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Health and wellbeing | 07.08.2015

Endocrine disruptors: Be afraid, be very afraid...

Endocrine disruptors

Endocrine disruptors are one of the KEY reasons so many people are turning to certified organic skin care and organic or spray-free food.

There are growing concerns about the presence of these sneaky little chemicals in everything from skin care products to plastic packaging and pesticides, household cleaning products and flame retardants (in clothing, mattresses and carpets).

Endocrine disrupting chemicals or EDCs are synthetic chemicals (and in some cases natural chemicals derived from products like soy) that mimic the body’s natural hormones.

Organisations such as the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Environmental Health Agency (NEHA) in the US, as well as the World Health Organisation (WHO) have listed endocrine disruptors as a primary health concern.

Research is showing that hormone disruptors, in both humans and wildlife, are having harmful effects on: 

What exactly do hormones do?

Your hormones are chemical messengers that travel throughout the body coordinating complex processes like growth, metabolism, and fertility. They can influence the function of the immune system, and even alter behavior.

The endocrine system is the term given to the body's network of glands that produce more than 50 different known hormones or chemical messengers to maintain and regulate basic bodily functions.

It is second only to the nervous system as the great controlling system of the body.

The brain signals when its time for the glands to release hormones directly into the bloodstream, but endocrine disrupting chemicals interfere with this process.

What’s so disruptive about endocrine disruptors?

Some endocrine disruptors are hormone mimics and send false signals to the body’s hormone receptor cells – signals that are not commanded by the brain. Others block the action of natural hormones, preventing them from binding to their receptor cells, thus making them ineffectual. Endocrine disruptors can also alter the amount of hormone synthesised.

The upshot is, endocrine disruptors muck around with your body’s natural hormonal functions.

Of major concern is the impact of exposure to endocrine disruptors on a developing embryo or a baby through the placenta or breastmilk. The World Health Organisation says: "Pregnant mothers and children are the most vulnerable populations to be affected by developmental exposures, and the effect of exposures to EDCs may not become evident until later in life. Research also shows that it may increase the susceptibility to non-communicable diseases.”

There’s also concern EDCs can cause hormonal functioning in adults, though in its report State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals 2012,  the WHO says this evidence is currently weak and more research needs to be done: "The evidence that high-level exposure may impact both humans and wildlife indicates that this potential mechanism of toxicity warrants our attention. Uncertainty over the possible effects of chronic, low-level exposures to a number of chemicals with endocrine- disrupting potential and the fundamental roles played by the endocrine system in maintaining homeostasis make understanding the potentialeffects posed by exposure to these chemicals an obvious international priority.”  

OK I'm freaked out, what can I do?

1. Minimise your use of plastic packaging, which contains EDCs like phthalates and BPA (bisphenol A). Click here to read our blog post about the dangers of plastic packaging and read this post about how to reduce your exposure to phthalates.

2. Store food in glass or stainless steel containers.

3. Switch to certified organic skin care, cosmetics, toothpaste and deodorant: A report on the endocrine disrupting chemicals in old order Mennonite women in mid-pregnancy determined that they have much lower levels in their systems than the general population. Mennonites eat mostly fresh, unprocessed foods, farm without pesticides, and use few or no cosmetics or personal care products. One woman who had reported using hairspray and perfume had high levels of monoethyl phthalate, while the other women all had levels below detection.

4. Avoid perfume and synthetic fragrances such as those in air fresheners and fabric softeners. As we wrote about here , they usually contain parabens, which are known endocrine disruptors, along with thousands of other chemicals not proven to be safe for human use.

5. Replace non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.

6. Make your own household cleaners (Google is your friend here) or buy green or earth-friendly cleaning products.

7. Purchase BPA-free baby products and toys.

8. Replace vinyl or PVC shower curtains with fabric.

Do you think our governments and health organisations should be doing more to reduce our exposure to endocrine disruptors?

@bymukti

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