Endocrine disruptors are one of those things that most of us don’t ever think about, but we encounter them every day. And in this case, what we don’t know may harm us. Experts in the field of endocrine disruptors say that humans and wildlife are an uncontrolled experiment in the effects they have on bodily systems.
They are in computers, makeup, air, food, clothing, kids’ toys, and water. What are they? They are specific chemicals that are found everywhere in our daily lives.
The endocrine system is also known as the hormone system because it is made up of glands that regulate the body’s hormones. Hormones released into the bloodstream send chemical messages to act on organs. There are over 50 identified hormones in the human body.
Hormones regulate body functions such as insulin (blood sugar), growth, energy, development, metabolism, and reproduction. Estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, adrenaline, and thyroxine are a few of the hormones produced by the endocrine system.
When the endocrine system is disrupted with either the glands not making enough or too many hormones, it can affect the body and cause medical conditions. For example, Grave’s disease is a thyroid condition caused by the overproduction of thyroid hormones. Hypothyroidism is another thyroid disease but is caused by insufficient hormone productions.
Endocrine Disruptors Mimic Hormones
Endocrine disruptors mimic naturally occurring hormones in the body. They disrupt normal hormone function in a few ways: When they mimic natural hormones, they bind to cell receptors and block certain natural hormones from attaching to cell receptors. As a result, the body doesn’t respond appropriately because the binding causes normal signals to fail.
Endocrine disruptors can also interfere with or block the how the body’s hormones are made or controlled. For example, they can alter the liver’s metabolism.
Research shows that they can negatively affect reproduction, neurological, development and immune systems. The problem with endocrine disruptors also extends to wildlife because of chemicals released into the environment.
Rise of Chemicals
The Twentieth century gave rise to the chemical industry. It revolutionized the world. After World War II, the chemistry industry went into full drive. There are over 80,000 chemicals in use. They are in the water, food, and air we breathe. And there are no requirements in the U.S to show that chemicals are safe before people are exposed to them. In other words, chemicals are considered safe until proven otherwise.
BPA, Phthalates, and Fire Retardants
Here are three common endocrine disruptors found in everyday life and how to avoid or reduce your exposure to them.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
Bisphenol A (BPA) is found in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. BPA mimics the female hormone estrogen. Research suggests it affects the brain, behavior, heart, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children. It has also been connected to cancer and reproduction disorders.
Avoiding BPA – A few years ago there was a great deal of publicity on BPA in plastic containers and especially baby bottles. Many companies removed BPA from baby bottles. However, BPA is still used in some plastic and the linings of some canned goods.
- Avoid plastic marked with a number 7 or marked with “PC.”
- Look for labeling on cans that says “BPA free.”
- Decline thermal paper receipts because some are coated with BPA.
Cells in the body die under a process call death-inducing signaling, which is normal. However, research shows that phthalates can trigger the normal cell process that tells cells to die. They have been linked to testicular cancer. Phthalates are also associated with breast and other cancers.
Adult women, researchers found, had higher levels of phthalates molecules in their urine than men. The phthalates were the type found in soaps, cosmetics, shampoos, body washes, and other personal care products. Also, a 2018 study by George Washington University found higher phthalate levels in people who dined out or ate prepared foods compared to those who ate their meals at home.
Exposure to phthalates can come from drinking beverages and eating foods that make contact with plastics that contain them. The government bans certain phthalates in specific children toys and other baby products, but not all phthalates.
Avoiding Phthalates – It’s impossible to avoid contact with phthalates because they are everywhere. The most you can do is reduce your exposure.
- Avoid personal care products that phthalates such as nail polish, sunscreen, eyeshadow, deodorants, etc. Often phthalates are hidden in terms like “fragrance.”
- Avoid plastics marked with the number “3.” Cook and eat meals at home.
- Eat organic whenever possible; phthalates are found in pesticides.
- Use glass containers for storage instead of plastic.
Unexpectedly, Swedish scientist in 1999 studying human breast milk found fire retardants in it. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) has even been found in polar bears, sperm whales, and tree bark from trees in remote areas of Tasmania. Fire retardants chemicals are associated with low IQ, thyroid disruption, early onset puberty, cancer, memory issues, and learning problems. They have also been shown to mutate DNA.
Fire retardants are usually sprayed on products after being manufactured. So, they escape into the air and stick on surfaces like furniture. They are found in sofa and chair cushions, building insulation, personal computers, televisions, carpets, and other everyday products. Many baby items contain these chemicals; they are found in infant changing table pads, car seats, crib mattresses, nursing pillows, and other baby products. In one study, researchers found the same levels of fire retardants on toddler’s hands that was in their blood.
Avoid fire retardants – Several states are in the process passing bills to restrict the use of flame retardants. However, nothing is passed yet, and not all states are doing it.
- Do not purchase foam-filled products that have the fire-retardant label: “This article meets the flammability requirements of California Bureau of Home Furnishings Technical Bulletin 117.”
- Buy baby products made with natural or organic materials like wool or cotton. Several companies make baby products that don’t contain fire retardants.
- Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter to remove flame retardants that escaped into the air and landed on carpeting and floors.
- Experts also recommended to wash hands frequently since many things you touch can have fire retardants on the surface.
The three endocrine disruptors mentioned in this article are just a portion of chemicals that we encounter every day that can be affecting our endocrine system. The Environmental Working Group is a nonprofit organization that tracks chemicals and how they affect humans. Their website includes information on brands that have chemicals and those that don’t use endocrine disruptors. Here’s the link to their site: Environmental Working Group.
Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptors (October 28, 2013). Retrieved https://www.ewg.org/research/dirty-dozen-list-endocrine-disruptors.
Endocrine Disrupters. Retrieved from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/index.cfm
Graves’ disease. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/graves-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20356240.
Gross, Liza. Flame retardants in consumer products are linked to health and cognitive problems (April 15, 2013). Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/flame-retardants-in-consumer-products-are-linked-to-health-and-cognitive-problems/2013/04/15/f5c7b2aa-8b34-11e2-9838-d62f083ba93f_story.html?utm_term=.5fdca92b70a9.
Phthalates Factsheet. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/biomonitoring/Phthalates_FactSheet.html
Questions & Answers on Bisphenol A (BPA) Use in Food Contact Applications. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm355155.htm
Ruggeri, Christine, CHHC. Phthalates, Fat-Promoting Chemicals, Are Hiding Out Here… (August 10, 2015). Retrieved from https://draxe.com/phthalates/.
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Endocrine Disruptors. Web.
Gross, Liza, Flame retardants in consumer products are linked to health and cognitive problems, April 15, 2013. Web.