorders.

Staying Thin is Harder Than in the Past

843 weight loss harder these days

If you feel like you have a harder time staying slim than your grandparents did at your age, you are right. We are about 10 percent heavier than people in the 80s, even when we eat the same foods and exercise just as much. This may be due to changes in lifestyle and environmental factors that impact our BMI, or body mass index.

Recent research by York University’s Faculty of Health shows it’s harder to maintain the same weight at a certain age than it was for someone 20 or 30 years ago. Even if you eat exactly the same macros (protein, fat, and carbs) and do the same amount and type of exercise, you are likely to be heavier than they were at your age.

In fact, with all factors accounted for, the predicted BMI has risen 2.3 points between 1988 and 2006.

According to study author Jennifer Kuk, “Our study results suggest that if you are 40 years old now, you’d have to eat even less and exercise more than if you were a 40-year-old in 1971, to prevent gaining weight. However, it also indicates there may be other specific changes contributing to the rise in obesity beyond just diet and exercise.”

Specific factors contribute to our increased BMI

Historically we tend to look only to dietary and exercise habits when we consider our weight or BMI (body mass index).

However, weight management is much more complex than watching what you eat and how much you work out. Our BMI is affected by many factors such as:

  • Medication use
  • Environmental toxins
  • Genetics
  • Meal timing
  • Stress level
  • Gut bacteria populations
  • Nighttime light exposure

While the study’s authors admit we need more research to determine exactly how these factors play into the changed BMI picture, they suggest three main players:

Increased environmental toxins. Compared to 30 years ago, we are exposed to a higher level of environmental toxins such as pesticides, air pollution, heavy metals, flame retardants, plastics used for food storage, and more. These toxins put a heavy burden on the endocrine system, altering the hormonal processes that affect metabolism and weight management.

Increased use of prescription drugs. Since the 1970s our use of prescription drugs has risen dramatically. Many antidepressant drugs are linked with weight gain and are the most prescribed drugs in the US for people between 18 and 44.

Our gut microbiome has changed. The gut microbiome, or the community of good and bad bacteria that naturally inhabit the digestive tract, have changed dramatically since the 80’s.

Americans eat differently than they used to. The products we eat are more filled with antibiotics, pesticides, and other toxins; we eat more artificial sweeteners; and we eat more junk food. All of these factors may negatively affect our gut bacteria populations.

A hot topic of research, the gut microbiome is linked to more and more aspects of health and disease. We now know that some gut bacteria are linked with weight gain and obesity. In fact, doctors are even using fecal implantation — insertion of gut bacteria from a healthy slim patient into the gut of an unhealthy obese patient — to reduce chronic obesity.

Support your microbiome with SCFA

In functional medicine we consider the gut microbiome to be a foundation of health. An imbalanced gut microbiome can prevent you from healing from many health disorders, so it makes sense to do everything you can to support yours.

One important factor is oral tolerance, or the body’s ability to properly recognize food proteins. When we lose oral tolerance, the immune system mistakenly thinks more and more foods are pathogens, and we begin to have more food sensitivities, increased hormonal issues, increased autoimmunity, and imbalanced metabolism and weight gain.

You can support oral tolerance by fixing leaky gut, supporting liver function, taming histamine reactions, reducing stress, and balancing blood sugar. But one of the best ways to support it is by providing your body with plenty of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA).

Your gut bacteria not only make SCFA, they also need them as fuel to produce more SCFA. The more you eat them, the more your good gut bacteria can outweigh the bad.

Three main SCFAs include:

  • Butyrate
  • Propionate
  • Acetate

SCFA bind to cell receptors that control your hunger and appetite, turn off insulin resistance, and burn body fat more efficiently.

When you are low on SCFA you will:

  • Have a larger appetite
  • Be prone to insulin resistance (think pre-diabetes)
  • Store body fat better than you burn it

When gut diversity is ruined, SCFA can’t signal properly and you end up with what we call an “obese microbiome.”

How to support SCFA

To support healthy levels of SCFA, adopt the following habits:

Eat abundant and varied produce. Eat plenty of diverse vegetables so your gut bacteria stay adept at recognizing many different food proteins. Aim for 7 to 9 servings a day. One serving consists of a half cup of chopped vegetable or one cup of shredded greens. Go easy on high-sugar fruits to keep your blood sugar stable.

Supplement with SCFA. You may benefit from also supplementing with butyrate, the main SCFA. Start with one capsule a day and work your way up to two capsules twice a day.

