What is the Endocrine System?
Inside your body, you have a system that controls your growth and development, moods, metabolism, sexual function, sleep, immune function, and more.
Called the “endocrine system,” it’s made of up glands that secrete chemicals called “hormones” into the bloodstream and surrounding tissues. Once released, these hormones create changes in the cells to respond to whatever your body needs at that time.
Just finished eating? The endocrine system releases hormones to get digestion going. Feeling stressed? The endocrine system releases hormones to help you get ready to fight or flee. Whatever’s happening with you, you can bet that your hormones and the endocrine system are involved.
But what if something got into your body that acted like a hormone, but wasn’t a hormone?
How Hormone Disruptors Mess You Up
Suddenly, your body senses a hormone imbalance. Maybe it thought it needed to make more hormones, but now there are too many. Maybe because of the imposter, it doesn’t make enough. The chemicals in your body are out of whack.
Results could include:
- Sleep disorders
- Developmental problems
- Weaker immune system
- Reproduction problems, including infertility
- Heart disease
- Neurological problems
Who are These Imposters?
A number of chemicals we encounter in our everyday lives can act like hormones in our body, throwing our own natural hormone function out of whack. Here are just a few:
- Bisphenol-A (BPA), found in plastics and in the lining of canned goods.
- Triclosan, found in antibacterial soaps and other products.
- Parabens, popular preservatives used in personal care products.
- Phthalates, plasticizers found in hair spray, nail polish, plastic food containers, and vinyl.
- Sodium lauryl sulfate, a harsh cleanser found in many personal care products.
- Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), like Teflon, Gore-Tex, and other stain-resistant products.
- Dioxin, a by-produce formed in the manufacturing of many personal care products.
- Fire retardants, found in foam furniture (like couches), carpet padding, and house dust.
- Arsenic, a toxin lurking in some food and drinking water.
- Mercury, a toxic metal found in some fish.
- Pesticides, used widely in farming as well as in home gardens and lawns.
How Are We Exposed to Them?
By eating food, drinking water, inhaling contaminated air, and slathering personal care products on our skin, hair, and nails. They are lurking in:
- Personal care products
- Common household cleaners
- Artificial and natural flavors in processed foods
- Yard, garden, and farm chemicals
- Perfume, cologne, and other “fragrance” products
- Furniture, carpet, shower curtains
Who Says Hormone Disruptors Are a Problem?
A lot of people. Here are just a few:
- Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC): “The majority of the more than 2,000 chemicals that come onto the market every year do not go through even the simplest tests to determine toxicity.” They recommend you educate yourself about endocrine disruptors.
- Environmental Working Group (EWG): “There is no end to the tricks that endocrine disruptors can play on our bodies: increasing production of certain hormones; decreasing production of others; imitating hormones; turning one hormone into another; interfering with hormone signaling; telling cells to die prematurely; competing with essential nutrients; binding to essential hormones; accumulating in organs that produce hormones.”
- The Endocrine Society: “The evidence for adverse reproductive outcomes (infertility, cancers, malformations) from exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals is strong, and there is mounting evidence for effects on other endocrine systems, including thyroid, neuroendocrine, obesity and metabolism, and insulin and glucose homeostasis.”
- World Health Organization (WHO): Many synthetic chemicals, untested for their disrupting effects on the hormone system, could have significant health implications according to the State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals, a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and WHO. “Research has made great strides in the last ten years showing endocrine disruption to be far more extensive and complicated than realized a decade ago,” said Professor Ake Bergman, Chief Editor of the report.
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS): “Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife….Endocrine disruptors may be found in many everyday products-including plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides.”
- American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): In a letter to Congress: “Over the past several decades, tens of thousands of chemicals have entered commerce and the environment, often in extremely large quantities….As children grow and mature, their bodies may be especially vulnerable to certain chemical exposures during critical windows of development. In particular, children’s endocrine systems have demonstrated sensitivity to environmental toxicants at specific stages of growth.”
What You Can Do
Follow these steps to reduce your exposure!
- Buy organic food whenever possible.
- Avoid using pesticides around your home and on your pets.
- Avoid heating foods in plastic containers-use glass or ceramic instead.
- Swap out your plastic water bottle for stainless steel.
- Don’t give your children soft plastic teethers or toys, since these leech potential endocrine disrupting chemicals.
- Avoid stain-resistant and Teflon products.
- Buy fresh or frozen instead of canned, unless the can states that it is “BPA-free.”
- Avoid anti-bacterial products.
- Use bamboo cutting boards instead of plastic. They are naturally anti-microbial.
Have you taken steps to reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors? Why do you care?
Picture courtesy ddpavumba via freedigitalphotos.net.