Top 12 Endocrine Disruptors
An endocrine disruptor is a natural or man-made chemical that mimics or interferes with the body’s hormones and therefore causing developmental, reproductive, brain, and immune problems.
Many of these chemicals have names that can be hard to pronounce or even remember. Therefore, make sure to keep a list handy of the top 12 endocrine disruptors and read all labels when purchasing products.
According to the Environmental Working Group (2013), these are the top 12 chemicals found in products from plastic bottles, to food, to toys, and cookware:
Bisphenol A (BPA): BPA has been linked to cancer, reproductive problems, obesity, early puberty, and even heart disease. BPA is quite similar to estrogen in the body (as it imitates the hormone), and therefore, constant exposure to this chemical increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in women. BPA can be found in the lining of food cans and many plastics.
Dioxin: Dioxins are considered environmental pollutants that come from burning chlorine and bromine such as when burning waste or paper bleaching. Once this chemical enters the body, it can take up to 11 years to clear from the body, meanwhile causing problems such as an increased risk of cancer, lower sperm count in men, and weakened immune system. And because of industrial release of this chemical into the environment, it can be found in animal products such as meat, fish, milk, eggs, and even butter.
Atrazine: Atrazine is a commonly used herbicide to control weeds and can unfortunately end up in water sources as it is mostly used in agricultural settings. Short term exposure can lead to heart, lung, and kidney congestion; low blood pressure; muscle spasms; weight loss; and damage to the adrenal glands. Long term exposure to atrazine can lead to significant weight loss; cardiovascular damage; retinal and muscle degeneration; and cancer. Although it is not sold for public use, you can avoid exposure by avoiding farming areas that use atrazine.
Phthalates: The chemical phthalate can trigger a signal in the body to “kill off” cells in the body. Although this is a natural process in the body, with phthalates in the body, the signal is triggered much earlier than it should and tends to affect sperm count in men, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes, and thyroid issues. You can find phthalates in some food packaging, storage containers, children’s toys, personal care products, and even medical devices.
Perchlorate: Perchlorate is a colorless chemical that can interfere with proper brain and organ development as well as impact thyroid health because it competes with iodine in the body, which is necessary for thyroid hormone production. Perchlorate is commonly used in rocket fuel, fireworks, explosives, matches, signal flares, fertilizers, chlorine cleaners, and even some chewing tobacco products. To avoid exposure, be cautious when inhaling fumes from fireworks, explosives, and matches; contact with products that contain perchlorate; and make sure to drink filtered water. While it can also be found in some foods due to water contamination, it is recommended to check your food sources as well as having adequate iodine intake.
Fire retardants: The most common fire retardant, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), is used to make flame retardants for household products such as furniture foam, the foam under the carpets, cellphones, remote controls, computers, electronics, cabinets, and paint products to name a few. When exposed to this chemical, individuals can experience thyroid problems as the chemical mimics thyroid hormones and can create liver and neurodevelopmental dysfunction.
Lead: Lead is one of the heavy metals that can cause significant health problems, especially in children. Lead is extremely toxic and can affect just about every function in the body. Health issues linked to lead toxicity include permanent brain damage, lowered IQ, hearing loss, miscarriage, premature birth, increased blood pressure, kidney damage, and nervous system problems. Studies have also shown a link between HPA axis dysfunction (the body’s stress response system) and high levels of lead. Lead is typically found in old paint (such as in older homes), ceramics, pipes, gasoline, batteries, and even some cosmetics. While lead is everywhere around us environmentally speaking, limiting exposure is important by getting rid of old paint in older homes as well as reading labels of products that can contain lead.
Arsenic: The chemical arsenic interferes with the glucocorticoid system, which is the system that controls how the body processes sugars and carbohydrates. Therefore, with arsenic in the body, you are more likely to experience weight fluctuations, protein wasting, insulin resistance, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure. Because the chemical is typically found in water, the most affected food sources are crops (a great example is rice) and animal products. However, this chemical can also be found in glass pigments, textiles, metal adhesives, wood preservatives, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and tobacco.
Mercury: Mercury is a naturally occurring metal that comes from the Earth’s crust. Therefore, exposure is everywhere. Mercury tends to affect a woman’s menstrual cycle and ovulation, can play a role in diabetes as it attacks the pancreas, can cause neurological and behavioral disorders, impact kidney health, decrease immunity, and be corrosive to the skin, eyes, and gastrointestinal tract. Reducing mercury toxicity can be done by limiting seafood consumption since many of the bigger fish have higher mercury levels; limit contact with products such as batteries, thermometers, some light bulbs; and remove dental amalgams (dental fillings), avoid skin lightening products, and some pharmaceuticals.
Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs): Perfluorinated chemicals are chemicals used as a type of repellent to avoid stain, water, and grease residue or buildup. These chemicals are said to be resistant to biodegradation, which means that the chemicals will never break down, also staying the body for good. Exposure has been linked to decreased sperm quality, low birth weight, kidney disease, thyroid disease and high cholesterol, as well as affecting thyroid and sex hormone levels. PFCs can be found in nonstick cookware, water resistant clothing, furniture, and carpets.
Organophosphate pesticides (OPs): OPs are a class of highly toxic pesticides commonly used in agriculture, homes, gardens, and veterinary practices. These pesticides are meant to target the nervous system of insects; unfortunately, exposure to the human body is causing health problems such as lowering testosterone levels, altering thyroid levels, triggering headaches, muscle twitches, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, tachycardia, depression, and even seizures.
Glycol Ethers: Glycol ethers are used as a solvent in many cleaning products and cosmetics as well as resins, lacquers, paints, varnishes, gum, perfume, dyes, and inks. It has been studied that individuals such as painters, who have prolonged exposure with paint, tend to have blood abnormalities as well as lower sperm counts. In children, exposure to glycol ethers has increased the incidence of allergies and asthma.
While one cannot fully protect themselves from exposure to many of these chemicals, as consumers, we have the ability to research and become better informed of what is used in the everyday products we use and consume.
When in doubt about a chemical and its side effects, organizations such as the Environmental Working Group, the World Health Organization, and Environmental Protection Agency will provide the most up to date information about noted cases relating to the use of certain chemicals as well as risks and ways to stay protected.