Endocrine Disruptors: How to Avoid Them and Why

Endocrine disruptors are one of the most harmful types of toxins and more common that you’d think. Find out what they are and how to avoid them.

Pregnant woman putting cream on

There are many known toxins present in everyday products we use. Endocrine disruptors are one of the most harmful types of toxins for men and women of all age groups. They’re present in many cosmetics, pesticides used to grow food, flame retardants and plastic food packaging or plastic-lined cans. Sadly, their toll on fetal development, the brain, the nervous system and reproductive system is serious, often leading to various forms of cancer, neurological disorders or learning disabilities.

Thankfully, there are ways you can minimize you and your family’s exposure to these harmful chemicals. In this guide, we’ll cover where endocrine disruptors are found and how you can avoid them.

What Is The Endocrine System?

The endocrine system refers to the glands throughout your body that secrete hormones—chemical messengers that trigger specific reactions in the body by latching onto receptors on cell walls. Some of these include the pituitary gland, pancreas, reproductive organs, thyroid and adrenal glands.

The endocrine system also includes the network of receptors on cells throughout your body that latch onto hormones in the bloodstream, causing them to affect the body. Through the combined effect of its parts, the endocrine system controls virtually all other bodily systems by regulating them at a chemical level.

What Are Endocrine Disruptors? 

As their name suggests, endocrine disruptors are chemicals that negatively interfere with the endocrine system, wreaking havoc on hormone levels. They affect the health of organs in your endocrine system, such as the pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands, impacting the bodily systems and functions these organs regulate, such as metabolism and blood sugar.

Studies show that endocrine disruptors harm the brain, nervous system, reproductive organs and immune system in humans and animals. They may increase infertility and instances of reproductive disorders and cancers. The greatest risk is likely posed to developing infants in the womb, with vulnerable, developing neural systems.

Endocrine disruptors include chemicals found in a range of products used in daily applications, from medicine to food packaging and beauty products. Some are natural, and others are man-made.

Are You Exposed to Endocrine Disruptors?

Unfortunately, virtually everyone is exposed to endocrine disruptors because they’re in the personal care products we use, foods we eat and the items we bring into our homes. Dioxin and dioxin-like compounds are known to cause endocrine disruption. Other types of endocrine disruptors are polychlorinated biphenyls, pesticides and BPA–found in things like plastic bottles, metal food cans, food, clothes and toys.

How Do Endocrine Disruptors Affect Your Body?

Endocrine disruptors enter the body very easily through various methods, like inhalation, topical skin exposure and oral consumption. Once in the bloodstream, they mimic sex hormones and thyroid hormones in the body, latching onto hormone receptors the way actual hormones do. In turn, they trigger a series of chemical and physical reactions in the body, the way actual hormones do. In small amounts, the effects go unnoticed. Over time, an accumulation of effects from long-term exposure to endocrine disruptors can play a role in the pathogenesis of reproductive cancers, neurological diseases and more.

Sex hormones, including estrogen and testosterone, perform many important functions in the body and have a sweeping influence on your health at the molecular level. An inflow of chemicals producing the effects of hormones causes various effects on your health, and causes further imbalance to result in reaction to it.

Some endocrine disruptors also block normal hormone activity when they bind to receptors on cells. This disrupts normal communication between cells. Endocrine disruptors can also alter the metabolism and synthesis of hormones in your liver, which can affect your body’s hormonal balance in the long term.

Can Endocrine Disruptors Cause Disease?

The accumulation of hormone disruption takes a toll on the body in a way that research has linked to various diseases. The most common are infertility and cancer, most frequently cancers affecting the reproductive organs.

Long-term, ongoing exposure to endocrine disruptors can raise your risk for certain diseases, including but not limited to:

  • Hyperthyroidism or thyroid disease
  • Cervical cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Attention and Hyperactivity Deficit Disorder (ADHD)
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Dementia

Bear in mind that these diseases and others can develop over time from exposure to various chemicals other than endocrine disruptors, too. Nonetheless, endocrine disruptors are so widespread in modern consumer lifestyles that it’s common they play a role.

