5 Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals & Tips To Minimize Your Risk

Endocrine disrupting chemicals are all too common in consumer products, and it’s important to recognize what products contain these hormone-altering chemicals so that you can avoid them. By choosing products that are free from endocrine-disrupting chemicals, you can proactively protect your health and the health of your family. Below are 5 of the top endocrine-disrupting chemicals with simple tips to minimize your exposure.

Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals with chemical symbol

The endocrine system is made up of glands that produce, store and secrete hormones (like adrenaline, insulin, dopamine, melatonin and growth hormones). Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) interfere with the way normal hormones work in the body. These chemicals can be found in consumer products, personal care products, our food supply and in the environment (water, air and soil).

Infographic showing normal cells and how endocrine disrupting chemicals alter the function

Did you know? Even low doses of endocrine-disrupting chemicals can disrupt how your hormones interact with your body. The endocrine system is extremely important in utero and during infancy because it manages the development of each and every organ of the body!

Hormones play an important role in the way the body properly functions, and any disruption to the endocrine system or to hormone production, distribution or signaling can cause a wide range of health issues. Some of these health issues include:

  • Reproductive abnormalities
  • Increased risk of developing cancer
  • Obesity
  • Attention and Behavioral problems in children
  • Asthma
  • Reproductive/Fertility problems
  • Diabetes
  • Autoimmune disorders

Infographic of man with colored muscles and 8 endocrine glands with functions

5 COMMON ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS

BISPHENOLS

  • Bisphenol A (BPA): BPA is a synthetic chemical compound used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, which are used to make plastic products.
  • Where are bisphenols found? The FDA and the National Institutes of Health state that the primary exposure source for most people is contaminated food and beverages. BPA has been detected in infant formula, canned food, canned beverages, plastic food storage, beverages in plastic containers, food packaging, thermal receipt paper, health care equipment, dental materials and toys. Some plastic containing bisphenols will have a recycling number 7, or plastic marked “PC” for polycarbonate, but there is a lot of plastic out there that is not marked.
  • What health risks are associated with Bisphenol exposure? Male and female infertility, early puberty, hormone dependent tumors (breast and prostate) (1).
  • Study Highlight: A comprehensive 2018 study, the CLARITY-BPA Academic Laboratory Study found an association with low-dose BPA exposure and adverse multi-organ health effects, including heightened risk for breast and prostate inflammation (2).
  • Note: Plastic containers labeled “BPA-free” don’t necessarily mean they’re any safer. They may contain other bisphenols, such as BPS, which have the same harmful properties as BPA (3).

PHTHALATES

  • Phthalates: Phthalates are a large class of synthetic chemicals that make plastic more flexible and also act as binding agents, among other uses.
  • Where are phthalates found? Any product made with Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), automobile interiors, building materials, shower curtains, personal care products, cosmetics, fragrance, medical devices, children’s toys and bottle nipples.
  • What are the Health Risks associated with phthalate exposure? Premature birth, birth defects, including to the male reproductive tract, respiratory problems, behavioral problems in children, male and female infertility, obesity and diabetes, among other health issues (4).
  • Study Highlights: A study in 2019 associated high urinary concentrations of phthalates with female fertility issues (5), and a 2018 review on phthalate exposure and male reproductive outcomes found that human exposure to phthalates is linked with short anogenital distance, early puberty and changes in male hormone and semen levels (6).

PER- AND POLYFLUOROALKYL SUBSTANCES (PFAS)

  • PFAS: PFAS, short for Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, is a class of fluorinated chemicals that have water repellant, nonstick and stain resistant properties. They are a group of more than 9,000 human-made chemicals that contain fluorine bonded to carbon, creating a strong chemical bond that makes them hard to break down. PFAS are also known as the “forever chemical”, since they don’t break down in the environment and can remain in our bodies for many years.
  • Where are PFAS chemicals found? Drinking water, firefighting foams, non-stick pans, paper, waterproof and long-lasting makeup, floss, microwave popcorn bags, takeout containers, fast food wrappers, pizza boxes, stain resistant carpets, rugs, furniture, paint and stains. PFAS chemicals are also found in outdoor gear & apparel with water repellant coating like backpacks, coats, shoes and tents.
  • What health risks are associated with PFAS exposure? Increased risk of asthma, immune system disfunction, decreased vaccine response in children, changes in liver enzymes, increased risk of high blood pressure and pre-ecalmpsia in pregnant women, small decreases in infant birth weight and weight gain in adults (7).
  • Study Highlight: Studies of almost 70,000 people that lived near the Teflon plant linked PFOA in tap water to kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis and other health problems.

PARABENS

  • Parabens: Parabens are preservatives used to inhibit microbial growth and prolong the shelf life of a product.
  • Where are parabens found? Processed foods, pharmaceutical products, cosmetics, and personal care products like toothpaste and shampoo.
  • What health risks are associated with exposure to parabens? Abnormal and slow-moving sperm in males, decreased fertility in females, increase or decrease levels of sex hormones (8).
  • Study Highlight: Based on a 2016 study conducted at the University of California Berkeley, researchers found that parabens were able to stimulate breast cancer cell growth, even at concentrations 100 times lower than the natural growth factor heregulin. These findings suggest that paraben exposure doesn’t have to be high to lead to cancer growth (9).

