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Sources of Endocrine Disruptors

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  • Endocrine disruptors interfere with development and reproduction, and may cause serious neurological and immune-system effects
  • Such chemicals are common in personal care products, cleaning products, non-stick cookware, plastics, and more
  • Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are also frequently found in canned goods, pesticides, and even cash-register receipts

10 Sources of Endocrine Disruptors and How to Avoid Them

July 15, 2015 | 176,117 views
| Available in EspañolDisponible en Español

By Dr. Mercola

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals known to interfere with development and reproduction, and they may cause serious neurological and immune system effects.

The disruptions occur because such chemicals mimic hormones in your body, including the female sex hormone estrogen, the male sex hormone androgen, and thyroid hormones.

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals may block hormonal signals in your body or interfere with the way the hormones or receptors are made or controlled.1

Your normal hormone levels may be altered, or the chemicals may change the way such hormones travel through your body. As noted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC):2

"The endocrine system is a complex network of glands and hormones that regulates many of the body's functions, including growth, development and maturation, as well as the way various organs operate.

The endocrine glands – including the pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, thymus, pancreas, ovaries, and testes – release carefully-measured amounts of hormones into the bloodstream that act as natural chemical messengers, traveling to different parts of the body in order to control and adjust many life functions."

As you might suspect, altering these precise systems is playing with fire, yet can happen on a daily basis when you use "normal" everyday products in your home. Part of what makes endocrine disruptors so dangerous is their ubiquitous nature and the fact that most of us are exposed to multiple such chemicals daily.

Endocrine Disruptors Linked to Cancer, ADHD, and More

In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report co-produced with the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).3 Touted as one of the most comprehensive reports on endocrine-disrupting chemicals to date, the report revealed a wide variety of health problems associated with exposure to these pervasive chemicals, including:

Non-descended testes in young males Developmental effects on the nervous system in children Prostate cancer in men
Developmental effects on the nervous system in children Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children Thyroid cancer

According to the report:

"The diverse systems affected by endocrine-disrupting chemicals likely include all hormonal systems and range from those controlling development and function of reproductive organs to the tissues and organs regulating metabolism and satiety.

Effects on these systems can lead to obesity, infertility or reduced fertility, learning and memory difficulties, adult-onset diabetes or cardiovascular disease, as well as a variety of other diseases."

Children, Pregnant Women Most at Risk But Damage Can Show Up Decades Later

The greatest risks appear to come from exposure during prenatal or early postnatal development, which is when organs and neural systems are forming.4

Some of the effects, however, may not show up until decades later, and it's being increasingly suggested that many adult diseases actually have fetal origins.5

One of the most disturbing examples of this came from diethylstilbestrol (DES), a synthetic estrogen drug that was widely prescribed to pregnant women prior to the 1970s in order to help prevent miscarriage and promote fetal growth.

This endocrine disruptor turned out to be incredibly dangerous and caused problems with reproductive development and vaginal cancer that appeared after puberty.6

And it's not only humans that are being affected. Endocrine disruptors are found widely in contaminated water, air and food, and as such wildlife is also at risk.

Fish in the Great Lakes have been found with reproductive problems and abnormal swelling of thyroid glands due to endocrine disruptors known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

Alligators in one region in Florida drastically declined after a pesticide spill caused diminished reproductive organs and inhibited successful reproduction. Both the alligators and their eggs were found to be contaminated with endocrine-disrupting chemicals.7

10 Common Sources of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals

How often are you likely to be exposed to these toxic chemicals? Probably far more often than you think.

According to Thomas Zoeller, a biology professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who specializes in how chemicals affect the endocrine system, there are an estimated 800-1,000 endocrine-disrupting chemicals on the market.

Epoch Times recently compiled 10 common sources of endocrine disruptors, as well as what you can do about them.8

1. Personal Care Products

Shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, cosmetics, and other personal care products often contain endocrine disruptors, including (but certainly not limited to) phthalates. Phthalates are a group of "gender-bending" chemicals causing males of many species to become more female.

These chemicals have disrupted the endocrine systems of wildlife, causing testicular cancer, genital deformations, low sperm counts, and infertility in a number of species, including polar bears, deer, whales, and otters, just to name a few.

