What Are Endocrine Disruptors and Should You Be Concerned?
by Dr. Thomas K. Lo, Advanced Chiropractic & Nutritional Healing Center
Endocrine disruptors are natural or synthetic chemicals that mimic or block the action of natural hormones and that may disrupt the body’s endocrine system. Your endocrine system is made up of several organs called glands. These glands, located all over your body, create and secrete hormones. Hormones are chemicals that coordinate different functions in your body by carrying messages through your blood to your organs, skin, muscles, and other tissues. These signals tell your body what to do and when to do it.
A wide range of substances, both natural and man-made, are thought to cause endocrine disruption. They are found in everyday products, including plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame-retardants, food, toys, skin creams, and pesticides.
Endocrine Disruptors: The Dose Does Not Make the Poison
When it comes to chemicals and toxicology, it seems logical to think higher doses of something are more dangerous because the health impacts are immediate and obvious. However, with endocrine disruptors, even seriously tiny doses can lead to devastating health effects. Sometimes, these health impacts do not show up for years or even decades down the line after exposure. In addition, unlike high-dose poisonings, it is not as easy to make the cause-and-effect connection.
Our hormonal systems are so delicate that even tiny exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals at key points of development could set us up for disease later in life. We are talking exposures measured in the parts per billion. To put that into context, it is like one drop in 20 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
The ‘Dirty Dozen’ Endocrine Disruptors
With more than a thousand potential hormone disruptors out there, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) scientists created a list of the 12 most damaging and prominent endocrine disruptors to avoid.
This synthetic hormone can trick the body into thinking it is the real thing. It has been linked to everything from breast and other cancers to reproductive problems, obesity, early puberty, and heart disease. According to government tests, 93 percent of Americans have BPA in their bodies.
You can avoid BPA by eating fresh and avoiding food out of cans. Say no to receipts, since thermal paper is often coated with BPA. Avoid plastics marked with a “PC” for polycarbonate, or recycling label #7. Not all of these plastics contain BPA, but many do. For more tips, check out: www.ewg.org/bpa/.
Dioxins form during many industrial processes when chlorine or bromine are burned in the presence of carbon and oxygen. Dioxins can disrupt the delicate ways that both male and female sex hormone signaling occurs in the body. Recent research has shown that exposure to low levels of dioxin in the womb and early in life can both permanently affect sperm quality and lower the sperm count in men during their prime reproductive years. Dioxins are very long-lived, build up both in the body and in the food chain, are powerful carcinogens, and can affect the immune and reproductive systems.
It is very hard to avoid because the ongoing industrial release of dioxin has meant that the American food supply is widely contaminated.
Researchers have found that exposure to even low levels of this herbicide can turn male frogs into females that produce completely viable eggs. Atrazine is widely used on the majority of corn crops in the United States, and consequently, it is a pervasive drinking water contaminant. Atrazine has been linked to breast tumors, delayed puberty, and prostate inflammation in animals, and some research has linked it to prostate cancer in people.
You can avoid it by purchasing organic produce and get a drinking water filter certified to remove atrazine. For help finding a suitable filter, check out EWG’s buying guide: www.ewg.org/report/ewgs-water-filter-buying-guide/.
Did you know that a specific signal programs cells in our bodies to die? It is totally normal and healthy for 50 billion cells in your body to die every day! However, studies have shown that chemicals called phthalates can trigger “death-inducing signaling” in testicular cells, making them die earlier than they should. Studies have also linked phthalates to hormone changes, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes, and thyroid irregularities.
You can avoid it by avoiding plastic food containers, children’s toys (some phthalates are already banned in kid’s products), and plastic wrap made from PVC, which has the recycling label #3. Some personal care products also contain phthalates. It is best to read the labels and avoid products that simply list added “fragrance,” since this catchall term sometimes means hidden phthalates. Find phthalate-free personal care products with EWG’s Skin Deep Database: www.ewg.org/skindeep/.
This is a component in rocket fuel and contaminates much of our produce and milk, according to EWG and government test data. When perchlorate gets into your body, it competes with the nutrient iodine, which the thyroid gland needs to make thyroid hormones. This means that if you ingest too much of it, you can end up altering your thyroid hormone balance. This is important because these hormones regulate metabolism in adults and are critical for proper brain and organ development in infants and young children.
You can reduce perchlorate in your drinking water by installing a reverse osmosis filter. As for food, it is difficult to avoid perchlorate, but you can reduce its potential effects on you by making sure you are getting enough iodine in your diet.
