The World Health Organisation estimate that of 150,000 chemicals in everyday use, 800 may have endocrine disrupting properties
The World Health Organisation estimate that of 150,000 chemicals in everyday use, 800 may have endocrine disrupting properties

Hundreds of chemicals used everyday in cosmetics, agricultural sprays, and to lengthen food shelf life are thought to have endocrine disrupting properties

The World Health Organisation highlight concerns about high increases and fast growing trends in endocrine related disorders in humans that cannot be sufficiently explained by genetic factors alone.

What are endocrine disrupting chemicals?

These are chemicals that can interfere with the normal functioning of the endocrine system. They are also known as EDC’s.

Once inside the body endocrine disrupting chemicals can interfere with the production and regulation of hormones within the endocrine system by changing the body’s normal levels of hormones.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals can affect the body either by increasing or lowering the effect of hormones on normal body functions. They work in the human body by mimicking or blocking the normal actions of hormones, and by changing the amount of hormone released by the endocrine system.

EDC’s have also been proven to affect the concentration of hormones in the bloodstream, upsetting the healthy balance within the human body.

The endocrine system usually releases hormones into the human body at very low doses. Hormones are tightly regulated by endocrine glands which makes them highly sensitive to any disruption in their normal levels.

Chemicals with endocrine disrupting properties can affect the normal function of endocrine glands even when they are present at very low, almost undetectable levels.

Endocrine disrupting chemicals can accumulate in our bodies over time and even when we’ve reduced or removed the source of exposure. This accumulation is known as body burden which can reduce our body’s natural ability to detox itself.

The endocrine system

The endocrine system is a collection of glands which produce and secrete around 50 different hormones including oestrogen and progesterone. These hormones are important in many key body functions, especially growth, metabolism, and sexual development.

Hypothalamus Gland

Responds to changes in the internal and external environments and secretes hormones that regulate thirst, healthy sleep patterns, and involuntary body response egulation such as body temperature. It plays a key role in regulating stable, constant conditions within the human body.

Pituitary Gland

The ‘master gland’, it responds to information from the brain and directs instructions to the rest of the endocrine system. It secretes hormones that act on other glands that regulate growth, oestrogen production in women, and testosterone in men.

Pineal Gland

Makes the chemical melatonin which is important in healthy sleep cycles, body rhythms, and reproductive functions. It is sometimes referred to an the ‘endocrine clock’.

Thyroid Gland

Makes thyroxine and other hormones that regulate metabolism and energy. Disruptions in its normal function can slow down metabolic regulation causing weight gain and fatigue. It can also speed up causing gastric problems and weight loss.

Parathyroid Glands

Four small glands that produce the parathyroid hormone that controls calcium levels in the blood and targets organs in the body that maintain bone health.

Thymus Glands

Produces thymosin, a hormone needed to produce disease fighting T-lymphocytes cells which fight infection within the body. This is an important gland for children and shrinks when puberty is complete. It plays a vital role in the body’s lymphatic and endocrine systems.

Pancreas

Part of the endocrine and digestive system. Its role in the endocrine system is to monitor what’s happening in the blood and produce hormones in response that help the body to break down food. It produces insulin and glucagon which regulate the amount of sugar in the blood to ensure the body has a constant supply of energy.

Adrenal Glands

Produces hormones including cortisol and adrenalin which is are chemical messengers to control a variety of body responses, including heart rate, flow of blood to muscles, and glucose production. They have an important role in regulating metabolism.

Reproduction glands - Ovaries

Make oestrogen and progesterone important at puberty, the regulation of the menstrual cycle, and healthy pregnancy.

Reproduction glands - Testes

Make testosterone and important in physical development at puberty, including growth in penis size and the healthy production of sperm.

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The
health risks

We are exposed to endocrine disruptors throughout our lives at a level that can be detected in our urine, blood, or body tissue. It’s widely thought that the most sensitive window of exposure to endocrine disruptors is during critical periods of development, including foetal development, puberty, and menopause.

 

The health risks are thought to include:

  • Chemicals and air pollution can transfer across the placenta during pregnancy with outcomes including prematurity and low birth weight
  • Lowered levels of fertility in women trying to conceive
  • Endocrine related cancers, especially breast, ovarian, and prostate
  • Early puberty and genital malformations, especially in boys.
  • The World Health Organisation report 40% of young men in some countries have low semen quality counts
  • Thyroid function abnormalities increasing the risk of neurobehavioural disorders such as ADHD and other learning difficulties
  • Obesity and type II diabetes
  • Increases in rates of endometriosis
  • Reductions in bone health and bone density in menopausal women
  • Cardiopulmonary diseases including asthma, heart disease and hypertension, and stroke
  • Brain and central nervous system, including Alzheimer and Parkinson disease
  • The accumulation of endocrine disrupting chemicals in the human body is known as body burden. Read more
  • The role of genetics in our response to harmful chemicals. Read more
Sources
of exposure
How can exposure
be reduced
The
evidence