Our modern world is replete with chemicals
and plastics that make our busy lives easier. We may be paying the price for our daily exposure to these
conveniences of modern life with our health.
Many common products are made from substances that are referred to as
'endocrine disruptors' because they contain chemicals that can alter our hormones.
An endocrine disruptor is an exogenous
substance that, when absorbed by the body, mimics a natural hormone by interfering with or altering the function
of the endocrine system, thereby causing damage or adverse effects within the body.
It can affect any bodily function that is powered by hormones. There are two classes of endocrine disrupting
Man made substances, namely chemicals and
synthetic hormones. Many chemicals are known to have an influence on the endocrine systems of humans and
animals. These chemicals are everywhere, from plastics to cosmetics, clothing to cookware, foods to detergents.
They exist in pesticides and as the byproduct of industrial processes.
Synthetically produced hormones, which
contrary to popular belief are not identical to those produced in the body, include oral contraceptives, some
hormone replacement treatments and animal feed additives.
These substances can have half lives of years and accumulate in the tissues of the body.
Natural hormones such as estrogen,
testosterone and progesterone.
These can be found in bio-identical hormone replacement therapy.
Phyto-estrogens are another type of natural substance found in some plants that can exhibit estrogen-like activity.
The important thing to remember about this classification is that while they affect the natural function of the
endocrine system, they are easily broken down by the body and do not accumulate in body tissues.
In humans, relatively low levels of
circulating hormones are necessary to maintain proper body function. Startling amounts of elevated
concentrations of man made endocrine disruptors are being found in our tissues.
In its Third National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, the CDC identified 148 chemicals that we
are exposed to in our daily lives that can cause us harm by accumulating in our bodies.
There are three main ways in which
endocrine disruptors interfere with the normal functioning of the endocrine system:
By blocking hormone receptors in cells by binding to them,
consequently preventing the action of normal
Altering the concentrations of natural hormones by
the production, transport, metabolism and excretion of hormones.
Imitating the action of hormones produced naturally, locking
a receptor within the cell. A signal
stronger than normal may be given, or may
at the wrong time.
As they have only recently gained
attention, the long term effects of endocrine disruptors is unknown but research shows definite human health
problems such as thyroid and immune impairment, and reproductive disorders that include cancers, infertility,
tissue abnormalities, poor semen quality, and inflammatory diseases³.
Physical and reproductive effects of toxic chemicals are well documented in animals, who have exhibited phenomenon
such as sex reversal and severe deformities of limbs and organs.
It is obvious that a reduction in exposure to these
substances is beneficial to our health. Since they are so ubiquitous, it seems impossible to do. Here are a few
tips to try yourself and pass along to others:
Monitor any symptoms and
test hormones (saliva testing of the free-
hormone levels) for a baseline, then regularly follow up.
Educate yourself further on
endocrine disruptors and share your
Avoid the use of obvious
sources such as pesticides and chemicals.
Avoid using plastic
containers to hold and/or reheat food.
Buy organic food when
Follow and support government regulations of endocrine disrupting