Over the last decade, there has been growing awareness of the adverse effects of many synthetic chemicals in the world around us — untested for their disrupting factors on the endocrine system.
From industrial chemicals and pesticides, to consumer products and the air around us, Australians are raising concerns about the dangers that even small quantities of toxic chemicals may cause.
The endocrine system is a network of glands and organs that produce, store, and secrete hormones.
When functioning normally, the endocrine system works with other systems to regulate your body’s healthy development and function throughout life.
The endocrine system is a series of ductless glands that secrete hormones directly into the blood to regulate various body functions.
The particular glands primarily include:
- Gonads – produces sex hormones (oestrogen and testosterone).
- Thyroid – produces thyroid hormone.
- Adrenal – produce adrenaline.
- Pancreas – produces insulin.
- Pituitary – produces growth hormone.
Body fat, muscle, heart, liver, intestines and kidneys have secondary endocrine functions and also produce hormones.
Substances around us are proven to affect our endocrine systems, and when ingested, absorbed or inhaled into the body, certain toxins can interfere with the production, action and/or elimination of our naturally present hormones.
In recent years, some scientists have proposed that certain chemicals in natural environments might inadvertently be disrupting the endocrine system of humans and wildlife.
Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) are substances in the environment (air, soil or water supply), food sources, personal care products and manufactured products.
EDCs are mostly man made, and are found in various materials, such as pesticides, metals, additives or contaminants in food and personal care products.
A variety of chemicals have been found to disrupt the endocrine systems of animals in laboratory studies, and there is strong evidence that chemical exposure has been associated with adverse developmental and reproductive effects on humans and wildlife in particular locations.
For example, one study by the Journal of Cancer Prevention, demonstrated through the discovery of molecular mechanisms and a particular focus on convincing data from a range of literature, that EDCs are commonly identified in cases of obesity, diseases and cancers.
This research has also been conducted the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations (UN) for many years, who openly discuss the problems and solutions of EDCs across the world:
“Effects shown in wildlife or experimental animals may also occur in humans if they are exposed to EDCs at a vulnerable time and at concentrations leading to alterations of endocrine regulation.
Of special concern are effects on early development of both humans and wildlife, as these effects are often irreversible and may not become evident until later in life.”
Some endocrine disruptors have been banned in the United States because of their human or wildlife health effects, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advising physicians to stop prescribing DES (diethylstilbestrol) in 1971.
The work is based on the fact that endocrine systems are very similar across vertebrate species and that endocrine effects manifest themselves independently of species. The effects are endocrine system related and not necessarily species dependent.
Possible harm from endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in humans is speculated based on two types of evidence: 1) increasing trends of suspected diseases in ecological studies of populations and 2) findings from traditional epidemiological studies of individuals.
Humans and other animals have been found to be most vulnerable to EDCs during critical periods of development, such as during fetal development and puberty, as our age plays a critical role in how, or even if, endocrine disruptors have an effect.
High EDC exposures during fetal development and childhood can have long-lasting health effects since there are periods where hormones regulate the formation and maturation of organs.
Disruption of the endocrine system can occur in various ways, such a some chemicals mimicking a natural hormone, fooling the body into over-responding to the particular stimulus.
Other endocrine disruptors block the effects of a hormone from certain receptors, such as growth hormones required for normal development. The rest directly stimulate or inhibit the endocrine system and cause overproduction or underproduction of hormones.
Certain drugs are used to intentionally cause some of these effects, such as birth control pills. In many situations involving environmental chemicals, however, an endocrine effect is not desirable.
This is because they interfere with the normal function of your body’s endocrine system.
CAUSE AND EFFECT
PESTICIDES — Glyphosate | Bisphenol A (BPA) | Phthalates
Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup weed killer, is widely used throughout the world in agriculture, parks and home gardens, and has been linked with endocrine-disruption effects related to growth, sexual development and reproduction.
Bisphenol A‘s endocrine-disrupting properties arose as an issue for research scientists in the 1990s, where its presence in water bottles and polycarbonate animal cages, as well as polycarbonate laboratory equipment, was producing unexpected experimental effects.
Phthalates are common chemicals primarily used as plasticisers in manufacturing flexible vinyl plastic found in flooring, food wrap and medical devices. They are also found in cosmetics and personal-care products, such as fragrances, lotions and nail polish, and pharmaceuticals where they’re used in coatings for timed-release pills.
FOOD SUPPLY — DDT | Atrazine
DDT has an oestrogenic effect, and although it has been banned in most countries for several decades, it persists in the environment and the food chain, including Australia.
Atrazine is a selective herbicide used on animal feed crops, sugar cane and forestry plantations, and canola crops. Apart from food residues, it can also enter the water supply, and has been linked with neuroendocrine effects. The Australian regulatory authorities determined that it doesn’t pose a risk, but will continue to monitor research.
SKIN APPLICATION — Parabens | UV Filters | Triclosan
Parabens are preservatives used in many cosmetic and personal care products and have been found to have oestrogenic effects. The Danish government has banned the use of some parabens.
UV Filters in some chemical sunscreens, including widely used octyl methoxycinnamate, as well as 4-methylbenzylidene camphor (4-MBC) and benzophenone 3, which have been found in some studies to have developmental and reproductive effects, as well as thyroid effects from OMC.
Triclosan is an antibacterial compound found in soap, hand wash and toothpaste, as well as other consumer products such as cleaning cloths and cutting boards. It interferes with the thyroid hormone and is oestrogenic.
A number of negative effects due to exposure of these chemicals has been linked to a variety of health impacts, including documented side effects in many species across the planet:
- Alterations in sperm quality and fertility.
- Abnormalities in sex organs.
- Early puberty.
- Altered nervous system function.
- Immune function.
- Certain cancers.
- Respiratory problems.
- Metabolic issues.
- Cardiovascular problems.
- Growth problems.
- Neurological and learning disabilities.
EDCs can also be transferred from the pregnant woman to the developing fetus or child through the placenta and breast milk.
They can disrupt many different hormones, which is why they have been linked to numerous adverse human health outcomes:
Human exposure to EDCs occurs via ingestion of food, dust and water, via inhalation of gases and particles in the air and through the skin, has raised numerous concerns on number of processes:
- Industrial chemicals and pesticides can leach into soil and groundwater, and make their way into the food chain by building up in fish, animals, and people.
- Non-organic produce can have pesticide residues.
- Some consumer products contain EDCs or are packaged in containers which can leach EDCs, such as household chemicals, fabrics treated with flame retardants, cosmetics, lotions, products with fragrance, and antibacterial soaps.
- Processed foods can accumulate traces of EDCs that leach out of materials used in manufacturing, processing, transportation, and storage.
- Soy-based products contain phytoestrogens, which are chemicals produced by plants that mimic estrogen.
- Household dust can contain EDCs such as lead, flame retardants, and PCBs from weathering construction material or furniture.
AVOIDING EDC EXPOSURE
Relevant Australian authorities, including the Therapeutic Goods Administration, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, the Australian Pesticides & Veterinary Medicines Authority and the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme are responsible for EDCs.
These bodies work with various state and local environmental and water authorities to take approaches to mitigate effects, until ‘there are more definitive research results’.
This is despite the fact that numerous countries across the world have already taken action.
The European Commission has recently launched the world’s first system for classifying and banning endocrine disrupting chemicals, against a barrage of criticism from scientists, NGOs, industry and consumer groups.
Some health effects are not fully proven, yet taking precautions are wise.
Some jurisdictions adopt the precautionary principle when it comes to regulating known or suspected endocrine disruptors: this means banning EDCs from certain or all applications.
To avoid EDCs, you need to become familiar with chemicals to which you and your family may be exposed. Try to avoid unnecessary, preventable exposure to EDC-containing consumer products.
A few tips to reduce your exposure to harmful chemical disruptors include:
- Buy and eat organic produce and free-range.
- Avoid dairy that contains genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST).
- Avoid eating conventional or farm-raised fish, which are often heavily contaminated with PCBs and mercury.
- Buy products that come in glass bottles or jars rather than plastic or canned.
- 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 are a common source of chemicals, such as BPA.
- Replace your non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
- Filter your tap water for drinking and bathing.
- Look for products that are made by companies that are earth-friendly.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to remove house dust.
- When buying furniture, mattresses or carpet, ask what type of fire retardant it contains.
- Avoid stain- and water-resistant clothing, furniture, and carpets to avoid PCFs.
- Minimize your use of plastic baby and child toys.
- Only use natural cleaning products in your home or make your own. Avoid products with EGBE and DEGME.
- Switch to organic toiletries such as shampoo, toothpaste, antiperspirants and cosmetics.
- 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 fragrance can contain thousands of potential toxic chemicals.
- Replace your vinyl shower curtain with one made of fabric.
Our current laws clearly aren’t working in Australia, and policies are needed to protect people from the harmful consequences of EDC exposure.
Until the Parliament makes it illegal for companies to put such toxic ingredients in our products, it’s unfortunately up to us to do our best to avoid hormone-altering chemicals.
Use this website to search ingredients for your food, water and household products: https://endocrinedisruption.org/interactive-tools/tedx-list-of-potential-endocrine-disruptors
Thank you to Full Member LindseyTruther
for the feature pitch and information!
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Effects of human exposure to hormone-disrupting chemicals examined in landmark UN report | World Health Organisation
State of the science of endocrine disrupting chemicals – 2012 | World Health Organisation
New rules to regulate Europe’s hormone-disrupting chemicals | The Guardian
Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals | Hormone.org
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