What Are Endocrine Disruptors?
Endocrine disruptors are a growing topic of study and concern among the health community, most notably divisions of the U.S. Government. The endocrine system in human beings and animals is composed of hormone producing glands, including the commonly known hypothalamus, pancreas, pituitary, thyroid and reproductive organs. These hormones are important because they activate certain biological responses and influence how our bodies develop and grow. In essence, they are the body’s way of relaying messages from one part to another. Endocrine disruptors are substances that, in some way, manipulate or block these messages. Flow of hormones is essential for life. For example, hormones from the reproductive organs—estrogen and testosterone—affect reproductive function as well as physical development and the hormone, insulin, controls blood sugar levels. Even a small change in hormone levels such as those caused by endocrine disruptors can have major consequences.
Endocrine disruptors or “EDCs” are synthetic chemicals, which mimic or block the natural flow of hormones, thereby disrupting normal function. These chemicals can be found in everything from consumer goods such as plastics, cosmetics, personal care items and household products to pharmaceuticals and the water we drink. With the more widespread ingestion of manmade chemicals throughout the past half-century, scientists have found higher incidences of infertility, ectopic pregnancies, cryptorchidism or undescended testes, and certain cancers, such as breast and prostate which are now being linked to endocrine disruption. Scientists are also concerned that today’s children, who will be exposed to synthetic hormones for many years longer than older generations, will be more severely impacted by endocrine disruptors in the future.
Most recently, scientists have been studying a particularly dangerous category of endocrine disruptor: those which we unintentionally absorb through our food. Scientists have dubbed these endocrine disruptors “obesogens”, due to alarming new research which suggests that these chemicals could be interfering with hormones that control metabolic rates, effectively slowing metabolism and contributing to our country’s obesity epidemic. These findings are so troublesome that on May 11th the White House published a report, “Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation,” which referred to obesogens as endocrine disruptors that pose a very possible health threat. According to an article from the National Institute of Health, “it seems quite likely that obesogens exposure will play an important role in the current obesity epidemic.”