If you can remember back to your biology class, the body runs on a network of glands, called the endocrine system, that produces hormones used by the body. It regulates everything you do and supports you through all phases of metabolism, behavior and development. It’s an incredible thing, but here’s the bad news: chemicals commonly found in everything from your fragrances to your cleaning products known as endocrine disruptors are disrupting that very system. In this article, we discuss these dangerous disruptors so you can learn which products contain them and most importantly, how to avoid them as much as possible.
What Are Endocrine Disruptors?
“Endocrine disruptors” is a term used to describe the synthetic chemicals that lurk in all kinds of products – from your plastics and cleaning products to your toys, foods, cosmetics and much more. They’ve been coined ‘endocrine disruptors’ because they can interfere with and disrupt your endocrine system.
What Do Endocrine Disruptors Do?
But why is this important you ask?
Your endocrine system consists of a network of glands and hormones, such as testosterone, estrogen, insulin and adrenaline, for the body to use. These hormones get released into the bloodstream so they can reach your tissues and organs to support many crucial functions that pertain to your growth and development, metabolism, behavior and reproduction.
When these chemicals interfere with this system, they directly impact endocrine balance, altering various aspects of your physical, emotional and mental health and wellness. They behave similar to the hormones in your body, which confuses the regulating hormone into thinking the body has too much or not enough of said hormone. As a result, it disrupts the overall balance and can even block your natural hormones from doing their job.
Endocrine disruptors have also been linked to creating an alarming number of health concerns and conditions, including:
- Changes in sperm quality
- Fertility issues
- Abnormalities in sex organs
- Early puberty
- Disrupted nervous system function
- Weakened immune system
- Some cancers, such as breast, ovarian and prostate cancer
- Respiratory problems
- Type 2 diabetes
- Thyroid function concerns
- Low birth weights in babies
- Slowed development in children
- Increase symptoms of ADHD
Not only are endocrine disruptors bad for human health but they have also been shown to wreak havoc on the environment as well as common pesticides, fungicides and herbicides all contain endocrine disruptors. These chemicals contaminate the air, soil and water and also affect wildlife. They’ve been responsible for causing sea lions to give birth prematurely and were also found to be the cause of various baby birds dying.
The Most Well-Known Hormone Disrupting Chemicals
Endocrine disruptors can consist of both natural and synthetic chemicals, and lurk in all kinds of products – from the clothes and cosmetics you wear to the cleaning products you use, and beyond. They fall into five general categories, which are: agricultural, heavy metals, industrial, pharmaceutical and residential. So, you really need to keep an eye out for them at all times.
The most common endocrine disruptors to be on the lookout for are:
- BPA: A chemical used to make plastic products, such as water bottles and containers, that can leak into the food and drink it contains. Many companies now offer BPA-free products.
- Flame retardants: Used to prevent a fire from growing and added to all kinds of clothes, furniture, construction materials and furnishings, this chemical can lead to neurological problems, cancer, thyroid disruption and many more health concerns.
- Parabens: Commonly used in personal care products and cosmetics – from your shampoo and conditioner to your correction creams, foundation, sunscreen and more, these chemicals may alter hormonal balance, have a negative effect on the reproductive system, increase cancer risk and harm fertility.
- Perfluorinated chemicals: Used as a non-stick coating on pots and pans, these chemicals can have a negative impact on the female reproductive system, reduce immune function, and more.
- Pesticides: High exposure to pesticides, commonly used on plant products such as fruits and vegetables, can cause cancer, neurological disorders and reproductive health concerns when exposure to them is high.
- Phthalates: A chemical used to make plastics more flexible that are found in personal care products, cosmetics, detergents, vinyl flooring, toys, medical tubing and more, phthalates can negatively affect reproductive health, cause obesity, allergies, asthma, diabetes and insulin resistance.
- Phytoestrogen: A naturally occurring plant compound found in food products, such as soy, these endocrine disruptors can act like estrogen in the body when consumed in large amounts. This can lead to many health problems associated with too much estrogen or too little estrogen, and can even block the effects of estrogen in the body. Some of those risks include blood clots, stroke, thyroid dysfunction, fatigue, weight changes, obesity, osteoporosis, heart disease and more.
- Triclosan: This endocrine disruptor acts as an antibacterial and antifungal agent, and is commonly found in cleaning products. It’s recently been banned to be used in hand soaps by the FDA, as its been known to alter hormonal balance, harm the immune system and more.
Ways to Reduce Your Exposure to Endocrine Disruptors
With these pesky chemicals being found in quite literally everything, including the environment, it can be impossible to avoid them entirely. The good news: there are some things you can do to significantly reduce your exposure to them on a daily basis to protect your health. Here are some easy ways to do just that:
- Read the labels: Without reading the labels on the things you can, it can be difficult to know what chemicals they contain. So, get in the habit of always reading the labels and when possible, opt for natural, chemical-free or organic products.
- Fill your home with plants: Not only will this little trick brighten up your space and boost your mental health, it can also help purify the air so you aren’t breathing in as many chemicals.
- Buy organic produce: The price point may be higher, but the reduced exposure to endocrine disruptors is priceless. Buy organic produce as much as you can or at the very least, aim to purchase organic versions of the top 12 toxic fruits and vegetables: strawberries, spinach, kale and collards, nectarines, apples, grapes, bell peppers and hot peppers, cherries, peaches, pears, celery, and tomatoes. These ingredients have been found to contain the most pesticides.
- Wash or peel produce: If you can’t afford buying organic produce, make sure you wash all of your produce well before consuming, or peel them if possible.
- Opt for fragrance-free: Everything from your soaps to your detergents, cleaners, cosmetics often have added fragrances which typically contain endocrine disruptors. So, opt for fragrance-free alternatives when possible to avoid chemicals that you just don’t need.
- Stop microwaving plastic containers: Put your foods in a different container (other than plastic) before nuking them in the microwave to avoid leaching.
- Buy fewer processed and packaged foods: The simpler your foods can be, the less likely they are to contain endocrine disruptors. Choose foods that come with minimum packaging and less processing.
- Avoid plastics: When you can, choose something other than plastics. Store your food and drink water from glass or stainless steel containers instead.
- Stop drinking out of water bottles: With the prior mentioned, stop purchasing bottled water. Instead, invest in a water purification filter or system and use a reusable, glass bottle instead.
- Avoid storing canned or plastic foods in the heat: The trunk of your car on a hot summer day is not recommended for any of your canned or plastic foods, nor is any hot area for that matter. Opt for a cooler, shady space instead.
- Use age-old cleaning remedies: Swap out your chemical-filled cleaners for age-old cleaning solutions, such as vinegar, baking soda and lemon.
- Suck up the dust and debris: If you needed some motivation to dust and vacuum more often, let this be it. Doing these two things regularly can help reduce chemicals in your home so you aren’t breathing them in.
- Change your air filters: With the prior mentioned, don’t forget to change your air filters regularly. You may even want to get your ducts cleaned or invest in an air-purifying machine.
- Wash your hands: If there’s anything we learned from the recent pandemic, it’s that washing your hands works! Not only can it help prevent illness but it can also help wash away any chemicals you may have picked up on your skin throughout the day. But of course, opt for a natural hand soap and one that is fragrance-free.
Every day, you get exposed to hormone-disrupting chemicals, whether it’s from slathering on some sunscreen, wearing cosmetics, washing your hair, cleaning your hair, eating produce or simply breathing the air. Endocrine disruptors are everywhere but with the tips you learn in this article, you can limit your exposure to them and do a better job at protecting your health.