7 Ways to Reduce Your Exposure to Endocrine Disruptors

Eliminating the major sources of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in your lifestyle and finding healthier replacement is the easiest way to reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors, and it’s within your control. Even the air and water and your home can be free of these toxins if you have the right filters. 

Here are 7 ways to filter and limit your exposure to endocrine disruptors:

1. Switch the Cleaning Products You Use or Make Your Own

The fragrances in most cleaning products contain endocrine disruptors that enter your bloodstream just through inhalation. Choose fragrance-free or “free and clear” detergents for your dishes and laundry, and opt for cleaning solvents for surfaces that are naturally-derived and toxic-free. 

If you want your cleaning products to be fragrant, you could make your own, and add 100% pure essential oils into the solutions you make with natural ingredients. Vinegar, baking soda, borax, citric acid and other non-toxic ingredients are some of the most powerful solvents that can clean up messes, neutralize odors and kill bacteria on virtually any surface.

2. Upgrade Your Water Filter

Basic filters reduce concentrations of chlorine, lead and other toxins in your water. However, endocrine disruptors are a lot smaller than these particles, and they bypass most filtration systems. Some of the endocrine disruptors that have been found in tap water are arsenic and perchlorate. A high-quality, carbon-based water filter removes these tiny impurities from your water, so upgrading your water filter could go a long way in reducing your exposure to endocrine disruptors.

3. Choose Glass, Silicone and Stainless Steel Over Plastic and Cans

The materials that package your food matter. Look for food products that come in glass containers instead of plastic ones. Even cans are lined with a plastic material containing BPA—a known endocrine disruptor. Glass, silicone and stainless steel are the best options for handling food because they’re non-toxic, so unlike plastic, they don’t leach any toxins. 

4. Replace Your Non-Stick Cookware

The non-stick coating on pots and pans are laced with endocrine disruptors known as perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), which have been shown in studies to affect sex hormone levels. Replace non-stick cookware with cast iron, ceramic or stainless steel, which don’t contain endocrine disruptors that can leach into your food.

5. Check the Ingredients In Your Cosmetics Products

Many cosmetics, from shampoos to deodorant sticks, contain parabens as an artificial preservative. Parabens are toxic endocrine disruptors you should avoid putting on your skin, where they can easily absorb, especially through products like lotions and leave-in conditioners. That said, you can avoid parabens and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in cosmetic and personal care products by shopping from brands with natural sourcing and certified organic ingredients. Every product has its ingredients on the label. Watch out for the umbrella terms “fragrance” or “parfum” in the ingredients list of all your bathroom products, because these could be anything–but many of them are known to be endocrine disruptors.

6. Get an Air Purifier for Your Home

According to a 2015 study published in “Environment International,” there are eight known endocrine disruptors currently polluting the atmosphere. They include phthalates, polychlorinated biphenyls, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins, brominated flame retardants, pesticides, alkylphenols and perfluorinated chemicals. Knowing this could be in the air in your home, an air purifier probably now seems like a great investment. They’re a great way to reduce your exposure to harmful toxins like endocrine disruptors, among other pollutants in the air. Place a quality home air purifier in your bedroom as you sleep, in the main open area of your home, or in your home office during the daytime.

7. Ditch Artificial Scents

Artificial fragrances in plug-in air fresheners, conventionally made candles, dryer sheets, fabric softeners and other scented household products are endocrine-disrupting and should be avoided in your home. Switch to soy candles, beeswax candles, essential oil diffusers and cleaning or laundry products that are scented with essential oils or natural extracts instead of synthetic fragrances, which are known for consisting of various endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

Conclusion

Limiting you and your family’s exposure to toxic endocrine-disrupting chemicals requires you to do your research before purchasing food, cosmetic items or other products. Read ingredient labels and look up any ingredient you’re unsure of. Buy organic whole foods to limit your pesticide intake. Overall, reducing your exposure to toxins is just one part of a healthy lifestyle. Remember to keep everything in perspective and keep your body healthy with exercise and high-quality nutrition for health and disease prevention. 

 

 

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