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Endocrine System Disruptors Overview


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Copyright 2014, Susan Bennett. This article is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without explicitly written permission of the author.

March 24, 2014. This article contains a partial list of contaminants found in our food, water, and environment that can disrupt the endocrine system. It also includes some basic tips on how to minimize exposure to them and the impact of them. This article is a work in progress, and will be updated periodically as more information becomes available.

In 2009, the president of the Endocrine Society, the leading organization for scientists studying the endocrine system, announced the society's first ever public statement on their concerns on endocrine disrupting chemicals. Click here to view the press conference.

What is the Endocrine System?

The endocrine system is the collection of organs in your body that produce hormones and include the thyroid, parathyroid, pineal gland, pituitary gland, pancreas, ovaries, testes, hypothalamus, gastrointestinal tract, and adrenal glands. Amongst the many functions of these glands are their role in signalling growth and development in the womb, infants, and young children.

 

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Research indicates disruption of the endocrine system can impact brain development, sexual development, and may contribute to learning disabilities, mental illness, diabetes, auto-immune conditions, and some forms of cancer.

Sex hormone mimics

 

  • Plastics - including BPA and Tritan. None have been tested for safety. Assume they are not safe. Avoid canned foods and drinks - cans are lined with plastic. Use glass products made in the U.S. - as imported glass can contain heavy metals. BPA, the only plastic that has been researched for safety, has been linked to everything from breast and others cancers to reproductive problems, obesity, early puberty and heart disease, and according to government tests, 93 percent of Americans have BPA in their bodies. You probably also want to avoid other plastics as well, for prelimiary testing done by an independent laboratory indicates many of them also mimic estrogen. Paper containers containing orange juice, rice milk, and other liquids that are either refrigerated or non-refrigerated more are lined with polyethylene plastic which has also been shown estrogen properties in laboratory testing.

  • 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. This is a bad thing! Here’s why: 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. On top of this, dioxins are very long-lived, build up both in the body and in the food chain, are powerful carcinogens and can also affect the immune and reproductive systems. Eating fewer animal products can cut down on exposure to dioxins.

  • Atrazine is a herbicide used on the majority of corn crops in the US, and consequently its a pervasive drinking water contaminant. Exposure to even low levels of atrazine can turn male frogs into females that produce completely viable eggs. 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. Buy a water filter, and don’t buy products containing non-organic corn.

  • Phthalates are found in plastics, children’s toys, plastic wrap made from PVC, which has recyclilng label #3. Some personal care products contain phthalates so read the lables and avoid products that list added “fragrance” as this can mean hidden phtalates.

Thyroid disruptors

Most thyroid disruptors compete with iodine by binding to receptor sites in the thyroid and other tissues throughout the body that use iodine - displacing iodine and negatively impacting the creation of hormones requiring iodine. These hormones regulate metabolism in adults and are critical for signalling proper brain and organ development in infants and young children. Impaired thyroid function can also impair the body’s ability to detoxify and remove heavy metals and pollutants.

Here is a partial list of thyroid hormone disruptors:

 

  • Fluoride - found in municipal drinking water and toothpaste. Buy non-fluoridated toothpaste. There are many studies,including those by Harvard researchers, linking fluoridated water to lower IQ in children. 97% of western European countries do not fluoridate their water. Binds to the thyroid, displacing iodine, interfering with the manufacture of thyroid hormones.

  • Chlorine/chloramine - found in most municipal drinking water. Filter your water.

  • Bromine - used in baked goods in the U.S. Make your own food and avoid brominated flour.

  • Radioactive iodine - a year or two after Fukushima, which spewed radioactive iodine, there was a 20 percent increase in hypothyroidism in infants in Hawaii and California. There is currently an epidemic of thyroid cancer in Japan, particularly near Fukushima.

  • Perchlorate, a component in rocket fuel, contaminates much of our produce and milk, according to government test data. When perchlorate gets into your body it competes with the nutrient iodine, which the thyroid gland needs to make thyroid hormones. Basically, this means that if you ingest too much of it you can end up altering your thyroid hormone balance. This is important because it’s these hormones that regulate metabolism in adults and are critical for proper brain and organ development in infants and young children.

  • Fire retardants, used in clothing and furniture, are incredibly persistent chemicals, known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, have since 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, this doesn’t mean that toxic fire retardants have gone away. PBDEs are incredibly persistent, so they’re going to be contaminating people and wildlife for decades to come. A few things that can 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).

 

There is a chance you or a family member suffer from hypothyroidism, which is largely undetected, but conservatively estimated to be present in 10% of the population and the rate is increasing each year. For more information on the thyroid and how to protect it, please click here.

Other Endocrine System Disruptors

  • Lead - harms almost every organ system in the body and has been linked to permanent brain damage, lowered IQ, hearing loss, miscarriage, premature birth, increased blood pressure, kidney damage and nervous system problems. Lead may affect your body by disrupting your hormones. In animals, lead has been found to lower sex hormone levels. Research has also shown that lead can disrupt the hormone signaling that regulates the body’s major stress system (called the HPA axis) contributing to anxiety, diabetes, anxiety, and depression. Keep 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. And if you need another reason to eat better, studies have also shown that children with healthy diets absorb less lead.

  • Arsenic - Arsenic is lurking in your food and drinking water. Large amounts can kill you; in small amounts, arsenic can cause skin, bladder and lung cancer. Arsenic can interfere with normal hormone functioning in the glucocorticoid system that regulates how our bodies process sugars and carbohydrates. Disrupting the glucocorticoid system has been linked to weight gain/loss, protein wasting, immunosuppression, insulin resistance (which can lead to diabetes), osteoporosis, growth retardation and high blood pressure. Reduce your exposure by using a water filter that lowers arsenic levels.

  • Mercury - Mercury gets into the air and the oceans primarily though burning coal. Pregnant women are the most at risk from the toxic effects of mercury, since the metal is known to concentrate in the fetal brain and can interfere with brain development. Mercury is also known to bind directly to one particular hormone that regulates women’s menstrual cycle and ovulation, interfering with normal signaling pathways. Hormones don’t work as well when mercury is bound to them. 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. Reduce exposure by carefully choosing where you obtain fish and other seafood. Good idea currently to avoid Pacific Ocean seafood due to Fukushima. Mercury is also implicated widely in contributing to symptoms of autism. Don't live downwind from a coal-fired power plant. Once in the body, mercury tends to stay put unless detoxification protocols are put in place to displace it from tissues and excrete it from the body.

  • Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) - PFCs are used to make non-stick cookwareand are so widespread 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.” In other words, PFOA doesn’t break down in the environment – ever. 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, since PFOA exposure has been linked to decreased sperm quality, low birth weight, kidney disease, thyroid disease and high cholesterol, among other health issues. Scientists are still figuring out how PFOA affects the human body, but animal studies have found that it can affect thyroid and sex hormone levels. Avoid it by not using non-stick pans as well as avoiding products with stain and water-resistant coatings on clothing, furniture and carpets. There is one non-stick pan, the Scanpan, made in Denmark, which is free of PFCs, and available on the internet.

  • Organophosphate compounds were produced by the Nazis in huge quantities for chemical warfare during World War II. After the war ended, American scientists (and the Nazi scientists they hired) used the same chemistry to develop a long line of pesticides that target the nervous systems of insects. It stands to reason that these pesticides impact the nervous system of other animals and humans as well. 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. Avoid these compounds by buying organic produce.

  • Glycol Ethers - are used in paint and solvent products. 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. And children who were exposed to glycol ethers from paint in their bedrooms had substantially more asthma and allergies. Avoid paint products with ingredients such as 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME).