Our endocrine system consists of the thyroid, adrenal, and pituitary glands. These glands manage and produce hormones. Endocrine disrupting chemicals are a class of chemicals that mimic hormones and confuse the body. These chemicals disrupt a very delicate balance by binding at receptor sites, preventing the real hormones from doing their job. Some common ones are phthalates; abundant in body products, they are used to bind fragrances. Phthalates are also in plastics. Perhaps more infamous is Bisphenol A (BPA), a plastic hardener found in dental filings, eyeglass lenses, and CDs. These are just a few.
BPA has been linked to breast and prostate cancer, urethra problems, cardiac irregularities, and negative developmental impacts on children and fetuses. In 2012, the FDA outlawed BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. Many plastics now advertise as BPA free. But do they contain triclosan? Another endocrine disruptor, it is common in plastics but less well known.
A list of some common endocrine disruptors:
- BPA: plastic water bottles and canned food items
- Dioxin: conventional meat, dairy, and eggs (choose organic and grass-fed!)
- Atrazine: drinking water contaminant
- Phthalates: personal care items and air fresheners
- Fire retardants: plastics, textiles, and construction materials
- Lead: industrial facilities, batteries, and home products including paint and plumbing materials
- Arsenic: pesticides, fertilizers, rice and apple juice products
- Mercury: seafood and amalgam teeth fillings
- Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs): manufacturing facilities, Teflon cookware, personal care items
- Organophosphate pesticides: pest-control products and frequently applied to agricultural crops, buildings, and lawns
- Glycol ethers: solvents for paints, gum, dyes, and cosmetics
Most alarming of all, recent research has linked endocrine disrupting chemicals to obesity and diabetes. The study suggests these chemicals cause obesity by encouraging the formation of more and larger fat cells. Let’s review that laundry list again. These chemicals have been linked to: cancer, developmental disorders in children, obesity, and diabetes. And what are we waiting for?
It is important to keep up with this issue because it is virtually impossible to avoid endocrine disrupting chemicals unless you’re a mennonite or a Buddhist monk, as Florence Williams so humorously points out in “Eat Like a Mennonite.” It is encouraging to know, however, that by changing our eating habits (not eating food packaged or stored in plastic or cans) and altering our lifestyle (not touching anything with plastic, including car interiors and bicycle helmets, etc), these chemicals or at least BPA, are easily excreted from our bodies. But the fact remains that most of us uphold a modern lifestyle and, glass water bottle or not, we are constantly in contact with these chemicals. “It’s a daily drip” as Williams so morosely states.
In another opinion article in the NY Times, Nicholas Kristof, whose opinions on most world matters I deeply respect, states: “endocrine disruptors may be the tobacco of our time. Science-based decisions to improve public health — like the removal of lead from gasoline — have been among our government’s most beneficial public policy moves. In this case, a starting point would be to boost research of endocrine disruptors and pass the Safe Chemicals Act. That measure, long stalled in Congress, would require more stringent safety testing of potentially toxic chemicals around us.”
To me that says it all–the toxic chemicals that surround us are the “tobacco of our time”. Time to wake up and do something about this. I have difficulty convincing my fifteen-year-old daughter to use safe cosmetic products. How can the “natural” shampoo compete with the phthalate ridden shampoo that makes her hair so soft and shiny? The struggle to keep my kids eating healthy food is battle enough. If the government outlawed phthalates (among others), then I wouldn’t have to worry, and my kids chances of becoming sick from these substances would significantly decrease. I don’t like being an anxious person and neither do you! But we need to pressure our representatives to act on this matter. In the mean time, what can you do to avoid the dangerous effects of these insidious chemicals:
- Use a drinking water filter
- Use a HEPA air filter
Invest in infrared sauna sessions
- Include chlorophyll in your diet