By Dr. Mercola
If you eat packaged food, wash your clothes with regular detergent, and apply daily moisturizer and cosmetics, you're likely inadvertently exposing yourself to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).
Unlike well-known poisons such as lead and arsenic, EDCs have not been phased out of commonly used consumer products, and as a result surround us in our daily lives, interfering with your delicate and vulnerable hormone systems.
Endocrine-disrupting chemical researcher Sheela Sathyanarayana, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and an investigator at the Seattle Children's Research Institute, told Everyday Health:1
"The endocrine system is really controlling almost all major processes in the body — blood pressure, metabolism, those kinds of things that are just essential for everyday function… These chemicals can mimic or antagonize or interfere with hormone signaling or hormone production. They disrupt the normal hormone processes in the body."
What Are the Health Risks of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals?
Given the numerous environmental pollutants and other toxic exposures many face on a daily basis, it's difficult to directly link EDCs in household goods to specific illnesses (which may occur after years or decades of exposure).
However, as noted by Leonardo Trasande, MD, an endocrinologist and associate professor of pediatrics and environmental medicine at the NYU School of Medicine, in Everyday Health:2
"Over the past couple of decades, increasing and emerging evidence suggests that chemicals may disrupt the function of hormones in our bodies... [and] that disruption of those hormones can produce a broad array of conditions across the life course — birth defects, obesity, diabetes, even certain cancers."
A 2013 report from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) further noted there is "mounting evidence" for effects of EDCs on thyroid function, brain function, obesity and metabolism, insulin and glucose homeostasis, as well as adverse reproductive outcomes such as infertility, cancers, and malformations.3
The report further noted, "disease risk due to EDCs may be significantly underestimated."4 The greatest risks appear to come from exposure during prenatal or early postnatal development, which is when organs and neural systems are forming.5
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.6 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."
If you want to learn more, check out the film "The Human Experiment," which tells the personal stories of people who believe their lives have been affected by chemicals (and also delves into some of the corruption behind the powerful chemical industry).7
Four Common Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals to Watch Out For
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. Here are four of the most common to be aware of:8
1. Flame-Retardant Chemicals
Higher exposures to polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, have been linked to decreased fertility, which could be in part because the chemicals may mimic your thyroid hormones.9
Previous research has suggested PBDEs can lead to decreases in TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone).10 When present with normal T4 levels, low TSH is typically a sign that you're developing hyperthyroidism, which can have significant ramifications both for you and your unborn child if you're pregnant.
One type of PBDE (decaBDE) is classified as a possible human carcinogen by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), while the others remain largely untested.
A study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley also revealed that both in utero and childhood PBDE exposures were associated with neurodevelopmental delays, including poorer attention, fine motor coordination, and cognition in school-age children.11
Yet another study also found that children whose mothers were exposed to flame retardant chemicals during pregnancy have lower IQ and are more prone to hyperactivity disorders.12
PBDEs are widely used in furniture and other household goods, and studies have shown that an estimated 90 percent of Americans have flame-retardant chemicals in their bodies.
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:13
"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."
3. Bisphenol A (BPA)
BPA, widely used in plastics, cash register receipts, and canned goods, 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 and plastics may not be safe, as they often contain a similar chemical known as BPS.
Another endocrine-disrupting chemical, triclosan, can be found in certain brands of toothpaste as well as other antibacterial products, including soap. Triclosan can alter hormone regulation and may interfere with fetal development. An increased cancer risk has also been suggested.
As noted by Professor Caren Helbing Ph.D. at the University of Victoria in Canada, the chemical structure of triclosan is similar to both thyroid hormones and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). This similarity allows it to attach to your hormone receptors. Helbing's research shows that tadpoles exposed to triclosan suffered stunted development and leg deformations. The metamorphic process these frogs undergo is mediated by thyroid hormones.
Her findings were published in the Journal of Aquatic Toxicology in 2006, which concluded:14 "Exposure to low levels of triclosan disrupts thyroid hormone-associated gene expression and can alter the rate of thyroid hormone-mediated postembryonic anuran development."
10 Common Sources of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals
How often are you likely to be exposed to these toxic chemicals around your home? Probably far more often than you think. Epoch Times recently compiled 10 common sources of endocrine disruptors:15
1. Personal Care Products
Shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, cosmetics, and other personal care products often contain endocrine disruptors, including (but certainly not limited to) phthalates.
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 Foods4. Conventionally Grown Produce
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.16
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. 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 and Paper Currency
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.17
Holding the paper for just 5 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.18
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.
Be Wary of Laundry Pods
Laundry detergent is now being sold in single-use "pods" that contain a pre-measured dose you can simply toss into your machine. They're convenient, but they also resemble brightly colored candies, making them tempting for young children to put in their mouths.
In the first six months of 2015 alone, more than 6,000 calls were made to US poison-control centers after young children either ingested the pods or got the concentrated detergent on their skin or eyes. Consumer Reports, which has been warning about the pods since 2012, does not recommend their use and strongly urges households with children under 6 to avoid them.19
Aside from the ingestion risks, many commercial laundry detergents contain toxic ingredients you're better off avoiding even for laundry usage – like nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), which are banned in Europe and known to be potent endocrine disrupters causing male fish to transform into females.20 Seek out natural alternatives whenever possible.
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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Store your food and beverages in glass rather than plastic, and avoid using plastic wrap.
- Use glass baby bottles and avoid plastic sippy cups for your little ones.
- Eat mostly raw, fresh foods. Processed, prepackaged foods (of all kinds) are a common source of chemicals such as BPA and phthalates.
- Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
- 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.
- 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.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to remove house dust, which is often contaminated with traces of chemicals.
- 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.
- Avoid stain- and water-resistant clothing, furniture, and carpets to avoid perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs).
- Minimize your use of plastic baby and child toys, opting for those made of natural wood or fabric instead.
- 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.21
- 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 database22 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.
- Replace feminine hygiene products like tampons and sanitary pads with safer alternatives.
- Avoid artificial air fresheners, dryer sheets, fabric softeners, or other synthetic fragrances.
- Look for products that are fragrance-free. One artificial fragrance can contain hundreds – even thousands – of potentially toxic chemicals.
- Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric.