Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can interfere with endocrine (or hormone) systems at certain doses. These disruptions can cause cancerous tumors, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. Any system in the body controlled by hormones can be derailed by hormone disruptors. Specifically, endocrine disruptors may be associated with the development of learning disabilities, severe attention deficit disorder, cognitive and brain development problems; deformations of the body (including limbs); breast cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid and other cancers; sexual development problems such as feminizing of males or masculinizing effects on females, etc.
The NIEHS supports studies to determine whether exposure to endocrine disruptors may result in human health effects including lowered fertility and an increased incidence of endometriosis and some cancers. Research shows that endocrine disruptors may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are forming. The critical period of development for most organisms is between the transition from a fertilized egg into a fully formed infant. As the cells begin to grow and differentiate, there are critical balances of hormones and protein changes that must occur. Therefore, a dose of disrupting chemicals may do substantial damage to a developing fetus. The same dose may not significantly affect adult mothers.
Recently the Endocrine Society released a statement on endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) specifically listing obesity, diabetes, female reproduction, male reproduction, hormone-sensitive cancers in females, prostate cancer in males, thyroid, and neurodevelopment and neuroendocrine systems as being affected biological aspects of being exposed to EDCs.
How do endocrine disruptors work?
From animal studies, researchers have learned much about the mechanisms through which endocrine disruptors influence the endocrine system and alter hormonal functions.
Endocrine disruptors can:
- Mimic or partly mimic naturally occurring hormones in the body like estrogens (the female sex hormone), androgens (the male sex hormone), and thyroid hormones, potentially producing overstimulation.
- Bind to a receptor within a cell and block the endogenous hormone from binding. The normal signal then fails to occur and the body fails to respond properly. Examples of chemicals that block or antagonize hormones are anti-estrogens and anti-androgens.
- Interfere or block the way natural hormones or their receptors are made or controlled, for example, by altering their metabolism in the liver.
What are the Most Common Endocrine Disruptor Chemicals?
A wide range of substances, both natural and man-made, are thought to cause endocrine disruption. These include:
- Xenoestrogens: are a sub-category of the endocrine disruptor group that specifically have estrogen-like effects and alter the function of hormones.
- Bisphenol–A: A synthetic substance widely used to make polycarbonated plastics found in food and drink containers, the lining of tin cans, toys, baby bottles, dental sealants, flame retardants, and plastic wraps. This chemical easily leaches out into food and water.
- Phthalates: Synthetic substances added to plastics to make them softer, more flexible and resilient. They also extend staying power. They are found in IV tubing, vinyl flooring, glues, inks, pesticides, detergents, plastic bags, food packaging, children’s toys, shower curtains, soaps, shampoos, perfumes, hair spray and nail polish.
- PBDE’s (polybrominated diphenyl ethers): Found in flame retardants used on furniture, curtains, mattresses, carpets, television and computer castings. Categorized as a persistent organic pollutant (POP), this substance is stored in animal fats and thus found in dairy products, meat, fish, and human breast milk, and has been banned in several countries. It has also been detected in house dust.
- PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls): Another group of highly toxic synthetic chemical compounds found on the list of POP's , once used widely as insulation fluid in electrical transformers, lubricating oil in pipelines, and components of plastics and mixed with adhesives, paper, inks, paints and dyes. Since 1976 PCB’s have been banned in new products, but they are highly stable compounds that degrade very slowly, and these chemicals still persist.
- Parabens: Compounds used as preservatives in thousands of cosmetic, food and pharmaceutical products.
- Dioxin: Dioxin is a general name applied to a group of hundreds of chemicals that are highly persistent in the environment. The most toxic compound is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, or TCDD. Dioxin is formed as an unintentional by-product of many industrial processes involving chlorine such as waste incineration, chemical and pesticide manufacturing, and pulp and paper bleaching. Small molecules are diffused into the atmosphere, then land on soil, where they are eaten by soil microbes. From there they pass up the food chain into meat, fish, and dairy products and breast milk. We absorb 90% of the dioxin in our bodies through food sources, though you won’t find it listed on any label. Levels have been decreasing since the 1990’s with environmental measures, but it is still probably the most prevalent toxic chemical in our environment.
- Pesticides and herbicides: In particular, atrazine, simazine, and heptachlor and other organophosphates and organochlorines have been found to be toxic to the nervous system and to show damaging reproductive (e.g., decreasing sperm motility) and developmental effects.
