Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs)

What are EDCs?

Endocrine disruptors are a series of natural and artificial chemical substances that modify the endocrine system, leading to malfunction.

The endocrine system is a set of glands and organs that produce, release, and store hormones. These hormones travel through the bloodstream to where they take effect (different tissues and organs) to regulate and keep our body healthy.

Endocrine disruptors are substances that resemble one hormone. They can mimic or impede their natural effect, leading to problems of all kinds.

Where are the EDCs found?

There are many places where these substances are found, so people are exposed in various ways, from the environment to everyday products.

EDCs are in the air, water and soil; they are also in food, bottles and plastic containers, metal canning, cosmetics, toys, furniture, cleaning products, detergents, and personal hygiene. Pesticides and flame retardants also have these substances and electronic equipment.

Which are the most common?

In 2013, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a list of at least 800 chemicals that qualify as “suspected” of acting as endocrine disruptors, and you won’t believe where they are found. Some of them are:

  • Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT). One of the most studied and known. It is a pesticide used in agriculture banned in some countries, including the United States; however, many others continue to use it for pest control.
  • Bisphenol A (BPA). It is used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. They are found in many plastic products, food storage containers, and bottles.
  • These are a by-product of herbicide production and paper bleaching. They are also released into the environment while burning waste in wildfires.
  • Similar to the above, Perchlorate is a by-product of several industries, including aerospace, weapons, and pharmaceuticals. It is found both in fireworks and in drinking water.
  • Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances are used in firing foams and nonstick coatings for pans, paper, and textiles. They’re also considered ED.
  • It is one of the principal components of children’s toys, as it makes plastics more flexible. Some food, cosmetic, and medical device packaging also contains it.
  • They are natural substances in soy products, such as tofu or soy milk. They have an activity like that of some hormones.
  • Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Used to manufacture flame retardants for household products, such as foam for furniture and carpets. They are also in building materials.
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Used to manufacture industrial solvents, lubricants, plasticizers, electrical transformers, and hydraulic and heat transfer fluids.
  • Found in the body wash and some antimicrobials. They are also in cosmetic and personal care products such as the Colgate total®.
  • Perfluorochemicals (PFCs). They are in textiles, clothing, nonstick food wrappers, microwave popcorn bags, and old Teflon cookware.
  • Used in makeup, moisturizers, and cosmetics.
  • UV filters. Essential components of sunscreens.
  • BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene). They are used as preservatives in the food industry.
  • This one is an herbicide used to treat cornfields, so it is common to find it in the water supply.

How does it affect the endocrine system?

Here is the exciting part. EDCs are everywhere; both animals and people are exposed to them. In addition, these can get into the body through various routes: feeding, breathing, skin, and water contact.

In short, EDCs can affect your body and its pathways in the following ways:

  • By imitating the body’s hormones, deceiving your endocrine system.
  • By preventing the body’s hormones from acting or working correctly and where they should.
  • By intervening in producing, releasing, and storing hormones, altering their blood levels.
  • Changing the body’s sensitivity to different hormones (also known as how your body reacts to hormones).

Thus, EDCs produce significant endocrine problems, which will end up causing a total hormonal imbalance. Its cumulative and irreversible effect makes you even more likely to suffer the consequences of exposure. Not to mention that even low doses of EDCs can be dangerous.

How do they harm my body?

Metabolic disorders (obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes)

EDCs are associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes; they are considered predisposing factors (a thing that increases the risk) to these conditions.

According to several studies, endocrine disruptors act as “obesogens,” meaning they can increase fat cells’ number and size, promote calorie storage and decrease basal metabolism (your resting metabolism).

Also, some EDCs in the blood can produce insulin resistance or beta cells of the pancreas dysfunction, which are the primary triggers of diabetes.

Growth and development

Mothers have been exposed to these substances since pregnancy. The most concerning thing is that EDCs can cross the placenta and reach the baby; the same goes through breastfeeding.

In this way, children are exposed from the very beginning to all these substances, leading to a weak immune system and slower development.

Some examples of impaired development are:

  • Low birth weight
  • Early puberty
  • Poor nervous system development
  • Hyperactivity
  • Learning and reading comprehension problems
  • Reproductive organs abnormalities

Neurological disorders and diseases

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, are some of the most described mental conditions related to endocrine disruptors.

Cardiovascular problems

As unbelievable as it may seem, EDCs also affect the circulatory system and heart.

A significant point regarding endocrine disruptors is men’s and women’s reproductive health. Cases of infertility have been reported in animals after being in contact with these substances. Similar events occur in humans.

In men:

  • There is a marked decrease in sperm quantity and quality: up to a 50% decrease in the semen amount and a significant mobility and viability decline.

In women:

  • Which is the same as the cells moving from the uterus into the abdominal cavity, tubes, ovaries, bladder, and intestines. It can lead to bleeding, pain, inflammation, and infertility.
  • Decreased levels of the anti-Mullerian hormone. One of the primary functions of this chemical is to determine the quantity and quality of a woman’s ovarian follicles.
  • Decrease in ovarian reserve and quality, embryo implantation rate, and, therefore, decrease in the likelihood of having a full-term pregnancy.
  • Increased chance of miscarriage and ectopic pregnancies (the embryo implants outside the uterus leading to non-viable pregnancies).
  • Estradiol levels drop (female steroid hormone). This drop impairs the ovarian reserve quality, and the success of embryo implantation and its quality.
  • Early puberty.

Risks

Besides all the clinical manifestations and illnesses that EDCs can produce, cancer is the most feared.

Studies have found endocrine disruptors related to breast, ovarian, prostate, testicular, and thyroid cancer. Since they mimic estrogens or androgens, they can promote irregular and uncontrolled growth of breast and prostate cells, resulting in malignancies later in life.

Given the conditions under which these substances work (cumulative, at low doses, and transferable), the risk of developing cancer is increasing every time.

Is it possible to prevent damage?

Then to see that these chemical substances are found throughout the environment that surrounds us, it is essential to take specific preventive measures to reduce the risk of suffering consequences.

  • Drink filtered water.
  • Consume organic food.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables to avoid pesticides.
  • Peel fruits and vegetables to reduce pesticide load.
  • Consume seasonal fruits and vegetables (they taste better, rarely contain pesticide residues, and are cheaper).
  • Avoid consuming canned and processed foods.
  • Replace nonstick or Teflon pans with those covered with ceramic.
  • Reduce sugar and alcohol consumption.
  • Replace plastic bottles, glasses, and containers with glass.
  • Do not reuse plastic bottles.
  • Do not heat food in the microwave in plastic containers (only glass).
  • Avoid food sold in polyurethane trays covered with PVC film.
  • Buy organic products free of pesticides.
  • Avoid landscaped or agricultural areas when they are recently fumigated.
  • Pay attention to the ingredients in the cosmetics you use daily.
  • Avoid synthetic fragrances.

Other helping ways are:

  • Download an app to check the air quality every time you go outside.
  • Avoid burning garbage in residential areas.
  • Check labels. Products commonly show when they are free of these substances.

There are many ways to avoid EDCs exposure; however, these substances are a crucial part of every industry in our world today, so avoiding them altogether could become a headache. EDCs are the primary hypothesis as to the root cause of hormone deficiencies in male and female patients.