Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that can affect normal hormone functions in the body. These are compounds that have a chemical structure that the body mistakenly recognizes as a naturally occurring hormone. They can interfere with normal body chemistry in several ways. These compounds can block the action of a hormone, or have a similar effect as the hormone. They may also alter the production of hormones or the chemical message sent by a hormone.
They can be found in household items, consumer goods, foods and the environment.
Compounds that act as endocrine disruptors include:
- DDT – a pesticide
- Phthalates- used to make plastics more flexible, found in food containers, toys and personal care products
- Polychlorinated Biphenyls or PCBs- used in many consumer items. These are now banned but still persist in the environment.
- Phenol compounds- bisphenol A (BPA) found in food containers, alkylphenol found in laundry detergents, and triclosan found in toothpaste and antibacterial products.
- Phytoestrogens- naturally occurring in plants like soy, celery, fennel, and citrus fruits
Endocrine disruptors can be released into the environment from poorly maintained landfills, illegal dumping, burning waste, or leaking equipment leading to contamination of air and water.
Most endocrine disruptors affect the actions of sex hormones like estrogen or testosterone. They may be associated with an increase in conditions like:
- Early onset of puberty in children
- Breast cancer
- Testicular cancer
Ways to avoid excessive exposure to endocrine disruptors include:
- Choosing products that are fragrance free
- Using glass or metal food containers instead of plastic
- Avoiding cosmetics, or using as little as possible
- Reducing use of pesticides
- Drinking filtered water instead of bottled water
- Avoiding products labeled antibacterial if they contain triclosan