HER Place - Health Enhancement and Renewal for Women
About HER Place Second Opinion Service Services Patient Info Hormone Info Books In the News
Hormone Replacement Therapy Success Stories “Why is it we see so many more women today suffering from serious health problems? Are we overlooking a crucial connection that lurks ‘innocently’ in the foods we are eating and the soft drinks we consume by the gallon? ”
Join Dr. Vliet's Newsletter List

Toxins in Your Diet

By Elizabeth Lee Vliet, MD
Excerpted and condensed from It’s My Ovaries, Stupid, pgs. 65 – 79
Scribner, 2003 

Ovaries at Risk: Hormone Disruptors in Common Foods

Why is it we see so many more women today suffering from serious health problems, including infertility, arising from premature ovarian decline? Are we overlooking a crucial connection that lurks “innocently” in the foods we are eating and the soft drinks we consume by the gallon?

I think the answer is yes. As you read the stories of the women I have seen for consultations, you will recognize that many of them have one thing in common: Their ovaries have been damaged by subtle, insidious dietary and environmental “hormone disruptors” that have impaired their ability to make the ovarian hormones they need to “run” the cellular engines that make up every organ in their bodies. Some of these hormone disruptors—such as soft drinks and MSG—are commonplace. We would never dream that they could wreak such havoc on our ovaries and hormones.

Soft drinks? “Impossible,” you might say. MSG in all those foods? “Not in a million years!”

The following information may shock you. You may not think it is real. But worldwide research has established that endocrine disruptors have adverse effects on animal life all over the planet, from insects to humans. Dietary toxins are a very serious problem. They can affect many aspects of your health, from present fertility to future cancer risk.

Let’s explore some surprising “ovary damagers” that lie in some ostensibly innocent foods and beverages you probably eat or drink every day.

The Soft-Drink/Fast-Food Menace: Excitotoxins and Hormone Health

How can soft drinks and foods affect our ovaries? Let’s look at what we know about certain types of food additives and sweeteners that fall into a group of chemicals called excitotoxins.

Excitotoxins, or neurotoxicants, are chemicals that cause damage or death to nerve cells. Basically, these chemicals stimulate such an intense and rapid firing of nerve endings that cells run out of chemical messengers, then die a few hours later. The nerve cells in the hypothalamus, our master hormone regulator, are some of the most sensitive to this excitatory damage and death. These excitotoxins can damage brain cells in the hypothalamus while we are still quietly developing in our mother’s womb, but the impact doesn’t show up until many years later when our menstrual cycles begin.

In childhood, we typically consume large amounts of these excitotoxins in soft drinks and other processed foods. The damage to the hypothalamus accumulates with each passing day, and yet we don’t recognize what is happening. Again, the most marked consequences of this damage show up later in our reproductive years, when “hormone problems” can begin in earnest.

Excitotoxins: Where They Are Found

Man-made: Hydrolyzed vegetable protein powder
Found in nature as amino acids: glutamate, aspirate, cysteine

Name Where Found
Monosodium Glumate (MSG) Many types of prepared foods
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein: (contains 3 excitotoxins: glumate, aspartate, and cystoic acid) Many prepared foods, diet products, frozen dinners
Aspartate (Nutrasweet) Everything from foods to soft drinks
Glumatate See above
Cystiene (cystoic acid) See above

Major Brain Areas and What They Do

The cerebral cortex is our master “thinker,” integrating information between the body and the outside world. It is made up of the brain’s frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes.

The limbic system lies deep in the brain’s subcortical area. It is made up of several structures that regulate many human “drives,” such as appetite, thirst, sex, aggression, and sleep-wake cycles. The limbic system is crucial to our discussion here because it encompasses our body’s master hormone regulators, the hypothalamus and pituitary, that oversee endocrine regulation, memory processing, mood and emotion, alertness, focus, and movement coordination. The limbic system also helps integrate sensory information, including pain.

Chronic pain-carrying signals from the pass through the limbic center, while acute pain pathways bypass the limbic system and go directly to the higher brain centers. This is one reason that chronic pain shatters the stability of our mood and sleep-governing centers, and causes insomnia and depression along with the pain. People suffering acute pain usually do not experience depression or severe sleep disturbances.

The cerebellum lies below the cortex and towards the back of the head. Its major role is to coordinate movement (with the cortex), balance, and fine-motor control. For example, imbalance from alcohol intoxication and the abnormal movements seen in Parkinson’s disease result from damage to these movement-control pathways.

The brainstem (midbrain, pons, medulla) are structures that regulate our “survival functions,” such as respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure in response to all the information they receive from multiple connections to the brain and spinal cord.

The spinal cord is a thick band of nerve fibers that connects to the brain at the base of the skull and travels the length of our spine to the low back. It carries all the nerve tracts and the constant flow of chemical messengers from the body to the brain and from the brain back to the body so that our brain and body functions can be properly coordinated.

