WHAT ARE ENDOCRINE DISRUPTING CHEMICALS?
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC’s), are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental and reproductive effects and may cause serious neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.
A wide range of substances, both natural and man-made, are known endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), including phytoestrogens, pharmaceuticals, phthalates, dioxin and dioxin-like compoundhttp://www.who.int/ceh/risks/cehemerging2/en/s, polychlorinated biphenyls, pesticides, and plasticizers such as bisphenol A (BPA/BPS). Everyday products such as cosmetics, perfumes, personal care products, cleaning products, detergents, non-stick cookware, toys, plastic bottles, pesticides, canned foods, and even cash register receipts contain appreciable amounts of EDC’s.
Here are some really frightening statistics. There are an estimated 50,000 chemicals in use today. Very few of these have been tested for their endocrine effects. It is estimated that 800-1000 are endocrine disruptors and only a small proportion of these have actually been tested. OMG. How is this even possible?
HOW DO THEY WORK?
There are several mechanisms by which endocrine disruptors influence their affect on the endocrine system, subsequently altering the manufacture, function and control of hormones, or changing the way hormones travel through your body. Its not just about oestrogen; EDCs can potentially disrupt our entire hormonal cascade.
Endocrine disruptors can:
- Mimic naturally occurring hormones including estrogens (the female sex hormone), androgens (the male sex hormone), and thyroid hormones, potentially producing disruption & overstimulation.
- Bind to a receptor and block the endogenous hormone from binding. The normal hormonal signal fails and the body fails to respond properly.
- Alter liver metabolism of hormones. This interferes with natural hormonal manufacture, function and control.
When absorbed in the body, an endocrine disruptor can decrease or increase normal hormone levels (left), mimic the body’s natural hormones (middle), or alter the natural production of hormones (right)
Endocrine disrupting chemicals can throw out the finely tuned balance between oestrogen and progesterone, necessarily for regular ovulation, fertility and pregnancy. EDC’s have been associated with lowered fertility in men and women, increased incidence of endometriosis & period pain, PCOS, autism, some cancer and thyroid issues. Endocrine disruptors tend to pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are forming (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Endocrine Disruptors)
In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report co-produced with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) (WHO February 19, 2013 Press release) “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.”
EXAMPLES OF ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS
Phthalates are industrial chemicals primarily used as plasticizers in PVC items such as shoes, gloves, packing materials, building materials, floorings and wall coverings. Everyday products such as pharmaceuticals, personal care products (shampoo, conditioner, moisturisers, cosmetics, deodorants, hair sprays, nail polishes, soap), paints and adhesives are common sources of phthalates. (Frederiksen et al., 2007; Wittassek et al., 2011).
In addition to ‘fragrance’ in cosmetics and in polyvinyl chloride (PVC)-based plastics, as well as other flexible plastics, Phthalates are found in: tablecloths, furniture, vinyl flooring, shower curtains, wall papers, garden hoses, inflatable swimming pools, plastic clothing such as raincoats, children’s toys, automobile upholstery and tops, medical tubing, and blood storage bags. DEP and DBP are used in non-plastic consumer items as fixatives, detergents, lubricating oils, and solvents. Also in carpets, paints, glue, insect repellents, time release capsules. “Major loopholes in federal law allow the… cosmetics industry to put unlimited amounts of phthalates into many personal care products with no required testing, no required monitoring of health effects, and no required labelling.” Environmental Working Group July 8, 2002
Exposure of pthalates may occur in humans through food, dust, air and direct use of personal care products (Janjua et al., 2008; Wittassek and Angerer, 2008; Wormuth et al., 2006). Phthalates are a group of “gender-bending” chemicals causing males of many species to become more female. Recent epidemiological studies have associated diethyl phthalate DEP with a range of health problems, including sperm damage in men since it’s been found to cause hormone disruption, which can affect development and fertility.
Parabens are used as antimicrobial preservatives in personal care products, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. They are commonly found in deodorants, body washes, shampoos, facial cleansers & makeup products. The worst of this group include Methylparaben (MetP), ethylparaben (EthP) and propylparaben (ProP), used as food preservatives in confectionary and dried meat (Larsson et al, 2014). They are easily absorbed through the skin and the use of parabens has raised concern due to their weak estrogenic activity confirmed in in vivo and in vitro studies (Larsson et al, 2014).
