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What are Xenoestrogens and How To Test for Exposure

Medically reviewed by 
What are Xenoestrogens and How To Test for Exposure

Xenoestrogens are a subcategory of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that impact hormone levels. Specifically, xenoestrogens have estrogen-like effects that can mimic natural estrogens in the body and alter the microbiome's composition to affect estrogen metabolism.

EDCs like xenoestrogens enter our bodies predominantly by consuming food, via contact with the skin, and through inhalation. They are found in everyday products like pesticides, preservatives, personal care items, and plastics. Excessive exposure to xenoestrogens can affect the body's hormone levels and contribute to estrogen dominance.

While you constantly interact with chemicals in your environment that can impact your hormones, there are dietary, lifestyle, and functional medicine approaches that can reduce your exposure and help reestablish balance in the body.


What are Xenoestrogens?

Estrogens are natural sex hormones found in both men and women. They are important for many complex processes, including fat metabolism, cardiovascular health, and reproduction. The body regulates the balance of estrogens through intricate biochemical pathways.

There are over 1,000 chemicals classified as EDCs due to their disruption of hormones. Xenoestrogens are EDCs that copy the behavior of estrogens inside the body. Xenoestrogens comprise one category of EDCs that interfere with our endocrine or hormonal systems.

When xenoestrogens enter the body through ingesting contaminated food, breathing substances in the air, or absorption through the skin, they increase the total amount of estrogen in the body. Since xenoestrogens are stored in fat cells, they can be reintroduced into the bloodstream and disrupt hormonal balance, which contributes to estrogen dominance. From there, estrogen is then metabolized through detoxification in the liver.

In addition to the liver, our gut also plays a role in the elimination of estrogens from the body.

The estrobolome is a collection of bacteria found in the gut that metabolizes the body's circulating estrogen. Some of these bacteria produce beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme that helps reabsorb estrogen into the blood.

When the gut bacteria are not balanced as with dysbiosis, beta-glucuronidase's activity can be impacted. In addition to variable levels of enzyme activity, intestinal microbial's overall diversity can also influence the balance of estrogens. The resulting dysbiosis can lead to imbalances between different forms of estrogen in the body, which may lead to the development of estrogen-related pathologies and chronic diseases.

Different Types of Xenoestrogens

There are two types of xenoestrogens: natural and synthetic. Natural xenoestrogens, like phytoestrogens, comprise the largest group of naturally occurring xenoestrogens and are compounds found in plants. Another type is mycoestrogens, which are substances produced by fungi or molds.

The other type of xenoestrogens is synthetic. These chemicals are man-made and are found in products like plastics and pesticides.

Where are Xenoestrogens Found?

EDCs like xenoestrogens enter our bodies predominantly by consuming food and water, via contact with the skin, and through inhalation. Many everyday products contain xenoestrogens, such as foods sprayed with pesticides, plastic water bottles and storage containers, makeup and skincare, and cleaning products.

Xenoestrogens in Plastics

Plastics that contain phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) are common sources of synthetic xenoestrogens. Phthalates are plasticizers found in household products like vinyl flooring, lubricating oils, soaps, shampoos, and hair sprays and are frequently incorporated into plastic packaging and medical tubing. BPA is found in epoxy resin and polycarbonate plastics that make up plastics used in water bottles, food storage containers, the linings of metal cans, dental sealants, and thermal paper used for receipts.

Xenoestrogens in Personal Care Items

Skincare products and makeup are other common sources of xenoestrogen exposure. Parabens (methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, and butylparaben) are commonly used as preservatives in skincare products. In addition to cosmetic and personal care items, parabens are extensively used in pharmaceuticals and food products due to their antimicrobial activity.

Xenoestrogens in Food

Other xenoestrogens include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which are industrial chemicals historically used as pesticides and coolants. Despite being banned many years ago, PCBs are still present in the food supply, with fish, dairy, hamburger meat, and poultry being amongst the most contaminated food sources.

Signs & Symptoms of Xenoestrogen Toxicity

A build-up of xenoestrogens contributes to many conditions that influence hormones. The most common signs of estrogen imbalance that can result from xenoestrogen toxicity include:

  • Bloating and digestive upset
  • Acne
  • Low libido
  • Heavy, light, or irregular periods
  • Tender, swollen, and/or fibrocystic breasts
  • Headaches
  • Weight gain
  • Hot flashes
  • Mood swings
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

Xenoestrogens accumulate in fat tissues, leading to excess fatty tissue accumulation in the body, altered metabolism, increased appetite, and obesity. For example, exposure to organochlorine pesticides, phthalates, and PCBs is linked with insulin resistance and an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Xenoestrogens can also interfere with thyroid hormone production, signaling, and receptors. Additionally, xenoestrogens can lower sperm count in men and contribute to infertility.

