by Daphne Lambert
Every day we’re exposed to chemicals that manipulate our endocrine system, from the water you drink to the food you eat, from the sofa you sit on to soap & shampoo – hormone disruptors are everywhere. The more you know about where they come from and the harm they can cause the easier it is to try and avoid them.
The endocrine system is responsible for the regulation of all body systems this includes the nervous system, reproductive system, and metabolic system. It is made up of glands — including the ovaries, testes, thyroid, pituitary and adrenals — that produce a variety of hormones that are released into the blood stream and travel to body tissues. In addition to the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone, there are thyroid hormones, growth hormones, the stress hormone cortisol, insulin and many others. Different hormones make reproduction possible, stimulate growth, build bone, make us hungry, move sugar into cells to provide energy and promote feelings of attachment.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals cause harm by mimicking the action of a naturally-produced hormone, such as estrogen or testosterone.
By blocking hormone receptors in your cells, thereby preventing the action of normal hormones and by affecting the synthesis, transport, metabolism and excretion of hormones, thus altering the concentrations of natural hormones in your body.
These actions can lead to an array of effects including increases in childhood cancer, earlier puberty in girls, infertility in men, increase in childhood obesity and obesity in general, increased estrogen levels in men, increased insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes.
Endocrine disruptors are found in our furniture, water, food & soil and include fire retardants, mercury, arsenic, perfluorinated chemicals, PFC’s – think non stick cookware, food additives & pesticides.
Some of the biggest offenders are plastic compounds like phthalates and bisphenols (BPA and BPS)—if nothing else for the fact that they’re so ubiquitous. Aside from the devastating impact on the planet’s health, plastic’s impact on human health has been insidious. We have seen, decade after after decade prostate and breast cancer rates rise, fertility rates in men drop, young girls entering early puberty, thyroid problems increase, an increase in early menopause and the weight keep piling on. All of these conditions result from multiple factors, but the effects of plastic cannot be discounted.
In a 2011 study for the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers found that hormone-disrupting chemicals leached from almost all plastics, even BPA-free plastics. Scientists led by George Bittner, a neurobiologist at the University of Texas, found that 70% of the common plastic products they looked at tested positive for estrogenic activity in other words they contained hormone disrupting chemicals. In addition they showed that that plastics are more likely to leach chemicals when exposed to various stressors like heat or light. The researchers tested the products after subjecting them to UV radiation (mimicking the effect of sunlight), wet heat (as in a dishwasher), and microwave radiation. The result was that there was more leaching of endocrine disruptors from stressed plastic products than from unstressed ones.
Further more they found that bio-based plastics like PLA, a kind of compostable plastic made from starch, usually corn were not exempt from leaching chemicals. 71% of all the PLA samples tested were found to leach endocrine disrupting chemicals. This was due to the additives that were added during the manufacturing process.
In 1962 Rachel Carson published her book, Silent Spring, and drew our attention to the terrible health and environmental effects of endocrine disruptors cataloging the negative effect of pesticides, particularly DDT, on the environment. DDT (now banned more or less worldwide) is known to have caused thinning of the eggs shells and decreased reproductive capacity in birds of prey and contributed to the severe decline in their population.
Since then there have been numerous examples of the influence of endocrine disruptors on wildlife. Organochlorines have been shown to cause decreases in the reproductive and immune functions of Baltic seals. A pesticide spill in Florida resulted in developmental and gonadal abnormalities in reptiles exposed to the spill. The liquid run off from paper and pulp mills and from sewage treatment plants has been shown to damage exposed fish. All of which suggested that humans, too, must be vulnerable to the negative health effects of endocrine disrupting compounds.
In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report co-produced with the United Nations Environment Program titled ‘State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals’ The report suggests that outright banning all endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) may actually be needed to protect the health of future generations. According to the 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.”
It is scary to know that exposure can be transmitted across generations, passed down from mother to child such that exposure only impacts the offspring.
In 2017 The Member State Committee of The European chemicals agency (Echa) voted unanimously that bisphenol A (BPA) was an ‘endocrine disruptor’, with probable serious effects to human health linking it to cancer, learning difficulties and diabetes. BPA had already been singled out for its toxicity to the human reproduction system.
BPAis a chemical used to make plastics including containers that come into contact with food. This includes refillable drinks bottles and food storage containers. It's also used to make some protective coatings and linings for food and drinks cans. Despite all the evidence that the BPA can be transferred from packaging into food and drinks, The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have declared that dietary exposure to BPA is not a health concern for any age group – we must question and challenge such a decision.
Although it’s virtually impossible to steer clear of all chemicals that wreak havoc with the endocrine system you can certainly minimise contact with many of the potential hormone disrupting chemicals in plastics
Buy products that come in glass bottles rather than plastic or cans.
Do not buy water in plastic bottles
Do not use plastic wrap (cling film)
Store your food and drink in glass or ceramics, rather than plastic
Remember even “BPA-free” plastics can leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals
Never use plastic in a microwave ( better still never use a microwave)
Filter your drinking water
In addition to avoiding plastic
Choose organic food to reduce exposure to hormones, pesticides & fertilisers
Avoid processed foods and foods with additives
Replace any non stick pans with stainless steel or ceramic.
Buy organic or natural toiletries, including shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants - always check the ingredients
Avoid synthetic fragrances found in a myriad of products including air fresheners, candles, body washes, look for ‘fragrance free’ products
Use natural cleaning products
Buy ‘green’ or ‘toxic chemical free’ paints
Choose toys made from natural materials
Avoid stain resistant clothing
Buy organic cotton bedding
When buying new carpets & mattresses & furniture check out what fire retardant is used
Garden organic – do not use pesticides and herbicides
Don’t be daunted by the list taking even small steps to g
et rid of the main disruptors will help free your body from hormonal disruption and support overall wellbeing.