- Heavy metals: Cadmium and arsenic are two heavy metals in widespread use whose endocrine disrupting mechanisms of action have been described. Mercury and lead are also implicated, and more studies are underway on heavy metals.
How do I Decrease Exposure to Disruptors?
Endocrine disruptors may be found in many everyday products– including plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides.
Food is a major mechanism by which people are exposed to pollutants. Diet is thought to account for up to 90% of a person's PCB and DDT body burden. In a study of 32 different common food products from three grocery stores in Dallas, Texas - fish and other animal products were found to be contaminated with PBDE. Since these compounds are fat soluble, it is likely they are accumulating from the environment in the fatty tissue of animals we eat. Some suspect fish consumption is a major source of many environmental contaminates. Indeed, both wild and farmed salmon from all over the world have been shown to contain a variety of man-made organic compounds.
2. Household Products/Dust
With the increase in household products containing pollutants and the decrease in the quality of building ventilation, indoor air has become a significant source of pollutant exposure. Residents living in homes with wood floors treated in the 1960s with PCB-based wood finish have a much higher body burden than the general population. A study of indoor house dust and dryer lint of 16 homes found high levels of all 22 different PBDE congeners tested for in all samples. Recent studies suggest that contaminated house dust, not food, may be the major source of PBDE in our bodies. One study estimated that ingestion of house dust accounts for up to 82% of our PBDE body burden.
Research conducted by the Environmental Working Group found that 19 out of 20 children tested had levels of PBDE in their blood 3.5 times higher than the amount in their mothers' blood. It has been shown that contaminated house dust is a primary source of lead in young children's bodies. It may be that babies and toddlers ingest more contaminated house dust than the adults they live with, and therefore have much higher levels of pollutants in their systems.
3. Consumer Goods
Consumer goods are another potential source of exposure to endocrine disruptors. An analysis of the composition of 42 household cleaning and personal care products versus 43 "chemical free" products has been performed. The products contained 55 different chemical compounds: 50 were found in the 42 conventional samples representing 170 product types, while 41 were detected in 43 "chemical free" samples representing 39 product types. Parabens, a class of chemicals that has been associated with reproductive-tract issues, were detected in seven of the "chemical free" products, including three sunscreens that did not list parabens on the label. Vinyl products such as shower curtains were found to contain more than 10% by weight of the compound DEHP, which when present in dust has been associated with asthma and wheezing in children. The risk of exposure to EDCs increases as products, both conventional and "chemical free," are used in combination. "If a consumer used the alternative surface cleaner, tub and tile cleaner, laundry detergent, bar soap, shampoo and conditioner, facial cleanser and lotion, and toothpaste [he or she] would potentially be exposed to at least 19 compounds: 2 parabens, 3 phthalates, MEA, DEA, 5 alkylphenols, and 7 fragrances."
Additives added to plastics during manufacturing may leach into the environment after the plastic item is discarded; additives in microplastics in the ocean leach into ocean water and in plastics in landfills may escape and leach into the soil and then into groundwater.
What Can You Do About Endocrine Disruptors?
Addressing endocrine disruptors is a vital part of addressing your overall health and path to success with hormone replacement therapies, since these disruptors can block the benefits that you are trying to achieve. This is truly an important and worthwhile step even before hormone replacement therapy is initiated – as it will ensure that you receive the maximum benefits from your therapy once it is initiated.
In order to avoid endocrine disruptors, you must first become aware of disruptors in your daily life. This means assessing the potential load of contaminants you come into contact with each day, including plastics, pesticides, housing and clothing material, cleansers, bleach and cosmetics.
Additionally, an understanding that the health of your air, water, and earth has an effect on your health is also relevant. Just as the functions within our bodies are all connected, we are all connected to the world around us. And while it can seem overwhelming, small changes add up to significant improvements, personally, locally and globally. To get started, we recommend the following.
Choose Your Food Intelligently
Eat as organically as possible, and watch animal fat and fish consumption. Because endocrine disruptors and heavy metals magnify in the food chain, the higher your protein source the greater the potential toxic load. Large deep water “fatty” fish like tuna may contain high levels of synthetic chemicals and heavy metals, so eat them in moderation.
If You Can’t Buy All Organic Food, Try to Pick & Choose
Certain crops are more heavily sprayed than others. Data on the worst offenders vary, but the following 12 fruits and veggies are among those with the highest pesticide residues: peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, grapes, pears, spinach, and potatoes. Wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before consuming, or peel them if they are not organically grown. We recommend a fruit wash, but you can also use dilute soap — it’s better than nothing.
