Endocrine disruptors are chemicals known to interfere with development and reproduction, and they may cause serious neurological and immune system effects. The disruptions occur because such chemicals mimic hormones in your body, including the female sex hormone estrogen, the male sex hormone androgen, and thyroid hormones.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals may block hormonal signals in your body or interfere with the way the hormones or receptors are made or controlled.1 Your normal hormone levels may be altered, or the chemicals may change the way such hormones travel through your body. As noted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC):2
"The endocrine system is a complex network of glands and hormones that regulates many of the body's functions, including growth, development and maturation, as well as the way various organs operate.
The endocrine glands – including the pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, thymus, pancreas, ovaries, and testes – release carefully-measured amounts of hormones into the bloodstream that act as natural chemical messengers, traveling to different parts of the body in order to control and adjust many life functions."
As you might suspect, altering these precise systems is playing with fire, yet can happen on a daily basis when you use "normal" everyday products in your home. Part of what makes endocrine disruptors so dangerous is their ubiquitous nature and the fact that most of us are exposed to multiple such chemicals daily.
Endocrine Disruptors Linked to Cancer, ADHD, and More
In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report co-produced with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).3 Touted as one of the most comprehensive reports on endocrine-disrupting chemicals to date, the report revealed a wide variety of health problems associated with exposure to these pervasive chemicals, including:
Non-descended testes in young males Developmental effects on the nervous system in childrenProstate cancer in men
Developmental effects on the nervous system in childrenAttention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in childrenThyroid cancer
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."
Children, Pregnant Women Most at Risk But Damage Can Show Up Decades Later
The greatest risks appear to come from exposure during prenatal or early postnatal development, which is when organs and neural systems are forming.4 Some of the effects, however, may not show up until decades later, and it's being increasingly suggested that many adult diseases actually have fetal origins.5
One of the most disturbing examples of this came from diethylstilbestrol (DES), a synthetic estrogen drug that was widely prescribed to pregnant women prior to the 1970s in order to help prevent miscarriage and promote fetal growth. This endocrine disruptor turned out to be incredibly dangerous and caused problems with reproductive development and vaginal cancer that appeared after puberty.6
And it's not only humans that are being affected. Endocrine disruptors are found widely in contaminated water, air and food, and as such wildlife is also at risk. Fish in the Great Lakes have been found with reproductive problems and abnormal swelling of thyroid glands due to endocrine disruptors known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
Alligators in one region in Florida drastically declined after a pesticide spill caused diminished reproductive organs and inhibited successful reproduction. Both the alligators and their eggs were found to be contaminated with endocrine-disrupting chemicals.7
10 Common Sources of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals
How often are you likely to be exposed to these toxic chemicals? Probably far more often than you think. According to Thomas Zoeller, a biology professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who specializes in how chemicals affect the endocrine system, there are an estimated 800-1,000 endocrine-disrupting chemicals on the market.
Epoch Times recently compiled 10 common sources of endocrine disruptors, as well as what you can do about them.8
1. Personal Care Products
Shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, cosmetics, 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.
These chemicals have disrupted the endocrine systems of wildlife, causing testicular cancer, genital deformations, low sperm counts, and infertility in a number of species, including polar bears, deer, whales, and otters, just to name a few.
One 2002 study by the Environmental Working Group detected phthalates in nearly three-quarters of personal care products tested, noting:9
"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 labeling."
Another endocrine-disrupting chemical, triclosan, can even be found in certain brands of toothpaste. Switching to natural and/or homemade personal care products will help you avoid such exposures. You can also try to cut down on the number of personal care products you use every day.
2. Drinking Water
Your drinking water may be contaminated with atrazine, arsenic, and perchlorate, all of which may disrupt your endocrine system. Filtering your water, both at your tap and your shower/bath, using a high-quality water filtration system can help protect you and your family.
3. Canned Foods
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.10 BPA has been linked to a number of health concerns, particularly in pregnant women, fetuses and young children, but also in adults, including:
Structural damage to your brain Changes in gender-specific behavior and abnormal sexual behavior
Hyperactivity, increased aggressiveness, and impaired learningEarly puberty, stimulation of mammary gland development, disrupted reproductive cycles, ovarian dysfunction, and infertility
Increased fat formation and risk of obesityStimulation of prostate cancer cells
Altered immune functionIncreased prostate size and decreased sperm production
BPA coats about 75 percent of cans in North America, which means if you eat canned foods, it's likely a major source of BPA exposure for you. Even BPA-free cans may not be safe, as they're often coated with a similar chemical known as BPS. Ideally, buy products that come in glass bottles and jars rather than plastic or cans.
4. Conventionally Grown Produce
Pesticides, herbicides, and industrial runoff may coat your conventionally grown fruits and vegetables in endocrine-disrupting chemicals. As much as possible, buy and eat organic produce and free-range, organic foods to reduce your exposure to endocrine-disrupting pesticides and fertilizers.
5. CAFO Meat, Poultry, and Dairy Products
Animals raised on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) also typically contain antibiotics, hormones, and other industrial chemicals that may disrupt your endocrine system. Look for animal products that are free-range, organic and raised on small, local farms that avoid the use of such chemicals.
6. High-Mercury Fish
Fish contaminated with high levels of mercury and other heavy metals are problematic because such metals also disrupt hormonal balance. Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, marlin, and tilefish are among the worst offenders here, but even tuna has been found to be contaminated with dangerously high levels. Farmed fish (the "CAFOS of the sea") also tend to be higher in contaminants and are better off avoided. When eating seafood, smaller fish like sardines, anchovies, and herring tend to be low in contaminants and high in omega-3 fats.
7. Kitchen Products
Plastic containers and non-stick cookware common in many kitchens are another type of hazards. The plastic containers may contain BPA or other endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can leach into your food, especially if the plastic is heated. Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) used to create non-stick, stain-resistant, and water-repellant surfaces are also toxic and highly persistent, both in your body and in the environment.
When heated, non-stick cookware releases perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), linked to thyroid disease, infertility, and developmental and reproductive problems. Healthier options include ceramic and enameled cast iron cookware, both of which are durable, easy to clean (even the toughest cooked-on foods can be wiped away after soaking it in warm water), and completely inert, which means they won't release any harmful chemicals into your home.
8. Cleaning Products
Commercial solutions used to clean your floors, toilets, oven, windows, and more typically contain industrial chemicals that may throw your hormones out of whack. For instance, nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), a common ingredient in laundry detergents and all-purpose cleaners, is banned in Europe and known to be a potent endocrine disrupter,11 causing male fish to transform into females. It's surprisingly easy to create your own cleaning products at home using different combinations of vinegar, baking soda, essential oils, and even coconut oil. Find simple tips for greener cleaning here.
9. Office Products
Ink cartridges, toner, and other solvents common in office environments are another common source of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Handle such products with care and minimize your exposure as much as possible.
10. Cash Register Receipts
Thermal paper has a coating that turns black when heat is applied (the printer in a cash register applies heat to the paper, allowing it to print numbers and letters). It also contains BPA, and research shows that handling this type of paper is enough to increase your bodily levels. A study in Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry found that of 13 thermal printing papers analyzed, 11 contained BPA.12 Holding the paper for just five seconds was enough to transfer BPA onto a person's skin, and the amount of BPA transferred increased by about 10 times if the fingers were wet or greasy (such as if you've just applied lotion or eaten greasy food).