What are Endocrine Disruptors and How to Avoid Them? In the spirit of always reminding you that the health of our body goes beyond the food we eat and the supplements we take, I want to take some time to share more about endocrine disrupting chemicals and why you should care. Hormone disruptors can affect the health of our body as much as the food we eat and they can be found not just in our food, but in our skincare and cosmetics, household cleaning products, furniture and more. It can be overwhelming and scary to think about, but I think knowing what they are and why it matters – is the first step to being informed and empowered!
Before we get into the harmful chemicals the have been shown to interfere with development and reproduction, and may cause serious neurological and immune system effects, I think it's first really important to go back to basics and chat about what the endocrine system is and the roles it plays in our overall health.
What is the Endocrine System?
The endocrine system is comprised of a network of hormones (chemical messengers produced and used by the body) and glands that coordinate and regulate many essential body functions such as:
- Growth, development and maturation.
- Reproduction and embryo development.
- Production, use and storage of energy.
- Balance and maintenance of water and salt (electrolytes) in the body.
- Reaction to stimuli (e.g., fright, excitement).
The endocrine system includes the ovaries; the testes; the thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal, and pituitary glands; the pineal body; the pancreas; as well as cells releasing hormones found in the gastrointestinal tract, kidney, heart and placenta.
As you can assume, altering these precise and delicate systems in any way can certainly be "playing with fire", but yet it can happen quite easily on a day-to-day basis when you use "normal" everyday products in your home. Part of what makes endocrine disruptors so threatening is their ubiquitous nature and the fact that for most of us we are exposed to many of these chemicals on the daily.
(video from The Endocrine Society)
What are Endocrine Disruptors and Why Should You Care?
It may be a term you have heard in passing, maybe in regards to plastic bottles or chemicals in your household cleaning products, in our water or food supply. But it can all be confusing. What are the biggest offenders we should be avoiding immediately, where should we begin when trying to clean up our home and personal products, how worried should we be?
Endocrine disruption is, simply, any disturbance in the proper functioning of hormones in the body due to chemical exposure. Endocrine Disruptors (EDs) or Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) are defined as an exogenous chemical, or mixture of chemicals, that an interfere with any aspect of hormone action.
The many ways that endocrine disruptors can wreak havoc on our bodies in unending, interfering with the steps in hormone signaling from increasing the production of certain hormones to decreasing production of others. Some chemicals can mimic hormones by binding to receptors; they can turn one hormone into another; cause too much of a hormone to be produced or released and in some cases they can interfere with hormone signaling blocking the activation of a hormone causing too little of a natural hormone to be produced or circulated. Additionally some chemicals can tell cells to die prematurely; compete with essential nutrients; binding to essential hormones preventing appropriate hormonal processes from taking place; accumulating in organs that produce hormones and so on.
In fact, the data linking some EDCs or entire classes of EDCs to chronic disease is comparable in strength and breadth to the evidence that links tobacco smoking with lung cancer.
Commonly we know these chemicals to be found in common household items like plastics and food packaging, fragrances, personal care products, pesticides or herbicides found in food and even our tap water.
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