The Many Triggers of Mood and Anxiety Problems

  • Hormonal changes: loss or decline of estradiol and testosterone, imbalance of estradiol and progesterone (especially excess progesterone relative to low estradiol), excess DHEA, thyroid too low or too high, excess or deficiency of cortisol, excess insulin causing low blood glucose, to name some major ones.
  • Nutritional factors: deficiency of key vitamins and minerals; excess or deficiency of amino acids; imbalance of protein, carbohydrates, and fat; dehydration.
  • Metabolic imbalances: abnormal glucose regulation, such as rapid rises or falls in blood glucose, or levels that are too low or too high; sodium-potassium imbalances; calcium or magnesium imbalance; and iron deficiency.
  • Infectious organisms: viruses and bacteria that damage the brain directly or have indirect effects via damage to the thyroid and ovary hormones that in turn affect our moods.
  • Environmental exposures: food additives, pesticides, xenobiotics, heavy metals, molds, and other chemicals. Many of these can disrupt formation or action of neurotransmitters and hormones.

Sticker Shock: A High Health Cost to Your Hormone Health

  • One regular soft drink (12 ounces)
    10 teaspoons of sugar (40 grams!), 140 calories. And most of you probably drink more than one a day! Remember, you’re getting empty calories with no nutritional value, plus all those excitatory amino acids and artificial chemicals used as taste enhancers can affect the pituitary. Soft drinks also have high levels of sodium and phosphates that leech calcium from your body, adding to low bone density in young women.
  • One bag of potato chips (15 ounces)
    Equals 1 cup of oil (150 grams of fat!), 1,400 calories. This is more than your whole day’s allowance of fat, not to mention almost your entire day’s calories, all easily consumed by “couch potatoes” in about fifteen minutes! Since the calories are coming from carbs and fat, with practically no fiber, they add up fast — you don’t feel all that full, so you don’t realize how much you’ve eaten in calories or fat. Potato chips are also loaded with flavor enhancers, those excitatory amino acids I described earlier.
  • One movie-theater popcorn with “butter” (medium, not jumbo)
    Equals 8 potatoes, 910 calories, 75 grams of fat. Popcorn at the movies is an insidious “fat saboteur” because is contains so many grams of fat, and also because it is usually made with the unhealthy saturated or trans fats. Add to that all the flavor-enhancing chemicals. And it may shock you to know that the carbs in this popcorn are equal to eight whole potatoes! Considering that it takes roughly one mile of walking to burn 100 calories, you’d have to park nine miles away from the theater to walk off all those extra calories! If you like popcorn, try taking a smaller bag of the no-fat, air-popped kind in your pocketbook.
  • One Big Mac and large fries (McDonald’s)
    Equals the fat content of 1 cup of Crisco (Yuk! Is that what you would want to be eating?) Most of us would feel repulsed to think about eating a cup of lard or Crisco. But that’s what you are doing here: a Big Mac has 590 calories and 34 grams of fat, and if you add this to the 540 calories and 26 grams of fat in the fries, you get 60 grams of fat and 1,130 calories — about the fat equivalent of 2 cups of Crisco… plus almost all your entire day’s worth of calories. Stop and think before you pack away all that fat. If you are having a “Big Mac attack,” stop and visualize what one cup of Crisco would look like spread around your thighs! Then switch to a grilled chicken without the mayo, and hold the fries. You’ll get just as much flavor with a lot fewer calories and fat. And you can feel oh so virtuous.
  • 1 pint of Häagen-Dazs ice cream (plain vanilla)
    Equals one stick of butter. I know, I like Häagen-Dazs, too… and it is all too easy to eat “the whole thing” — after all, it’s such a small container, it can’t be too bad, right? Wrong. 1,080 calories in one sitting is, once again, almost your whole day’s supply of calories!
  • 1 bagel with cream cheese
    Equals 2.5 slices of pepperoni pizza. Bagels have a pretty innocent image — most of us would think that pizza has more calories and fat. But not all bagels are built the same. Bagels from specialty stores, at 4 ounces and 350-500 calories on average, have twice the size and calories of a traditional bagel. A normal serving of cream cheese contains about 2 tablespoons or 75 calories. But most bagel specialty stores and delis pile on as much as half a cup of cream cheese, bumping the calorie count up to 400!

    If you just can’t go without your morning specialty shop bagel, then at least try having only half for breakfast, and save the other half for your afternoon snack. At least you won’t overdo it in the morning and still hit the afternoon slump at 4 PM, craving even more calories! Or, if you just don’t have the willpower to save half for later, then scoop out some of the excess bagel dough and scrape off excess cream cheese. The calories you save are worth it for your waist.

Print version of this file