Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that often interfere with your body’s natural endocrine system and produce adverse neurological, reproductive, developmental and immune effects. There are many substances that are believed to cause endocrine disruptions, some are natural and some are man-made like pharmaceuticals, DDT and other pesticides, and plasticizers such as bisphenol A (BPA).
These disruptors have been studied and linked to a host of health issues including lowered fertility and an increased risk of endometriosis and certain cancers. Studies have also revealed that endocrine disruptors most likely pose the greatest risk to prenatal and early postnatal development when organs and systems are forming.
How Do Endocrine Disruptors Work?
Research has uncovered the mechanisms through which endocrine disruptors alter our hormones, and they seem to do it in a few different ways:
- The disruptors have the ability to mimic (or partly mimic) our naturally occurring hormones like estrogens, androgens and thyroid hormones which causes a potential overstimulation.
- Another way these disruptors wreak havoc is to bind to a receptor within a cell and block the real hormones from binding. This causes problems because normal signals fail to happen and so the body fails to respond properly.
- Endocrine disruptors may also interfere with how natural hormones or their receptors are made or controlled. For instance, they can alter metabolism in our liver.
Examples of Endocrine Disruptors
- BPA is a chemical used primarily in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. The NTP Center for the evaluation of Risks to Human Preproduction studied the effects of BPA back in 2008. The center expressed “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A.”
- Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) is a chemical used in the manufacturing of numerous consumer food packaging, certain children’s products, and some polyvinyl chloride (PVC) medical devices. In 2006, the NTP reviewed the effects of DEHP and found that it “may pose a risk to human development, especially critically ill male infants.”
- You’ve most likely heard of phytoestrogens, which are naturally occurring substances in plants that happen to have human hormone-like activity. Examples of phytoestrogens are genistein and daidzein, which can be found in soy-derived products.
Endocrine Disruptors Linked to Myriad Health Issues
In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) conducted a joint study and released their findings in what is considered one of the most comprehensive reports on endocrine-disrupting chemicals to date. Their report concluded a wide variety of health issues can be linked to endocrine disruptor exposure.
According to their report:
“The diverse systems affected by endocrine-disrupting chemicals likely include all hormonal systems and range from those controlling development and function of reproductive organs to the tissues and organs regulating metabolism and satiety.
Effects on these systems can lead to obesity, infertility or reduced fertility, learning and memory difficulties, adult-onset diabetes or cardiovascular disease, as well as a variety of other diseases.”
Early Exposure Can Show Up Decades Later
It seems the greatest risk for exposure happens during prenatal or early postnatal development when organs and neural systems are actually forming. Research is now indicating that some of the effects may not show up until decades later. In fact, research is now beginning to suggest that many adult diseases have fetal origins.
An example of this is the synthetic estrogen drug named diethylstilbestrol (DES) that was prescribed to pregnant women prior to the 1970s to prevent miscarriage and promote fetal growth. This endocrine disruptor has since caused problems with reproductive development and vaginal cancer after puberty.
Endocrine Disruption Affects Men Equally
Much of the information found online about endocrine disruption covers the effects on women’s health, like plant estrogens increasing the level of estrogen in women’s bodies causing everything from early onset puberty to breast cancer.
But men are equally at risk of hormonal imbalances and resulting disease from being exposed to dangerous chemicals. For example, phthalates are a class of chemicals added to numerous products to increase transparency, durability and flexibility. They can be found in everything from shampoos to glues to paints and food products and more.
Phthalates are anti-androgens, meaning they block the body from producing androgens like testosterone. Parabens are another class of chemical found in many personal hygiene products that also act as anti-androgens in men. If you weren’t concerned enough already, scientists have found that male fish, which have been exposed to all of our modern chemicals, have actually grown eggs in their testes.
New studies are also revealing that these harmful chemicals may be causing physical feminization in male infants. A study published by the International Journal of Andrology found that feminization of boys can now be seen through their play habits.
Medical experts are now wondering whether exposure to years of these toxic chemicals isn’t the reasons so many older men are low on testosterone and experiencing erectile dysfunction. So they take a little blue pill and get exposed to even more chemicals and the cycle continues.
Still other research points to the fact that 1 in 6 couples is infertile. Another result of endocrine disruption is a low sperm count. In fact a study released by the Danish Government concluded that “young men are less fertile than their fathers and produce only a third as much semen, proportionately, as hamsters.”
A single hour on Google will turn up study after study that has found the birthrate of boys is decreasing in industrialized nations and that the DNA of sperm can be dramatically damaged due to phthalates exposure.
How You Can Protect Yourself From Dangerous Chemicals That Cause Endocrine Disruption
- Look for products that are 100% organic and non-toxic. And when we say products we mean your food, personal care products, paint, furniture, EVERYTHING.
- When you buy a product like a new piece of furniture, mattresses or carpet padding, be sure to inquire about the fire retardant it contains. Never buy items that contain PBDEs, formaldehyde, antimony, boric acid, and other brominated chemicals.
- Most stain- and water-resistant products like furniture and carpeting have perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) and these should be avoided.
- Make sure your baby’s toys, teething rings and pacifiers are PBA-free.
- Use only natural cleaning products in your home.
It may seem a little difficult to completely avoid Endocrine Disruptors, but it needs to be done. The dangers of Endocrine Disruptors are all around us, and in our next blog post we go into a lot MORE detail on how you can protect yourself and your family.
You’re definitely going to want to check out our upcoming blog post where we will reveal the 10 biggest culprits of endocrine disruptors (some of these “culprits” are absolutely SHOCKING).