Ways To Avoid Xenoestrogens

While it may feel like xenoestrogens are unavoidable, there are ways you can limit exposure for yourself. Fortunately, avoiding xenoestrogens can improve their health impacts and even reverse toxicity. There are many ways you can reduce exposure to xenoestrogens throughout your lifespan.

Avoiding Xenoestrogens in Plastics

Plastics and the additives in many plastic products may also release toxic chemicals such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), phthalates, and heavy metals. Many of these chemicals are considered endocrine disruptors, which interfere with normal hormone function in the body. Minimize your use of plastic water bottles and food containers, especially when heated, and swap out plastic for more sustainable and healthier materials like stainless steel and glass. Xenoestrogens, in particular BPA, phthalates, and phytoestrogens, can also affect the gut microbiome.

Avoiding Xenoestrogens in Personal Care Items

Be mindful of personal care and beauty products you use, as these products can become absorbed through the skin or respiratory tract. It's best to avoid products with phthalates and parabens, like synthetic fragrances, as they can disrupt estrogen levels. Instead, opt for all-natural, biodegradable laundry and household cleaning products. The EWG Skin Deep website is a good resource if you are interested in checking the safety of personal care products.

Avoiding Xenoestrogens in Foods

Since one of the primary sources of exposure to xenoestrogens is food, opt for organic food whenever possible, like hormone-free organic meats and dairy products. While eating organic can be expensive, there are resources available that can help you determine which foods you should and shouldn’t eat organic. The Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen are both lists that are updated yearly and can help in prioritizing which produce to buy organic. The Clean 15 is a list that consists of 15 foods with minimal pesticide residue risk. While the Dirty Dozen provides information on the 12 foods with a high risk of pesticide residue and should be avoided in their non-organic form whenever possible.

Functional Medicine Labs That Help With Treating Xenoestrogen Toxicity

Functional medicine testing can help to identify hormonal imbalances, liver function, and exposure to environmental xenoestrogens. These laboratory results can help guide personalized treatment plans and can be repeated to monitor progress when concerned about xenoestrogen toxicity.  

Sex Hormone Panels

Sex hormones, like estrogen, can be measured through saliva, serum, and urine tests. The Complete Hormones Panel and Estrogen Elite Profile measure estrogen, progesterone, and androgen metabolites and can identify any imbalances taking place in the body.

Additionally, urine testing can provide additional information, as the DUTCH Complete test measures forms of estrogen and estrogen metabolites not routinely measured in blood or saliva testing.

Evaluating Environmental Toxins

In addition to taking a thorough history aimed at identifying exposures to environmental xenoestrogens and other chemicals, an Environmental Toxins screen can quantify exposure to various endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Liver Function Tests

Unused estrogen and chemicals are primarily metabolized by the liver in processes using enzymes that require vitamins and minerals as cofactors to function. Like natural estrogens, the metabolism of xenoestrogens takes place in the liver. Because of this, liver function tests should be accompanied by a Micronutrient Panel to evaluate imbalances in vitamins and minerals that can impact liver detoxification of xenoestrogens.

Comprehensive Stool Test

Comprehensive stool testing like the Gut Zoomer provides an evaluation of microbes in the gut, intestinal inflammation, and dysbiosis in the gut that frequently accompany xenoestrogen toxicity.


Functional Medicine Treatment for Xenoestrogen Toxicity

Diet, alcohol, environmental exposures, and lifestyle choices all influence xenoestrogen toxicity. Proper nutrition, physical activity, and stress management are all linked to regulating hormones like estrogen.

An individualized approach to diet, detoxification, and movement can encourage the restoration of balanced estrobolome and estrogen levels. The following lifestyle and dietary changes can help you remove xenoestrogens from the body and balance your estrobolome to keep your hormones healthy.

Nutrition and Dietary Considerations for Xenoestrogen Toxicity  

Diet strongly influences the metabolism of estrogens and xenoestrogens by influencing the composition of the estrobolome and providing a balance of nutrients that impact the liver’s ability to detoxify xenoestrogens.

Eat a Hormone-Balancing Diet

The human gut microbiome is a subset of microbes within the gastrointestinal tract that impact metabolism of various forms of estrogens. A healthy gut microbiome helps to balance and excrete hormone levels. Together, these microbes are called the estrobolome.