FLAME RETARDANTS

  • Flame Retardants: Flame retardants are used to prevent the start of fires and stop fires from rapidly spreading. Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and organophosphorus flame retardants (OPFRs) are commonly used on household products.
  • Where are flame retardants found? Foam and upholstery home furnishings like mattresses and pillows, fabric and carpets, electronics like computers, cables and wiring, insulating building foam and the cushioning in car seats.
  • What are the health risks associated with Flame Retardant Exposure? Endocrine and thyroid disruption, impacts to the immune system, reproductive toxicity, cancer, adverse effects on fetal and child development, and changes to neurologic function (10).
  • Study Highlights: In a 2016 study, researchers measured serum concentration levels of PBDE, and higher levels were associated with thyroid disease, with post-menopausal women having the highest incidence of thyroid disease and concurrent high PBDE levels (11).

9 Easy Ways To Avoid Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

EASY WAYS TO AVOID ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS

  • Say NO to paper receipts (they may contain BPA)
  • Toss out your non-stick pans (they may be coated with PFAS), and use a cast iron skillet
  • Canned food may contain BPA or other Bisphenols, so eat fresh food whenever possible
  • Store food in glass containers instead of plastic
  • Read labels and avoid synthetic fragrance and parabens in personal care products and cleaning supplies
  • Purchase furniture with “contains no added flame retardants” on the label
  • Don’t buy waterproof makeup or other waterproof products (like textiles)
  • Filter your tap water
  • Vacuum often

REFERENCES

  1. Prins GS, Patisaul HB, Belcher SM, Vandenberg LN. CLARITY-BPA academic laboratory studies identify consistent low-dose Bisphenol A effects on multiple organ systems. Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2019;125 Suppl 3(Suppl 3):14-31. doi:10.1111/bcpt.13125
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6414289/
  2. Prins GS, Patisaul HB, Belcher SM, Vandenberg LN. CLARITY-BPA academic laboratory studies identify consistent low-dose Bisphenol A effects on multiple organ systems. Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2019;125 Suppl 3(Suppl 3):14-31. doi:10.1111/bcpt.13125
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6414289/
  3. Bilbrey, J. BPA-Free Plastic Containers May Be Just as Hazardous. Scientific American. Aug. 11, 2014.
    https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bpa-free-plastic-containers-may-be-just-as-hazardous/
  4. Dutta S, Haggerty DK, Rappolee DA, Ruden DM. Phthalate Exposure and Long-Term Epigenomic Consequences: A Review. Front Genet. 2020 May 6;11:405. doi: 10.3389/fgene.2020.00405. PMID: 32435260; PMCID: PMC7218126.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32435260/
  5. Martinez, R. M., Hauser, R., Liang, L., Mansur, A., Adir, M., Dioni, L., et al. (2019). Urinary concentrations of phenols and phthalate metabolites reflect extracellular vesicle microRNA expression in follicular fluid. Environ. Int. 123, 20–28. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2018.11.043
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30481674/
  6. Radke EG, Braun JM, Meeker JD, Cooper GS. Phthalate exposure and male reproductive outcomes: A systematic review of the human epidemiological evidence. Environ Int. 2018 Dec;121(Pt 1):764-793. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2018.07.029. Epub 2018 Oct 16. Erratum in: Environ Int. 2019 Apr;125:606-607. PMID: 30336412.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30336412/
  7. Conley, J. et al. Adverse Maternal, Fetal, and Postnatal Effects of Hexafluoropropylene Oxide Dimer Acid (GenX) from Oral Gestational Exposure in Sprague-Dawley Rats. Environ. Health Perspect. 2019 Vol. 127, No. 3. doi: 10.1289/EHP4372
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30920876/
  8. Nowak K, Ratajczak-Wrona W, Górska M, Jabłońska E. Parabens and their effects on the endocrine system. Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2018 Oct 15;474:238-251. doi: 10.1016/j.mce.2018.03.014. Epub 2018 Mar 27. PMID: 29596967.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29596967/
  9. Pan, S., Yuan, C. et al. Parabens and Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor Ligand Cross-Talk in Breast Cancer Cells. Environ. Health Perspect. 2016 Vol. 124, No. 5 doi: 10.1289/ehp.1409200
    https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.1409200
  10. Shaw SD, Blum A, Weber R, Kannan K, Rich D, Lucas D, Koshland CP, Dobraca D, Hanson S, Birnbaum LS. Halogenated flame retardants: do the fire safety benefits justify the risks? Rev Environ Health. 2010 Oct-Dec;25(4):261-305. doi: 10.1515/reveh.2010.25.4.261. PMID: 21268442.
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21268442/
  11. Allen, J.G., Gale, S., Zoeller, R.T. et al. PBDE flame retardants, thyroid disease, and menopausal status in U.S. women. Environ Health 15, 60 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12940-016-0141-0

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