Chemicals called Endocrine disruptors can have harmful effects on the body's endocrine (hormone) system as they may mimic or interfere with it. These chemicals are found in many everyday products, including some plastic bottles and containers, liners of metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics and pesticides. Some endocrine-disrupting chemicals are slow to break-down in the environment. That characteristic makes them potentially hazardous overtime.
Hormones regulate the body's development, growth, reproduction, metabolism, immunity and behaviour. Endocrine disruptors interfere with natural hormone systems, and the health effects can be felt long after the exposure has stopped. Exposure to endocrine disruptors in the womb can leave life-long effects and can even have consequences for the next generations. There is growing concern about negative human health and environmental impacts (possibly) caused by endocrine disruptors. It is known they cause adverse effect in animals, and humans are typically exposed to multiple endocrine disruptors at the same time.
What are some of the most common endocrine disruptors?
Bisphenol A (BPA) - this is one of the most "popular" and probably longest consumed substances with estrogen impact. Used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins (film inside metal food cans), but can be found also in dental filling or cashier receipts. Manufacturers started to alter it by Bisfenol S, F, AF and others. Researches proved that substitutes are not better than original BPA.
Phtalates - used to make plastics more flexible. Due to external environment, sunlight, temperature, or the contact with fats or dissolvents they are very easily released. They can be commonly found in cosmetics, shampoos, soap, nail polish, perfumes, insecticides, coating of medicines, but also construction materials, housing equipment, rubber gloves. Many times they are found in toys, glues, automobile ports, food containers...
DDT or "Agent Orange" used in the Vietnam war as herbicide. It is a toxic insecticide, very effective for fighting mosquitoes spreading malaria. Humans are exposed to it by contaminated food. DDT accumulates in all body tissues and is able to cross the placenta or get into breast milk. In chronic exposition it damages the nervous system. In chronic exposition might cause liver cancer, violation of steroid hormones metabolism, disorders of fetal development and fertility. In some third world countries DDT is still used today.Triclosan - may be found in some anti-microbial and personal care products like liquid body wash. It causes infertility, sexual dysfunction, thyroid gland dysfunction, weight gains, and contaminates breast milk. It accumulates deeply mainly in women's bodies, and can support development of congenital genetic defects. It worsens allergic reactions and it triggers them too. A study from 2008 showed that 75% of respondents had triclosan in their urine. Despite known
results of research it continues to be allowed to be used for personal care products. It cannot be broken down biologically.
Parabens - intensively dismissed substance with potential of disrupting hormonal system. The European Union has introduced specific legislative obligations aimed at phasing out endocrine disruptors in water, industrial chemicals, plant protection products and biocides.
In REACH (Registration, evaluation, authorisation and restriction of chemicals) in EU, endocrine disrupting chemicals are considered of similar regulatory concern as substances of very high concern. In the USA, NIEHS (National Institute of Environmental and Health Sciences) was involved in developing a consensus statement in 2019 on the key characteristics of endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which provides a framework to help scientists evaluate potential endocrine disruptors.
WHAT CAN WE DO FOR OURSELVES?
Hormonal disruptors are present everywhere around us and it is practically impossible to avoid them. So if we want to lower the impact on our health and the environment to a minimum, we need to become curious about this topic. We are able to influence our own environment, things that we use and that surround us. Let's take care of our health, choose healthier groceries, behave responsibly and be informed as consumers. By our own activity we can inspire our friends and families to be more choiceful too.