Endocrine disruptors (hormone disruptors), like BPA, have been in the news a lot lately and for good reason.
Endocrine disruption is one of those things that can be incredibly difficult to convince people of its potentially devastating health effects, particularly for our children. The research can be hard to navigate. There is proven correlation but not necessarily causation, and the consequences of exposure to endocrine disruptors occur years later, as in the case of DES (Diethylstilbestrol). All of this makes it so easy to either dismiss the concerns about endocrine disruptors or to remain in denial.
This is a huge mistake.
So, what exactly is the endocrine system and how does endocrine disruption look?
The endocrine system is a collection of glands (which you can see above) that secrete hormones and receptors that react to those hormones. It controls basic body functions such as metabolism, growth and sexual development. In other words, it is incredibly important.
Endocrine disruptors interfere with the body’s endocrine system They can, and do, produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects.
Our simple understanding is that endocrine disruptors are linked to:
- reduced fertility
- reproductive cancers (breast, endometrial, testicular, prostate, ovarian)
- abnormalities in male reproductive organs (cryptorchidism and hypospadias)
- structural damage in brain
- early puberty
- sex ratios (the number of live male births divided by the total number of births for a given period)
- thyroid disorders
However, the research is behind in defining what endocrine disruption can cause, especially depending on the age at which exposure occurs. If exposure (even low-level exposure) occurs in-utero the effects can damage any of our biological systems. The new push in research is to understand how early exposure impacts all developing systems.
This could be incredibly exciting in many ways. The problem is that our children do not have the time to wait for the research.
Think of how many friends or family members you might have that have suffered from one of the above-mentioned health problems. Or even yourself.
“To date, no chemical in use has been thoroughly tested for its endocrine disrupting effects. Traditional toxicological testing protocols were not designed to test for endocrine disruption and to test at ambient or low exposure levels.”
This fact amazes me. It amazes me that this is possible and has so far been simply accepted.
What are the sources of endocrine disruption?
This is the biggest part of the problem. We encounter them every day. The most common endocrine disruptors:
- Food and water. Pesticides are the single largest source of endocrine disruptors found in our bodies. Pesticides have been designed to disrupt biological systems. They are then running into our water sources, contaminating the food we eat, and remaining in the soil to cause more damage. DDT is perhaps the most infamous.
- BPA (Bisphenol-A). BPA has been in the news and on legislator’s desks lately, and for good reason. BPA is found in many plastic baby bottles and sippy cups, plastic water bottles, other plastic food containers, thermal paper receipts, soda cans, and canned foods. BPA can leach from these containers into the food or water, especially when heated.
- PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride). PVC is a cheap, pliable plastic found in numerous things such as, shower curtains, toys, building materials, food packaging, and more. PVC is considered the most toxic plastic from both an environmental and a health standpoint. It is harmful to the workers that produce it and the people, particularly children, who are exposed to it.
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). PBDEs are flame retardants used in carpets, bedding, clothing, mattresses. They are related to Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) which have been banned worldwide for 30 years due to their undeniable harmful health effects on people, yet are still prevalent in most American’s bodies because we are still consuming food (seafood and dairy in particular) that is laden with the toxic chemical.
- Phthalates. Typically found alongside PVC in toys, shower curtains, and food containers, phthalates are another prevalent source of endocrine disruption. They also are often found in personal care products listed as in the ingredients as fragrance or phthalate, as well as DEP, DEHP, dibutyl, or diethylhexyl.
- Triclosan. Triclosan is an antibacterial pesticide found in dishwashing liquid, liquid hand soaps, hand sanitizers, toothpaste, toothbrushes, toys, and diaper changing pads to name just a few. Anything labeled antibacterial will likely contain triclosan. The good news for consumers is there are lots of safer, and equally effective, products to choose from that don’t cause an increased risk of cancer, asthma, and birth defects.
If you have 20 minutes, it would be well worth your time to go watch the incredibly moving video, “10 Americans,” about the toxic burden we are placing on our children.
That video illustrates the single reason I do what I do. It is our responsibility to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Babies are being born with an incredible amount of toxic chemicals already in their tiny bodies. Babies and young children are much more vulnerable to the things we are all exposed to every day, with potentially much more severe consequences to their health. This should not be acceptable to anyone.
So, the question becomes… What can we do?
Individually we can try to limit our exposure the best we can:
- Buy and eat organic produce. Particularly those that are likely to have higher levels of pesticide and herbicide residue. Buying local and in season is always beneficial as well.
- Avoid using pesticides in your own yard and garden.
- Use greener household cleaners. Using ingredients like vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, and maybe some essential oil is all you really need to make your own cleaners. Or look for brands that contain fewer toxic chemicals.
- Choose safer personal care products. The Cosmetics Database is a great place to start when researching safer products for you and your children. Read labels and understand ingredients.
- Avoid canned foods, plastic wrap, and plastic food or beverage containers. All canned foods, with the one exception of Eden Organic beans, are lined with BPA. Many plastic water bottles (both reusable and single-use), sippy cups, plastic food containers are made with BPA. Look for BPA-free, or better yet, avoid the plastic altogether. And please, do not heat plastic containers!
- Remove and avoid soft plastic teethers and toys. These leach endocrine disrupting chemicals, often directly into their mouths.
- Take care when eating fish. You can check with your state to see if fish from local rivers, lakes, and bays are contaminated. Freshwater and farmed fish are often highly contaminated.
- Avoid sunscreen with oxybenzone. Oxybenzone is easily absorbed through the skin and is another endocrine disruptor.
As a society, we can do better.
- Support evidence-based research.
- Educate yourselves and others. Please click the numerous links sprinkled throughout this post.
- Contact your elected officialsin support of regulating endocrine disrupting chemicals.
- Oregon is working on a 2011 BPA-Free Baby Bill.
- The pesticide industry is lobbying to eradicate federal requirements to regulate pesticide use.
- Congressman Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) has re-introduced the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Enhancement Act, legislation that updates the original Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program established to test chemicals for their potential to disrupt the endocrine system.
- California State Senator Mark Leno recently introduced The Consumer Choice Fire Safety Act (Senate Bill 147) which would “give consumers the option to purchase upholstered items such as couches and chairs that meet the state’s flame retardant standards but do not contain the toxic chemicals frequently used today.”
What changes are you willing to make to reduce your (and your children’s) exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals?
Does it seem too overwhelming? Too difficult? Unnecessary?
I would love to hear your thoughts.