One 2002 study by the Environmental Working Group detected phthalates in nearly three-quarters of personal care products tested, noting:9

"Major loopholes in federal law allow the… cosmetics industry to put unlimited amounts of phthalates into many personal care products with no required testing, no required monitoring of health effects, and no required labeling."

Another endocrine-disrupting chemical, triclosan, can even be found in certain brands of toothpaste. Switching to natural and/or homemade personal care products will help you avoid such exposures. You can also try to cut down on the number of personal care products you use every day.

2. Drinking Water

Your drinking water may be contaminated with atrazine, arsenic, and perchlorate, all of which may disrupt your endocrine system. Filtering your water, both at your tap and your shower/bath, using a high-quality water filtration system can help protect you and your family.

3. Canned Foods

In an analysis of 252 canned food brands, 78 are still using bisphenol-A (BPA) in their canned goods, even though it's a known endocrine disruptor.10 BPA has been linked to a number of health concerns, particularly in pregnant women, fetuses and young children, but also in adults, including:

Structural damage to your brain Changes in gender-specific behavior and abnormal sexual behavior
Hyperactivity, increased aggressiveness, and impaired learning Early puberty, stimulation of mammary gland development, disrupted reproductive cycles, ovarian dysfunction, and infertility
Increased fat formation and risk of obesity Stimulation of prostate cancer cells
Altered immune function Increased prostate size and decreased sperm production

BPA coats about 75 percent of cans in North America, which means if you eat canned foods, it's likely a major source of BPA exposure for you. Even BPA-free cans may not be safe, as they're often coated with a similar chemical known as BPS. Ideally, buy products that come in glass bottles and jars rather than plastic or cans.

4. Conventionally Grown Produce

Pesticides, herbicides, and industrial runoff may coat your conventionally grown fruits and vegetables in endocrine-disrupting chemicals. As much as possible, buy and eat organic produce and free-range, organic foods to reduce your exposure to endocrine-disrupting pesticides and fertilizers.

5. CAFO Meat, Poultry, and Dairy Products

Animals raised on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) also typically contain antibiotics, hormones, and other industrial chemicals that may disrupt your endocrine system. Look for animal products that are free-range, organic and raised on small, local farms that avoid the use of such chemicals.

6. High-Mercury Fish

Fish contaminated with high levels of mercury and other heavy metals are problematic because such metals also disrupt hormonal balance. Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, marlin, and tilefish are among the worst offenders here, but even tuna has been found to be contaminated with dangerously high levels. Farmed fish (the "CAFOS of the sea") also tend to be higher in contaminants and are better off avoided. When eating seafood, smaller fish like sardines, anchovies, and herring tend to be low in contaminants and high in omega-3 fats.

7. Kitchen Products

Plastic containers and non-stick cookware common in many kitchens are another type of hazards. The plastic containers may contain BPA or other endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can leach into your food, especially if the plastic is heated. Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) used to create non-stick, stain-resistant, and water-repellant surfaces are also toxic and highly persistent, both in your body and in the environment.

When heated, non-stick cookware releases perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), linked to thyroid disease, infertility, and developmental and reproductive problems. Healthier options include ceramic and enameled cast iron cookware, both of which are durable, easy to clean (even the toughest cooked-on foods can be wiped away after soaking it in warm water), and completely inert, which means they won't release any harmful chemicals into your home.

8. Cleaning Products

Commercial solutions used to clean your floors, toilets, oven, windows, and more typically contain industrial chemicals that may throw your hormones out of whack. For instance, nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), a common ingredient in laundry detergents and all-purpose cleaners, is banned in Europe and known to be a potent endocrine disrupter,11 causing male fish to transform into females. It's surprisingly easy to create your own cleaning products at home using different combinations of vinegar, baking soda, essential oils, and even coconut oil. Find simple tips for greener cleaning here.

9. Office Products

Ink cartridges, toner, and other solvents common in office environments are another common source of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Handle such products with care and minimize your exposure as much as possible.

