If you’ve been following me for a while, it is probably not new to you that environmental toxins are a huge factor to consider as root causes to health challenges and chronic disease.
Our world is bathed by a sea of chemicals and we simply cannot ignore the consequences any longer.
Industrial chemical use has been on the rise for the last 70 or so years, since around World War II. There are now over 85,000 chemical compounds produced and used in the United States in huge amounts.
One report estimates that 30,000 pounds of chemicals are manufactured or imported per person per year in the US.
This level of chemical use is astounding. We know very little about the extent of damage each individual chemical causes, let alone what happens when they are all combined.
The information in today’s article isn’t meant to be bleak and alarmist, instead it’s really meant to be empowering. When we know more, we can do better. We can take better care of our bodies, our families, our communities and our earth.
We can support changes and regulations in the chemical industry, labeling of consumer products and more.
One large class of these toxic chemicals are endocrine disruptors. We are becoming clear about the havoc these chemicals wreak on our planet and in our bodies.
Today’s article will dive deeper into endocrine disruptors and leave you with concrete steps you can take to limit your exposure.
This article discusses the following:
- What are endocrine disruptors?
- How endocrine disruptors affect health
- The 12 most common endocrine disruptors and where you find them
- Action steps to reduce the endocrine disruptors that enter your body
What Are Endocrine Disruptors
Endocrine disruptors are man-made chemicals that interfere with the body’s endocrine system. The endocrine system includes hormone producing glands and the hormones they produce.
The system includes:
- Ovaries, testes
The hormones made by the endocrine system help to maintain important processes in the body from growth and development to metabolism and reproduction.
Endocrine disruptors disrupt or inhibit these body processes by:
- Mimicking hormones
- Blocking hormones
- Interfering with hormone production
- Affecting hormone receptors
Everyone is exposed to endocrine disruptors simply by living on the planet.
We are exposed through the food we eat, air we breathe, water we drink, products we put on our skin, hair and nails, and through consumer products that are a part of every aspect of modern life.
We don’t often give it much thought but plastic, detergents, medical devices, cosmetics, furniture, building materials and more may all be disrupting the delicate hormonal systems in the body.
Endocrine Disruptors And Health
Effects of endocrine disruptors have been documented in animals since the 1940s. Rachel Carson’s famous 1962 book, Silent Spring, brought the issue to light. She showed that the chemical DDT, an insecticide, caused startling damage and endocrine disruption to wildlife and humans.
While DDT was ultimately banned in the United States, it has not been banned globally and because of its slow breakdown, it is still found in the environment and in human bodies today. In fact, I often find high levels when I test for it in my patients.
Now, almost 60 years after Silent Spring and the rise of the modern environmental movement, hundreds and thousands of chemicals continue to be released into the environment without adequate safety testing.
Many of these chemicals, we come to later find out, are endocrine disruptors.
We know that endocrine disrupting chemicals interfere with development, reproduction and neurological activity.
They are linked to abnormal growth, developmental delay and a host of medical issues and disease. Even very small doses can be harmful.
Here are some of the negative health effects where endocrine disruptors play a role:
- Gestational diabetes
- Metabolic disorders including insulin resistance and diabetes (Add link to diabetes article)
- Microbiome disruption
- Breast and reproductive cancers
- Thyroid cancer
- Childhood cancers
- Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
- Birth defects and low birth weight
Endocrine disruptors are largely fat soluble compounds and can even be passed from mother to child via the placenta and breast milk. Pregnant women have an average of 43 endocrine disrupting chemicals in their bloodstream, according to one study.
The epigenetic effects of these chemicals have transgenerational health impacts. Meaning, what your grandmother was exposed to could be impacting your health conditions today and likewise, what you’re exposed to might impact your future grandchildren and great grandchildren!
Endocrine disruptors are a major issue when it comes to individual health, public health and the health of the environment that we all depend upon.
Top 12 Endocrine Disruptors
Now let’s review specific endocrine disruptors, where they are found and tips for reducing or avoiding them. This list of the worst endocrine disrupting offenders was compiled by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
Bisphenol-A, or BPA, is a chemical used in plastics, receipts and other consumer goods. BPA mimics estrogen. Ninety three percent of Americans have BPA in their body.
With increasing awareness around BPA, you’ll see many plastic products with the label “BPA free,” but often BPA is simply replaced with another chemical, such as BPS, which may be just as bad or worse.
Tips for reducing BPA exposure:
- Choose fresh foods over canned as BPA is often in the lining of canned goods.
- Drink water, coffee, tea and other beverages from a reusable glass, stainless steel or ceramic water bottle or mug.
- Avoid touching receipts. Here’s how.
Dioxins are a group of toxic industrial chemicals, with dioxin itself being the most potent. Dioxins are produced as a byproduct from the production of other chemicals, such as herbicides.