Boost glutathione levels. Glutathione is the master antioxidant that helps dampen inflammation, a main factor in loss of microbiome diversity. Take absorbable glutathione such as liposomal glutathione, s-acetyl glutathione (regular glutathione isn’t absorbed well), or its precursors such as n-acetyl cysteine.

There are many other helpful ways to support a healthy microbiome. Contact our office to determine your microbiome health and how to improve it, so you can maintain a healthy weight.

Pollutants Lower Sperm Counts

839 pollutants lower sperm counts

Infertility has been a growing problem over the last three decades, with most of the attention focused on women’s reproduction. However, 40 to 50 percent of cases of infertility are caused by male infertility. Research shows sperm quality has dropped by 50 percent in the last 80 years. Sperm quality of dogs has also declined sharply over recent years.

Now, a recent study shows common pollutants in the environment and in the foods we eat affect male fertility.

The British study looked at the
effects of two common pollutants on the sperm of both men and dogs. For this
study they studied a common plasticizer that is ubiquitous in our environment
and the industrial chemical polychlorinated biphenyl 153, which, though banned,
is still abundant in our foods and the environment.

They found that when sperm is
exposed to both these chemicals at levels found in the environment it damaged
the sperm. They reduced sperm motility and fragmented DNA in the sperm. Male
infertility is linked to DNA fragmentation in sperm.

Many studies link pollutants to poor sperm quality

The declining rates of sperm quality since the rise of industrialization are no surprise; other studies show links.

For instance, past research has shown that environmental pollutants not only impact male fertility but also raise the risk of testicular cancer. Poor sperm quality has even been linked to the chemical exposure of a man’s mother prior to his birth.

Also, chemicals called “endocrine disrupters” have long been shown to impact male fertility. That’s because they mimic human hormones — the female hormone estrogen primarily, thus throwing male hormones off balance.

Again, it’s the chemicals in plastics that are to blame for skewing male hormones and promoting infertility.

Low sperm counts and poor sperm quality have also been linked to benzenes, toluene, xylene, pesticides, herbicides, organic solvents, painting materials, and heavy metals.

Sugars and processed carbs impact male fertility

While industrial pollutants take their toll, so does a dietary pollutant that is a staple of the modern American diet: foods high in sugar and processed carbohydrates that spike blood sugar
and insulin levels.

Eating a diet high in these blood sugar-spiking ingredients triggers a man’s body to over produce estrogen. This not only gives him more feminine characteristics but also impacts his
fertility.

Symptoms of too much estrogen in men include:

  • Low libido
  • Decrease or loss of morning erections, fullness of erections, and the ability to maintain erections
  • Mental fatigue and poor concentration
  • Depression
  • Lack of motivation
  • Decrease in physical stamina
  • Infertility

Men with excess estrogen also often have high cholesterol and triglycerides, insulin resistance, elevated blood pressure, abdominal weight gain, the development of “breasts” and “hips,”
and varicose veins or hemorrhoids. Some men even have hot flashes thanks to
high estrogen.

A variety of factors are shown to contribute to estrogen dominance in men, including estrogen mimicking chemicals in pesticides and environmental chemicals, poor essential fatty acid status
(too much omega 6 fatty acids and not enough omega 3), gut infections, and poor liver detoxification.

However, the most common cause is the effect of a high-carbohydrate diet on overall health.

When a man consistently eats a diet that is high in starchy and sugary foods, such as sweets, bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, soda, and sweet coffee drinks, this chronically over produces
insulin in order to low high blood sugar.

This type of diet triggers an enzyme called aromatase, which synthesizes estrogen. The constant activity of aromatase also leads to insulin resistance—when insulin cannot escort glucose
into the cells—which causes hormonal imbalances.

Addressing excess estrogen in men

Don’t be fooled into thinking using testosterone gel is the way around high estrogen. Thanks to aromatase, the additional testosterone will simply be converted into estrogen too. The excess
testosterone can also cause testosterone resistance, which makes symptoms of low testosterone worse. Instead, a hormone panel that includes levels of testosterone and estrogen will reveal the mechanisms of the imbalance and what the best course of action is for you.

Functional medicine strategies for male infertility

While we can’t rid the environment of pollutants, we can minimize our exposure and help buffer our bodies. In addition to replacing toxic items in your home, body care, house cleaning, and
diet with non-toxic alternatives, you can also help your body by supporting your liver detoxification, antioxidant glutathione status, and body’s stress handling abilities.

It’s also vital to use diet and lifestyle changes to support healthy testosterone levels. Ask my office about functional medicine therapies to support healthy male testosterone and fertility.