The microbes involved produce beta-glucuronidase. This enzyme alters estrogen and can bind to estrogen receptors, influencing estrogen-dependent processes. Generally, the more beta-glucuronidase the gut produces, the less estrogen is excreted. This leads to increased estrogen in the body.

Eating a more high-fiber whole foods diet creates greater bacterial diversity in the gut to help metabolize estrogens and restore balance. Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi help to rebalance gut bacteria and increase diversity. Prebiotic foods that are rich in fructooligosaccharides or inulin help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria found in the gut. These foods include asparagus, garlic, and banana.

Overall, following a Mediterranean diet for six months emphasizing whole fruits and vegetables, fiber-dense foods like legumes and beans, and a moderate amount of fish and olive oil decreases estrogen levels by up to 40%.

Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower help to regulate beneficial gut bacteria, supply fiber to keep the gut healthy, and support healthy detoxification of hormones, including estrogen. Cruciferous vegetables are also naturally high in a compound called diindolylmethane (DIM), which improves estrogen metabolism and supports liver health to help recover from xenoestrogen toxicity.

Reducing alcohol and caffeine also balances hormones since these can burden the liver and disrupt estrogen metabolism.

Supplements and Herbs That Help With Xenoestrogen Toxicity

Probiotics: In addition to incorporating naturally-fermented foods into your diet, supplementing with probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus may help to decrease bacteria that produce beta-glucuronidase to bring estrogen into greater balance.

Calcium-d-glucarate: Supplementation of calcium-d-glucarate can also help support the excretion of excess estrogen. Since it inhibits beta-glucuronidase, this supplement can allow more estrogen to leave the body through the stool.

Additional supplements herbs: Phytonutrients that support liver health and detoxification of xenoestrogens include curcumin, quercetin, and fish oil. In addition, methylated B vitamins (vitamin B12 and folate), milk thistle, licorice, and cinnamon promote liver health and effective detoxification function.

Complementary and Integrative Medicine for Xenoestrogen Toxicity

An integrative medicine approach to xenoestrogen toxicity incorporates lifestyle factors that support the healthy elimination of endocrine-disrupting chemicals from the body. For example, the detoxification of xenoestrogens is influenced by exercise and sweating, which can be accomplished with sauna bathing.

Exercise for Hormone Regulation

Since aerobic exercise can help the body metabolize estrogen, exercise is another excellent way to support the detoxification of xenoestrogens and lead to reduced stress and regulated hormones. Physical activity is known to help balance circulating levels of estrogen. Studies suggest that regular moderate-intensity exercise can lower levels of circulating estrogens. This can help the body deal more effectively with xenoestrogen exposure and balance estrogen levels.

With exercise, more isn’t always better. To avoid increasing stress, listen to your body and don't overdo it with physical activity, which can lead to further hormone imbalances. To combat this, it's important to listen to your body and take time for rest when needed. Active forms of rest like yoga can help you recover between workouts while reducing stress and promoting health.

Sauna Bathing for Hormone Regulation

Sauna bathing is a common form of thermotherapy, or body heating, used to help induce detoxification and remove toxins from the body via sweating. On a cellular level, sauna bathing induces metabolic changes that reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, while sweating removes toxins like bisphenol A (BPA) from the body.



Xenoestrogens are synthetic or naturally occurring endocrine-disrupting compounds. They can bind to the body’s estrogen receptors and increase estrogenic activity by mimicking the natural function of estrogen and interfering with hormonal metabolism. We come into contact with synthetic xenoestrogens through ingesting food and water, breathing in contaminated air, and absorbing them through the skin. They are found in foods, industrial pollutants, plastics, pesticides, and some cosmetics and other personal care products.

Functional medicine testing, including a urine hormone panel that includes all forms of estrogen, can help regain hormone balance. In addition, assessing liver function, levels of vitamins and minerals, and gut health can help figure out why estrogen is out of balance and address factors that can help reverse xenoestrogen toxicity.

Fortunately, lifestyle choices can help reduce your exposure to xenoestrogens and support your body in removing excess estrogen to restore hormonal balance. Eating organic foods, storing food in glass or stainless steel containers instead of plastic, using a high-quality water filter, avoiding BPA-lined cans and receipts, using natural skincare and cleaning products, and being mindful of other environmental exposures can significantly reduce your exposure to xenoestrogens. To improve the elimination of xenoestrogens, a balanced anti-inflammatory organic diet and liver-supporting supplements can help.

The information provided is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult with your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider before taking any dietary supplement or making any changes to your diet or exercise routine.
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