In 1999, some Swedish scientists studying women’s breast milk discovered that the milk contained an endocrine-disrupting chemical found in fire retardants, and the levels had been doubling every five years since 1972! These incredibly persistent chemicals, known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, have been found to contaminate the bodies of people and wildlife around the globe—even polar bears. These chemicals can imitate thyroid hormones in our bodies and disrupt their activity. That can lead to lower IQ, among other significant health effects. While several kinds of PBDEs have now been phased out, they are persistent, so they will contaminate people and wildlife for decades to come.
It is virtually impossible to avoid, but passing better toxic chemical laws that require chemicals to be tested before they go on the market would help reduce our exposure. A few things that you can do in the meantime include: use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, which can cut down on toxic-laden house dust; avoid reupholstering foam furniture; take care when replacing old carpet (the padding underneath may contain PBDEs). Find more tips at www.ewg.org/pbdefree/.
Lead harms almost every organ system in the body and has been linked to a staggering array of health effects, including permanent brain damage, lowered IQ, hearing loss, miscarriage, premature birth, increased blood pressure, kidney damage, and nervous system problems. Few people realize that another way lead may affect your body is by disrupting your hormones. Research has also shown that lead can disrupt the hormone signaling that regulates the body’s major stress system.
You can avoid lead exposer by keeping your home clean and well maintained. Crumbling old paint is a major source of lead exposure, so get rid of it carefully. A good water filter can also reduce your exposure to lead in drinking water. Studies have also shown that children with healthy diets absorb less lead.
This toxin is in your food and drinking water. In smaller amounts, arsenic can cause skin, bladder, and lung cancer. It also messes with your hormones! Specifically, it can interfere with the normal hormone functioning that regulates how our bodies process sugars and carbohydrates, which has been linked to weight gain/loss, protein wasting, immunosuppression, insulin resistance (which can lead to diabetes), osteoporosis, growth retardation, and high blood pressure.
You can reduce your exposure by using a water filter that lowers arsenic levels.
This naturally occurring, but toxic metal, gets into the air and the oceans primarily though burning coal. Eventually, it can end up on your plate in the form of mercury-contaminated seafood. Pregnant women are the most at risk from the toxic effects of mercury, since the metal can concentrate in the fetal brain and can interfere with brain development. Mercury can also bind directly to one particular hormone that regulates women’s menstrual cycle and ovulation, interfering with normal signaling pathways. The metal may also play a role in diabetes, since mercury has been shown to damage cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, which is critical for the body’s ability to metabolize sugar.
You can avoid mercury in your seafood by choosing wild salmon and farmed trout.
This is what industry used to use when making non-stick cookware. They are so widespread and extraordinarily persistent that 99 percent of Americans have these chemicals in their bodies. One particularly notorious compound called PFOA has been shown to be “completely resistant to biodegradation.” That means that even though the chemical was banned after decades of use, it will be showing up in people’s bodies for countless generations to come. This is worrisome because PFOA exposure has been linked to decreased sperm quality, low-birth weight, kidney disease, thyroid disease, and high cholesterol, among other health issues.
You can avoid this by not using non-stick pans (also older ones found at secondhand stores), as well as stain and water-resistant coatings on clothing, furniture, and carpets.
Neurotoxic organophosphate compounds that the Nazis produced in huge quantities for chemical warfare during World War II were never used. After the war ended, American scientists used the same chemistry to develop a long line of pesticides that target the nervous systems of insects. Despite many studies linking organophosphate exposure to effects on brain development, behavior, and fertility, they are still among the more common pesticides in use today. A few of the many ways that organophosphates can affect the human body include interfering with the way testosterone communicates with cells, lowering testosterone and altering thyroid hormone levels.
You can avoid these compounds by buying organic produce and using EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, which can help you find the fruits and vegetables that have the fewest pesticide residues: www.ewg.org/foodnews/.
Shrunken testicles is one thing that can happen to rats exposed to chemicals called glycol ethers, which are common solvents in paints, cleaning products, brake fluid, and cosmetics. The European Union says that some of these chemicals “may damage fertility or the unborn child.” Studies of painters have linked exposure to certain glycol ethers to blood abnormalities and lower sperm counts. In addition, children who are exposed to glycol ethers from paint in their bedrooms have substantially more asthma and allergies.
You can reduce your exposure by checking out EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning (www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/) and avoid products with ingredients such as 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME).
If you are struggling with health issues, call the Advanced Chiropractic & Nutritional Healing Center at 240-651-1650 for a free consultation. Dr. Lo uses Nutritional Response Testing ® to analyze the body to determine the underlying causes of ill or non-optimum health. The office is located at 7310 Grove Road #107, Frederick, MD. Check out the website at www.doctorlo.com.