Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with our hormones and they are present in our environment. Where are endocrine disruptors commonly found and how do you know if something might contain them? Keep reading to find out!
What are Endocrine Disruptors?
The endocrine system in our body consists of glands that release hormones. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can interfere with or mimic the hormones in our body. When they interfere with our hormones, they can cause problems with development, reproduction, your immune system and brain. Endocrine disruptors can be found in a variety of products that we use everyday from food and water to cosmetics. These endocrine disruptors can enter our bodies and affect our hormones through our skin or if we ingest them.
Endocrine Disruptors in Plastics
There are endocrine disruptors present in plastics, such as plastic water bottles. The common type of endocrine disruptor found in plastics is called bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is thought to interfere with estrogen, progesterone and thyroid hormones. Studies have shown that BPA can affect how eggs mature and affects the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, parts of the brain. This results in BPA affecting puberty, ovulation and potentially causing infertility in both men and women, along with erectile dysfunction in men.
Along with problems with reproduction, BPA is also thought to cause heart conditions (such as angina, hypertension and heart attacks), diabetes, weight gain and increase the risk of breast and prostate cancer while decreasing the effectiveness of chemotherapy for breast cancer.
To know if a plastic bottle contains BPA, inspect the small triangle that is present on plastic bottles. Each of these triangles show a number and those showing 1,2,4, 5 or 6 most likely do not contain any BPA. Those showing numbers 3 and 7 are most likely to contain BPA. Other plastic products may also contain BPA, such as plastic food containers and baby pacifiers.
Endocrine Disruptors in Food and Water
Drinking water may contain endocrine disruptors, such as perchlorate. Perchlorate can enter water supplies as it is commonly used in fertilisers, explosives and road flares. The health risks that are associated with perchlorate include interference with iodine uptake into the thyroid gland, affecting the thyroid and production of thyroid hormones. Adverse health risks exist for pregnant women and their babies if they are exposed to perchlorate due to its effects on the thyroid.
An example of endocrine disruptors found in food are phthalates. Phthalates are used in food containers and can enter our food from the container or when the container is heated up (e.g microwaved). Phthalates have been thought to interfere with sex hormones, causing low sperm count and quality and altering the development of genitals.
Endocrine Disruptors in Farming
Endocrine disruptors, such as dioxins, were commonly used in herbicides and pesticides. Once applied to the land, they can leak from the ground into water sources and soils. Dioxins have been thought to cause hormonal problems, cancer and infertility. Exposure to dioxins can also cause skin lesions.
Endocrine Disruptors in Hygiene and Cosmetic Products
Dioxins are also found in tampons. Before the later half of the 1990s, tampons were bleached with chlorine which caused even higher levels of dioxins. Today, dioxins are still present but at lower levels. The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has said that use of tampons would provide women with only 0.2% of the maximum intake of dioxins.
Triclosan is another endocrine disruptor that is commonly found in personal care and hygiene products, such as liquid soap, deodorant and toothpaste. Studies have shown that triclosan can lead to a decrease in the level of thyroid hormones and may also cause bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics. More research is required to fully understand and confirm the effects of triclosan on the human body.
Endocrine Disruptors in Household Products
Some household products may also contain endocrine disruptors, such as carpets. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) are used as flame retardants for items such as carpets. Some studies in animals have shown that PBDEs may cause cancer, diabetes and interfere with the thyroid and liver.