10. Cash Register Receipts

Thermal paper has a coating that turns black when heat is applied (the printer in a cash register applies heat to the paper, allowing it to print numbers and letters). It also contains BPA, and research shows that handling this type of paper is enough to increase your bodily levels. A study in Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry found that of 13 thermal printing papers analyzed, 11 contained BPA.12

Holding the paper for just five seconds was enough to transfer BPA onto a person's skin, and the amount of BPA transferred increased by about 10 times if the fingers were wet or greasy (such as if you've just applied lotion or eaten greasy food).

Finally, because receipts are often stored next to paper currency in people's wallets, paper currency may also be contaminated with BPA. In a study published in Environmental Science and Technology, researchers analyzed paper currencies from 21 countries for the presence of BPA, and the chemical was detected in every sample.13

So, seek to limit or avoid carrying receipts in your wallet or purse, as it appears the chemical is transferring onto other surfaces it touches. It would also be wise to wash your hands after handling receipts and currency, and avoid handling them particularly if you've just put on lotion or have any other greasy substance on your hands, as this may increase your exposure). If you're a cashier or bank teller who handles such papers often, you may want to wear gloves, especially if you're pregnant or of child-bearing age.

19 More Tips to Reduce Your Chemical Exposure at Home

Implementing the following measures will help you avoid the worst endocrine-disrupting culprits as well as other chemicals from a wide variety of sources. To sum it up, try to stick with whole foods and natural products around your home. The fewer ingredients a product contains, the better, and try to make sure anything you put on or in your body – or use around your home – contains only substances you're familiar with. If you can't pronounce it, you probably don't want it anywhere near your family.

  1. As much as possible, buy and eat organic produce and free-range, organic meats to reduce your exposure to added hormones, pesticides, and fertilizers. Also avoid milk and other dairy products that contain the genetically engineered recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST).
  2. Rather than eating conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury, supplement with a high-quality purified krill oil, or eat smaller fish or fish that is wild-caught and lab tested for purity. Wild caught Alaskan salmon is about the only fish I eat for these reasons.
  3. Buy products that come in glass bottles or jars rather than plastic or canned, since chemicals can leach out of plastics and into the contents.
  4. Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap.
  5. Use glass baby bottles and avoid plastic sippy cups for your little ones.
  6. Eat mostly raw, fresh foods. Processed, prepackaged foods (of all kinds) are a common source of chemicals such as BPA and phthalates.
  7. Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
  8. Filter your tap water—both for drinking and bathing. If you can only afford to do one, filtering your bathing water may be more important, as your skin absorbs contaminants. To remove the endocrine-disrupting herbicide Atrazine, make sure the filter is certified to remove it. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), perchlorate can be filtered out using a reverse osmosis filter.
  9. Look for products that are made by companies that are earth-friendly, animal-friendly, green, non-toxic, and/or 100% organic. This applies to everything from food and personal care products to building materials, carpeting, paint, baby items, upholstery, and more.
  10. Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to remove house dust, which is often contaminated with traces of chemicals.
  11. When buying new products such as furniture, mattresses or carpet padding, ask what type of fire retardant it contains. Be mindful of and/or avoid items containing PBDEs, antimony, formaldehyde, boric acid, and other brominated chemicals. As you replace these toxic items around your home, select those that contain naturally less flammable materials, such as leather, wool, and cotton.
  12. Avoid stain- and water-resistant clothing, furniture, and carpets to avoid perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs).
  13. Minimize your use of plastic baby and child toys, opting for those made of natural wood or fabric instead.
  14. Only use natural cleaning products in your home or make your own. Avoid products that contain 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME) — two toxic glycol ethers that can damage fertility and cause fetal harm.14
  15. Switch over to organic brands of toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants, and cosmetics. You can replace many different products with coconut oil and baking soda, for example. EWG has a great database15 to help you find personal care products that are free of phthalates and other potentially dangerous chemicals. I also offer one of the highest quality organic skin care lines, shampoo and conditioner, and body butter that are completely natural and safe.
  16. Replace feminine hygiene products like tampons and sanitary pads with safer alternatives.
  17. Avoid artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners, or other synthetic fragrances.
  18. Look for products that are fragrance-free. One artificial fragrance can contain hundreds – even thousands – of potentially toxic chemicals.
  19. Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric.

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