What to Know About Endocrine Disruptors

Medically Reviewed by Mahammad Juber, MD on June 01, 2022
5 min read

Did you know that there are certain chemicals found in everyday products that could be affecting your health? In recent years, more and more studies have been performed to learn more about endocrine disruptors, or chemicals that can interfere with your hormones. Here’s what you need to know about endocrine disruption and how it can affect your body.

An endocrine disruptor is a substance or mixture created outside of the body that changes the function of the endocrine system. Your endocrine system works alongside other systems in your body to help it grow and develop in a normal, healthy way throughout your life. It is made up of glands and organs that create, store, and release hormones.

Endocrine disruptor effects. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) interfere with your endocrine system and its normal functions. They can cause the body to start processes at the wrong time or cause irreversible changes within it. Endocrine disruptors can do several things, like:

  • Increase or decrease the production of certain hormones in your body
  • Imitate your body’s natural hormones
  • Interfere with hormone signals
  • Turn one hormone into another one
  • Build up in the organs that create hormones
  • Signal certain cells to die prematurely
  • Bind to essential hormones inside your body
  • Compete with the essential nutrients your body needs to function

Endocrine disruptors interfere with natural hormone functions in both animals and humans. Research has shown that EDCs can affect reproduction and cause developmental malformations. They can also affect other systems in the body, like the nervous system and the immune system, and the functions they need to perform to keep you healthy.

The scary thing about endocrine disruptors is that they can be found in lots of everyday products you may have around your house. You can come into contact with these chemicals in a number of ways, including through the air you breathe and the water you drink. You may also absorb EDCs through contact with your skin when you touch or use certain products.

Currently, we know that there are almost 85,000 human-made chemicals in the world, and only 1 percent of them have been studied for safety. Humans come into contact with many of these chemicals every day. It’s believed that more than 1,000 of these chemicals have endocrine disruption properties and can be classified as EDCs.

Endocrine disruptor examples. Some common endocrine disruptors can be found around your home. These include:

  • Bisphenol A (BPA): A chemical used to make polycarbonate plastics and resins in plastic products. BPA may be in items like food storage containers or cans used for canned food. This endocrine disruptor’s effects include early puberty, obesity, cancer, and heart disease.
  • Phthalates: Chemicals that make plastic products more flexible. They can be found in food packaging, toys, cosmetics, fragrances, and even medical devices.
  • Brominated flame retardants (BFRs): Chemicals that reduce flammability. These chemicals are known to affect thyroid function, which is important in the development of babies and children. BFRs are used in materials to make clothing, mattresses, and furniture.
  • Pesticides: Most notably, atrazine and glyphosate. These pesticides are dangerous for plants, animals, and humans, and it’s been shown that male frogs exposed to these chemicals can actually become chemically castrated. In humans, pesticides and herbicides are linked to obesity, behavioral disorders, and cognitive disorders. Atrazine is known to affect the hypothalamus and pituitary gland.
  • PFAs: Groups of chemicals used in industrial applications, like non-stick pan coatings and firefighting foam.
  • Phytoestrogens: Naturally occurring chemicals in plants that have hormone-simulating activity. These can be found in soy products that you ingest, like soy milk or tofu.
  • Triclosan: An endocrine disruptor found in personal care products, including liquid soaps and body wash.

While there are no specific endocrine disruption symptoms, there are many different health problems that have been linked to EDCs, even in low amounts. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) has conducted research and found that exposure to endocrine disruptors can have serious effects on both growing children and adults.

Research on endocrine disruptors is ongoing, but some possible reproductive effects have been recorded. Studies show that EDCs can cause declines in sperm count and quality. It’s suggested that high levels of these chemicals can cause impaired female reproduction or an increased chance of miscarriage. While debatable, some research shows that endocrine disruptors can cause higher chances of developing endometriosis in females.

The NIEHS has also noted in studies that EDCs have effects on children as they develop, but more research is needed. Some findings are that exposure to some phthalates may increase the risk of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) and behaviors. High levels of PFAs are linked to lower immune responses when kids are administered vaccines. As mentioned, certain endocrine disruptors can cause early puberty, including early breast development in girls and abnormal breast development in boys.

Since endocrine disruptors are all around us, it’s hard to completely avoid them. But there are steps you can take to reduce your exposure or eliminate some products from your home that contain them. Many products around your home contain EDCs, including clothing, furniture, and electronics. It’s proven that chemicals can escape these products and settle in with household dust. Dusting, vacuuming, or cleaning frequently can help to eliminate these chemicals as much as possible.

Try to avoid plastic when you can. Swap out plastic food containers with glass or stainless steel ones. If you can’t avoid plastic containers, don’t microwave your food in them. Instead, put your food on a ceramic plate before heating it up. When it comes to food in general, choosing organic, unprocessed food is best for avoiding harmful pesticides or chemicals. Keep in mind that while canned food is convenient, the chemicals in most cans are not.

One of the simplest things you can do to avoid overexposure to EDCs is to wash your hands frequently. Antibacterial or fragranced soaps have chemicals in them, so opt for natural soap when possible. Washing your hands at key times, especially before touching food, can help eliminate potential chemicals lingering on your skin.