According to Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, “Parabens mimic oestrogen by binding to oestrogen receptors on cells. They also increase the expression of genes usually regulated by oestradiol (a natural form of oestrogen); these genes cause human breast cancer cells to grow and multiply in cellular studies ”
Bisphenol A BPA is high production volume chemical used in polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, which are used in e.g. CDs and DVDs, tooth fillings, cash receipts, plastic bottles, inner coatings of cans, and relining of water pipes. Food is the main source of exposure in humans because BPA can migrate from cans coated (Geens et al., 2012). In an analysis of 252 canned food brands, 78 are still using bisphenol-A (BPA) in their canned goods, even though it’s a known endocrine disruptor (Environmental Working Group June 3, 2015)
BPA is a well-known endocrine disruptor with estrogenic potency The toxicity of BPA shown in animal studies has mainly been attributed to effects on the development and function of the reproductive organs as well as the nervous system and behavior (Richter et al., 2007). BPA has been linked to a number of health concerns, most noteably pregnant women, foetuses and young children. These include:
- Structural brain damage
- Hyperactivity, aggressiveness, impaired learning
- Increased fat accumulation and obesity
- Altered immunity
- Changes in gender-specific behaviour and abnormal sexual behaviour
- Early puberty, stimulation of mammary gland development, disrupted reproductive cycles, ovarian dysfunction, and infertility
- Stimulation of prostate cancer cells & increased prostate size
- Decreased sperm production
- Aiming to lower the exposure, the use of BPA in baby bottles and cosmetics has been banned within the EU (Larsson et al, 2014). Please be aware that even BPA-free cans, plastics and cosmetics may still be unsafe as they’re often coated with a similar chemical known as BPS (Bisphenol S).
Triclosan is used as an antimicrobial agent in personal care products such as deodorants, toothpastes, mouth washes and shower gels, and also in consumer products such as cleaning products, plastics and toys (Bedoux et al., 2012)
Dioxins are another recognised chemical pollutant and hormone disrupters. They appear in cosmetics & personal care products seemingly unintentionally, during the manufacturing process.. They are highly toxic, carcinogenic, and known hormone disruptors, and are most likely in products with triclosan, Polyethylene glycols (PEG’s) and ethoxylated cleansers like sulfate-based products.
Nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs)
NPE’s are a common ingredient in laundry detergents and all-purpose cleaners, that is banned in Europe and known to be a potent endocrine disrupter. NPE’s have been known to cause male fish to transform into females
COMMON SOURCES OF ENDOCRINE-DISRUPTING CHEMICALS (ADAPTED FROM MERCOLA)
Drinking water: Risk of contamination with atrazine, arsenic, and perchlorate, all of which may disrupt your endocrine system. Solution- filter your water.
Canned foods: Bisphenol A. Solution: buy/store food & produce in glass bottles and jars
Meat, poultry and dairy products: Antibiotics, hormones & other chemicals. Solution: buy free range, organic, even biodynamic produce to reduce exposure to endocrine disrupting pesticides and herbicides.
High mercury fish: Mercury disrupts hormonal balance. Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, marlin, tuna and tilefish may be contaminated. Farmed fish of any variety are better avoided, as they are higher in contaminants. Solution: eating smaller fish, including as sardines, anchovies, white bait, herring are low in contaminants and high in omega-3 fats.
Office products: Ink cartridges & toners are sources of EDC’s. Solution: Minimise exposure. Don’t work in an office! #halfjoking
Cash register receipts:This one really got me- I hadn’t considered this possibility at all prior to looking into it a bit. Cash register receipts contain BPA and handling receipts are enough to increase levels of BPA in your body. What’s even scarier is that you apparently only have to handle the paper for 5 seconds to transfer BPA to you skin. The amount of BPA transferred to your hands is much higher if they are wet or greasy. But, don’t think you can just quickly put your receipt in your wallet either, as the BPA can also contaminate any currency notes that it touches. In a study published in Environmental Science and Technology, researchers analysed paper currencies from 21 countries for the presence of BPA. It was was detected in every sample (Environmental Science and Technology 2011 Aug 15;45(16):6761-8.)
Solution: Um, definitely don’t be an account, shop assistant, banker, and financial broker… Apart from that…? Throw your receipts away unless absolutely necessary to keep.
Personal care products: Women put an average of 168 chemicals on their bodies every day
Shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, cosmetics, fragrances, deodorant, hair spray, nail polish, soap, and other personal care products often contain endocrine disruptors, including (but certainly not limited to) phthalates. Phthalates are a group of “gender-bending” chemicals causing males of many species to become more female.
Solution: Buy natural products…
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- Campaign For Safe Cosmetics http://www.safecosmetics.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/parabens/
- Dr Axe https://draxe.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/dreamstime_s_17425456.jpg
- Environmental Working Group https://www.ewg.org/research/bpa-canned-food#.WgahtBOCzUo
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- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Endocrine Disruptorshttps://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/endocrine/index.cfm
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- World Health Organisation http://www.who.int/ceh/risks/cehemerging2/en/
- WHO February 19, 2013 Press release http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2013/hormone_disrupting_20130219/en/