Doxins are referred to as POPs, or persistent organic pollutants, because they are persistent in the environment and take an incredibly long time to break down. They accumulate in the environment and in animals.
Dioxins can disrupt the signaling of sex hormones, decrease sperm count and quality, cause cancer and inhibit immune function and reproduction.
Tips for reducing dioxins:
- Choose quality pasture-raised or regenerative meat over cheaper feedlot options.
- Filter drinking water.
Atrazine is an herbicide that is widely used in the United States, especially on corn crops. Atrazine is a common water contaminant and even low levels have been known to turn male frogs into females.
Tips for reducing atrazine exposure:
- Filter your water.
- Grow your own food.
- Eat organic food.
- Choose grass-fed, not corn fed, meats and animal products.
- Avoid conventionally grown corn and corn-derived ingredients.
Plasticizers are chemicals that help to make plastics softer and more pliable. They include phthalates, phenols and other compounds.
These compounds, and phthalates specifically, make cells in the body, and testes, die sooner than they normally would. They are linked to low fertility, birth defects, chronic disease, thyroid imbalances and more.
Tips for reducing phthalate exposure:
- Avoid using plastic as much as possible.
- Never heat food in a plastic container.
- Avoid plastic wrap.
- Check that kids toys don’t contain these chemicals or opt for wood or eco-friendly toys instead.
- Use clean personal care products and makeup. EWGs Skin Deep Database is a great resource.
- Filter your water from microplastics.
Perchlorates are a component of rocket fuel found in the environment and the human body. It affects the thyroid gland and thyroid hormones specifically.
Tips for reducing exposure:
- Filter your water. Consider a reverse osmosis filter.
- Make sure you are eating enough iodine in your diet from wild seafood and seaweed. Iodine will displace perchlorates from the thyroid.
Flame retardants are another group of persistent chemicals that are still commonly used. Fire retardants are found in breast milk around the globe and are linked to lower IQs. They imitate thyroid hormones.
Tips for reducing exposure to flame retardants:
- Choose fire retardant free clothing. Children’s pajamas are likely contain these chemicals unless otherwise stated.
- Choose flame retardant free couches, mattress and other furniture.
- Filter indoor air.
Lead is a naturally occurring toxic metal that is especially toxic to children leading to brain damage and lower IQs. It also disrupts sex hormones and the HPA-axis. Larger concentrations are found in paint in hold homes and buildings.
Tips for limiting lead:
- Have your home tested for lead, especially if you have an older home with peeling paint and have children living there.
- Filter drinking water.
- Use lead-free dishes. Old ceramics might be a source.
Arsenic is another naturally occurring toxic metal where higher concentrations are linked to cancer and insulin resistance. Lately rice has been getting a lot of attention as a significant source of arsenic due to fertilizers coming from poultry operations.
Tips for reducing arsenic:
- If you are gluten-free, make sure you aren’t replacing gluten exclusively with rice-based products or opt for a Paleo diet.
- Eat a wide variety of organic foods.
Mercury is yet another naturally occurring toxic metal. We get larger exposures from mercury dental fillings and contaminated fish and seafood. Mercury interferes with fetal brain development, sex hormones and insulin signaling.
Reduce mercury by:
- Choosing smaller fish that are lower in mercury.
- Making sure you have enough selenium in the diet to inhibit mercury absorption.
- Working with a biologic dentist to have mercury fillings safely removed.
Per – and polyfluoralkyl substances, or PFAS, are man-made industrial chemicals known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down very well. They are commonly found in non-stick pans, water resistant clothing and stain resistant carpets.
These chemicals are found in 99 percent of Americans and have been shown to decrease sperm quality, birth weight and are linked to issues with the kidneys, thyroid and more.
Read this article for a full list of tips for avoiding PFAS.
These pesticides began as neurotoxins developed as chemical warfare, but found their home in our war against the environment. We are mostly exposed through food and water.
These pesticides affect development, behavior, fertility and specifically thyroid and testosterone hormones. They can also be found in some of the products used for yard maintenance.
The biggest tips for avoiding pesticides are to buy organic and filter your drinking water. Be aware of what you are using for your yard and home treatments.
Glycol ethers are solvents found in paints, cleaning products and even in cosmetics. They damage fertility, even in babies who haven’t been born yet!
Tips for avoiding glycol ethers:
- Read labels. Avoid 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME).
- Use safe cleaning products. Use EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning.
Unfortunately we can’t avoid everything, but by raising our awareness and implementing these tips you can do a lot to protect yourself, your family and even future family members from the hormone disruption and health consequences of endocrine disruptors. And one final tip: always support the body’s inherent detoxification through smart diet and lifestyle choices. When we feel better, we have the energy to fight for a cleaner world.
If you are interested in leaning more about how toxins impact the body and what you can do to promote safe detoxification, consider signing up for my Cleanse program here.