What Exactly are Hormone Disruptors ?

What are Hormone disruptors and why should you care

What are hormone disruptors?

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are chemicals or mixtures of chemicals that interfere with the way the body’s hormones work.

The endocrine system is a network of glands and organs that produce, store and secrete hormones.  When functioning normally, the endocrine system works with other systems to regulate your body’s healthy development and function throughout life.  EDCs are substances in the environment (air, soil or water supply), food sources, personal care products and manufactured products that interfere with the normal function of your body’s endocrine system.

What effect do they have on our health and how could they impact my body?

The body’s endocrine tissues produce essential hormones that help regulate energy levels, reproduction, growth and development, as well as our response to stress and injury.

Mimicking naturally occurring hormones such as estrogen and androgen, EDCs lock on to receptors within a human cell and block the body’s own hormones from binding with it, potentially wreaking havoc on our health.

EDCs can disrupt many different hormones, which is why they have been linked to numerous adverse human health outcomes, including alterations in sperm quality and fertility, abnormalities in sex organs, endometriosis, early puberty, altered nervous system and immune function, certain cancers, respiratory problems, metabolic issues, diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular problems, growth problems, neurological and learning disabilities and more.

Perhaps the most concerning of all are the effects of high EDC exposures during fetal development and childhood, which can have long lasting health effects since there are periods where hormones regulate the formation and maturation of organs.  Early life exposures have been linked to developmental abnormalities and may increase the risk of a variety of diseases later in life.  Some EDCs have been found to cross the placenta and become concentrated in the fetus’ circulation whilst others can be transferred from mother to infant through breast milk.

EDCs have also been linked to neurological damage and behavioural problems such as attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Autism and loss of IQ according to The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, a medical journal.

How are we exposed?

EDCs are found in thousands of everyday products, ranging from plastic and metal food containers to detergents, building materials, flame retardants, toys and cosmetics.  They can also be found in the air that we breathe, our soils and water sources.  EDCs can enter the body through the skin.

Examples of Common EDC Sources:

  • Industrial chemicals and pesticides can leach into soil and groundwater, make their way into the food chain by building up in fish, animals and people
  • Non-organic produce can contain pesticide residues
  • Food products that are packaged in containers which can leach EDCs (eg. BPA linings of tinned foods)
  • Household furnishings and fabrics that are treated with flame retardants such as upholstery, mattresses, cushions, curtains and carpets, as well as some electronics and building materials.
  • Household products such as cleaning products that contain harsh chemical cleaning agents and synthetic fragrances, including air fresheners 
  • Household pesticides, insecticides, herbicides
  • Personal care products and cosmetics that contain synthetic fragrances and preservatives (eg. parabens)
  • Personal care products such as antibacterial soaps that often contain Triclosan, a known EDC.
  • Children’s products and toys can contain lead phthalates and cadmium
  • Old Teflon cookware, non-stick food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags textiles, and clothing can contain perfluorochemicals (PFCs)

Common EDCs and Their Uses:

Common EDCs  Used In:
DDT, Chlorpyrifos, Atrazine, 2, 4-D, Glyphosate Pesticides
Lead, Phthalates, Cadmium Children's products
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and Dioxins Plastics and food storage materials
Brominated Flame Retardants, PCBs Electronics and building materials
Phthalates, Parabens, UV Filters Personal Care Products, Medical Tubing, Sunscreen
Triclosan Antibacterial soaps, some toothpastes 
Perfluorochemicals  Textiles, clothing, non-stick food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, old Teflon cookware

Some Myths and facts  

Myth – There is a safe, permissible limit for toxic chemicals (below which they are harmless)

Fact – Not true, as some herbicides are able to mimic and replace estrogens in the body even in the very low parts per trillion concentration range. Some studies suggest that bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics and parabens in cosmetic products can have a greater hormone mimicking action as concentrations decrease.

Myth – You must swallow an EDC in order for it to enter your system

Fact – Your skin is a living organ and not a barrier to toxic substances. In many cases, the dermal (skin) route for chemical absorption is faster and more harmful because absorbed chemicals can enter circulation without being metabolized.

Myth – If it’s offered in my grocery store or advertised on TV, I can be sure it’s safe

Fact – Many chemicals enter the market without any safety testing at all. Product testing is rarely able to simulate chronic, low exposure over a long period, which is typically how humans are exposed. Their potential for harm may not be realized, sometimes for decades.

Myth – I have been using cleaning supplies, face washes, and laundry detergents with chemical compounds for years with no adverse effects.

Fact – It is true that many products are not harmful when used properly and sparingly. It is impossible to know, however, that a product is truly “safe.” Choosing products without known EDCs is a proactive way of safeguarding your health and the health of your family. 

Sources:

The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology Medical Journal

Hormone Health Network

Environmental Protection Agency US (EPA)


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