Google this: “Endocrine disrupt” – the toxins that are affecting your health

March 27, 2013 | by

I often encourage my patients to Google “Endocrine disruptors” or “Endocrine disrupting agents (or ‘chemicals’)”  — Choose your weapon. What you’ll find are tons of reports regarding environmental toxins and substances that are changing how our bodies operate. It only takes a little bit of hormone to have a profound impact on your body’s signaling and transcription pathways. These EDCs (Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals) have been linked to undescended testes in the male, breast cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, and developmental effects on the nervous system in children.

I wanted to collate a few of the important facts, followed by some links to further reading if you’re so inclined. In fact, the topic is really too broad to cover in a single, coherent post. In the future, I may put together a longer read on all of this. Please note while EDCs suggest related disease states, there’s isn’t direct causal evidence in humans, but there is some in animals. Some people with vested interests would definitely criticize the studies.

  • Endocrine disruptors mimic or interfere with the function of hormones in the body. They can be natural or synthetic.
  • There has been a huge increase in endocrine related health conditions over the last fifty years. In addition to the above mentioned conditions, there has been an increase in ectopic pregnancies, as well as a 42% decrease in sperm count world wide.
  • In testimony provided to the Department of Health and Human Services in 2010, Linda Birnbaum of the National Institute of Environmental Health Science made four important observations worth repeating here:

• First, the effect of low doses. Normal endocrine signaling involves very small changes in hormone levels, yet these changes can have significant biological effects. That means subtle disruptions of endocrine signaling is a plausible mechanism by which chemical exposures at low doses can have effects on the body.

• Second, the wide range of effects. Endocrine signals govern virtually every organ and process in the body. That means that when outside chemicals interfere with those systems, the effects can be seen in many different diseases and conditions – some of which we are just learning to recognize as the result of endocrine disruption.

• Third, the persistence of effects. We are finding that the effects of exposure to endocrine disruptors can be observed long after the actual exposure has ceased. This is especially true for growth and development, processes that are very sensitive to endocrine regulation. The question of how these kinds of latent effects occur is an active area of investigation.

• Fourth, the ubiquity of exposure. Both naturally occurring and manmade substances can be endocrine disruptors. Some, e.g., arsenic and agricultural chemicals, are ubiquitous in the environment. In addition to the growing use of hormonally-active pharmaceuticals that pass through the bodies of those taking them and end up in water treatment systems and surface waters, many of the chemicals that are being found to have endocrine effects are components of a wide range of consumer products, including some water bottles, cosmetics, sunscreens, and other personal care products. Substances applied to the skin can be directly absorbed but also end up getting washed off our bodies and into our water systems. As a result, chemicals with endocrine disrupting activity are widely dispersed in our environment, often at levels plausibly associated with biological effects; exposure to humans is widespread.

  • Examples of EDCs are pthalates found in vinyl, perchlorate found in tap water, phenols like BPA, steroids and other hormones found in drinking water. The list goes on and on. In my brief reading, at least 800 were identified by WHO, but other sources cited 2000 or more.
  • It’s important to limit your exposure, as well as undergo good testing and screening to see if your endocrine system is significantly affected.

There’s so much more to say, but for now, here are some links worth checking out:

WHO/UN report on Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals 2012 – Published Feb 2013

A nice summary of the above at EurActive.com

A nice list of Endocrine Disruptors at Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit at Emory University

A list of articles and trials at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Endocrine Disruptors in Drinking Water

Above-referenced Testimony provided to Department of Health and Human Services