Take A Wide–Spectrum Daily Multivitamin with Essential Fatty Acids
To ensure rich nutrition and support your body’s optimal functioning. In today’s world, this is no longer an option but a mandate. You must equip your body with the essential tools it needs to do its job, particularly when it is embattled on a daily basis by so many toxins. Unfortunately, much of our food supply is contaminated and lacks the necessary nutrients, even if you think you eat well. The only vitamins that I recommend are whole food ones like this one; it is organic as well.
Support your body’s natural ability to detox by exercising & sweating on a regular basis
Try a gentle detox program a few times a year. Use a sauna or steam bath. Get regular sleep (you detoxify at night) and drink plenty of filtered water. If you are on a lot of medication, it could influence your body’s ability to detox. You may wish to have a toxic screen to identify your current detoxification capabilities.
Eat Plenty of Fiber and Take A Daily Probiotic
With bifidobacteria and Acidophilus strains in the billions. Certain foods and beverages like green tea contain flavonoids, which help the body rid itself of toxins. Pomegranate juice, blueberries, and red wine are also good choices — but be cautious of drug interactions — and everything in moderation!
Once the has liver has changed the environmental estrogens into a form that that body can more readily excrete it goes into the bile and then the digestive tract to be finally removed in the stools. You need to make sure that your bowels are moving well at least once or twice a day.
Eat more organic whole grains, fruit, vegetables, seeds and beans. Try taking 1 – 2 tablespoons freshly ground flax seeds a day with breakfast if your bowels need a push. Do a bowel cleanse if necessary.
Investigate the Chemicals In Your Cosmetics, Bug Spray, Lotions And Toiletries
- Avoid creams and cosmetics that have toxic chemicals and estrogenic ingredients such as parabens and stearalkonium chloride.
- Minimize your exposure to nail polish and nail polish removers.
- Use naturally based fragrances, such as essential oils.
- Use chemical free soaps and toothpastes.
- Read the labels on condoms and diaphragm gels.
- Use chemical free, biodegradable laundry and household cleaning products.
- Choose chlorine-free products and unbleached paper products (i.e. tampons, menstrual pads, toilet paper, paper towel, coffee filters).
- Use a chlorine filter on shower heads and filter drinking water
- Reduce the use of plastics whenever possible.
- Do not microwave food in plastic containers.
- Avoid the use of plastic wrap to cover food for storing or microwaving.
- Use glass or ceramics whenever possible to store food.
- Do not leave plastic containers, especially your drinking water, in the sun.
- If a plastic water container has heated up significantly, throw it away.
- Don’t refill plastic water bottles.
- Avoid freezing water in plastic bottles to drink later.
Know Your Water Supply
Find out whether your local community’s water testing program checks for hormone-disrupting chemicals and heavy metals. Not all household filters work effectively on chemicals and, unfortunately, not all bottled water is checked either. Read your water quality reports. If you drink purified water out of plastic bottles, do not leave the bottles in your car or the hot sun for any length of time; heat activates the molecules in the plastic, which increases the rate at which the polycarbons leach into the water.
Increase Cruciferous Vegetables
Eat more cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, mustard, turnip, bok choy, kohlrabi and rutabaga (swede). They contain the phytochemical indole-3-carbinol, that improves detox of environmental estrogen and improves the balance of all hormones.
Increase Calcium D-Glucarate
D-glucarate is a natural substance is found in apples, oranges, broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts. To detox the toxic estrogens your liver joins it to glucoronic acid. D-glucarate can inhibit an enzyme produced by gut bacteria called beta-glucuronidase that can break this bond and allow the estrogen to be recirculated from the bowel.
Take it in supplement form as well. One 500 mg tablet or capsule of Calcium D-Glucarate is equivalent to the phytonutrient activity found in 82 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Take Milk Thistle
The herb Milk Thistle (Silymarin) enhances the detox of toxic estrogens from the liver.
Consider A Supplement Of DIM
Scientific research shows DIM (diindolylmethane), a phytonutrient found in cruciferous vegetables, increases the level of “good” estrogens while reducing the level of “bad” estrogens. Speak to your health care provider first since this may also excrete hormone replacement therapies from the body, and disrupt your current therapy.
Chelation is a very effective way to treat heavy-metal poisoning. Chelation therapy may also remove vital minerals from the body along with toxic metals, so be sure to add extra vitamins and minerals if your physicians deems this as an appropriate therapy for you.