What Are the Effects of Endocrine Disruptors?
Our endocrine system includes the glands and organs responsible for producing, storing, and secreting hormones. When our endocrine system is functioning as it should, it regulates the healthy functioning of our entire bodies.
Unfortunately, chemicals all around us can potentially affect our endocrine system. These endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, are found in the soil, water, air, personal care products, food sources, and more. These chemicals interfere with our endocrine system to the point that it can’t work the way it should, having far-reaching effects on our health and well-being.
Once you understand the impact, there are ways to reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors in your daily life.
Understanding the Endocrine System
The endocrine system includes glands that create and release hormones that control almost all of our bodily processes. Endocrine chemicals coordinate metabolism, emotions, sexual function, mood, and sleep.
Hormones coordinate bodily functions by transporting messages through our blood and then to our organs, muscles, skin, and other tissues. Hormones tell our bodies what to do and when to do it.
Glands will produce and release varying hormones to target specific tasks in the body. When you have a hormonal imbalance and too much or too little of something is being produced, health problems can occur, including changes in mood, behavior, and sleep, high blood pressure, and weight gain.
The glands primarily responsible for producing hormones include:
- The hypothalamus is in the brain and controls the entire endocrine system. This gland uses nervous system information signals to determine the messaging for other glands. The hypothalamus controls hunger, thirst, mood, and sexual function.
- The pituitary is a small gland that controls other glands, including the thyroid, adrenal, ovaries, and testicle glands. The pituitary is located at the base of the brain, and it is in charge of how bodies grow.
- The thyroid gland is responsible for how your body uses energy, known as metabolism.
- Your parathyroid controls calcium levels in the body. Your kidneys, bones, heart, and nervous system need well-controlled levels of calcium to work properly.
- Responsible for managing sleep cycles, the pineal gland releases melatonin.
- The pancreas is part of the endocrine system, and it plays a role in your digestive system function as well as making insulin which controls blood sugar levels.
- In women, the ovaries release estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone, which are sex hormones.
- In men, the testes make testosterone, which is a hormone, and sperm.
What Are Endocrine Disruptors?
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals or combinations of chemicals that impact how your hormones work.
Some endocrine-disrupting chemicals will mimic natural hormones, so your body thinks the chemical is actually a hormone. There are EDCs that can block hormones that occur naturally from doing their jobs. There are also EDCs that raise or lower the levels of certain hormones in the blood because they affect how they’re made, stored, or broken down. Finally, some endocrine-disrupting chemicals change our body’s sensitivity to hormones.
These chemicals can disrupt nearly any hormone.
Common endocrine-disrupting chemicals include:
- Bisphenol A is used to make certain plastics and epoxy resins and is found in products like containers for storing foods.
- Dioxins are an herbicide byproduct, and they’re released into the environment during fires and the burning of waste.
- Perchlorate is a chemical byproduct that can be found in drinking water.
- Perfluoroalkyl and poly-fluoroalkyl substances are known as PFAS, and these are used in non-stick pans, textile coatings, and paper.
- Phthalates are used in food packaging, medical devices, toys, and cosmetics.
- Phytoestrogens occur naturally in plants like soy products and have hormone-like activity.
- Triclosan is an endocrine disruptor found in personal care products, such as liquid body wash.
We’re exposed to endocrine disruptors through the foods and beverages we consume, cosmetics, the air, water, and more.
The function of our endocrine systems involves tiny changes to hormone levels, so even low doses of EDC can lead to serious health effects.
Health Conditions Linked to Endocrine Disruption
Over the past few decades, researchers increasingly believe that exposure to chemicals like the ones listed above is responsible for the growing number of people with chronic illnesses. For example, EDCs may be associated with:
- Early puberty onset in girls
- Early menopause in women
- Birth defects
- Neurobehavioral disorders
- Breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Prostate problems
More specifically, exposure to certain EDCs has been associated with increased risks for heart disease and metabolic disorders, and during pregnancy, exposure to BPA may increase the risk of a child developing chronic health conditions later in life. Some ECBs can affect thyroid hormones in pregnant women, affecting fetal brain development. In some research, people exposed to high levels of chemicals like phthalates have lower testosterone levels.
Researchers have reported that exposure to ECDs may increase the risk of developing ADHD, and children exposed to high levels of these chemicals have a reduced immune response to vaccines.
How to Reduce Exposure to Endocrine Disruptors
It’s essentially impossible to avoid endocrine disruptors entirely, but there are things you can do to reduce your exposure, including:
- Be careful with your skincare and personal care products. Your skin is absorbing everything you’re putting onto it, so avoiding endocrine disruptors as much as possible in your personal care products is one of the best things you can do. Be mindful of ingredients in all of your hair and skincare products.
- Choose products without fragrances. Fragrances are just exposing you to more chemicals.
- Buy foods that aren’t processed and have minimal, if any, packaging.
- Avoid plastic as much as you can, instead, opt for stainless steel or glass.
- Regularly dust and vacuum your home. Consider getting an at-home air purifier or a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter.
- Use simple household cleaners that are low in toxins, like vinegar and baking soda.
- Read the labels carefully when you buy anything. For example, if you’re getting something in a plastic bottle that says #1, #2, or #4 in the recycling sign, it’s BPA-free.
- Don’t store your packaged foods in hot places because the chemicals can leach into them.
- Reduce the use of pesticides at home, or eliminate them altogether.
At iHealth, we help people heal from the inside out. We also offer Crunchi Beauty, with safe, certified organic products and EcoCert ingredients. Our Crunchi products don’t contain any toxins, and each ingredient in the products is carefully selected. Get in touch to learn more about our holistic healing programs or Crunchi Beauty.