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May 14, 2024

What are endocrine disrupting chemicals?

Thousands of everyday products rely on chemical substances added during manufacture to enhance their performance such as extending shelf life, increasing crop yields, adding water and stain resistance, and flexibility – for example plastics that bend without breaking, and toiletries that can be absorbed more readily.


We’re all familiar with products with complicated labels and lists of ingredients that are hard to understand, and they’re easy to ignore because we trust the makers to sell products that are broadly ‘safe’. But what’s not so well known is that many of these product ingredients are chemical substances, and whilst they add convenience, they could be posing a risk to our health. Some of these substances can interfere with the healthy functions of our endocrine systems and other key body organs, which is why they are known as endocrine disrupting chemicals, or EDCs.

What are endocrine disrupting chemicals – EDCs?

EDCs are chemical substances are named as such because they can interfere with the normal functions of the endocrine system which controls key functions such as fertility, growth, and metabolism. Hormones within endocrine glands are tightly regulated in terms of how they are produced and sent out as hormonal messengers to instruct the body’s organs to function correctly.


Hormones are normally active in the human body at very low doses and are tightly regulated by the endocrine system. They are highly sensitive to disruption by chemicals that have the ability to mimic or block these normal healthy actions, even if they are present at low, undetectable levels. Endocrine disruptors change the amount of hormone released as well as the concentration in the bloodstream, resulting in a wide range of adverse health outcomes.


Healthy hormone levels can be disrupted by EDCs, resulting in changes to the body’s normal levels, and how it responds to these changes. For example, during pregnancy hormone levels can be disrupted by EDCs that can bring about changes in foetal development, including lower birthweight and later childhood cognitive development.


EDCs can enter the body from a wide range of environmental sources – the air we breathe indoors and outdoors, our food and drink, and products that touch our skin. We are exposed to EDCs throughout our lives at levels that can be detected in our urine, blood, and body tissue. We usually expel pollutants from our body via urine, sweat, stools, sweat, and breath, but endocrine disrupting chemicals can accumulate in our bodies, even when we’ve reduced or removed the source of exposure, creating a body burden.

What can scientific evidence tell us about EDCs?

The World Health Organization estimate that of 150,000 chemicals in everyday use 800 may have endocrine disrupting properties that may be harming our health. A growing list of 1000 chemicals have been identified as having endocrine disrupting properties, and with another 150,000 in everyday use. For example, more than 90% of Americans now have glyphosate and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in their body at low levels which are thought to have endocrine disrupting abilities.


The study of EDCs began more than 50 years ago when scientists first started looking at their actions on development and health outcomes. Early studies focused mostly on fish and animals, building evidence over time that EDCs can be passed through the food chain and waterways from animals to humans.


Thousands of scientific papers have since been published, and the findings subject to rigorous scientific peer review. They all point to the same conclusion – that EDCs pose a significant risk to animal and human health, even before birth. These include higher risk of developing cancer, changes in fertility, hypertension, cognitive changes, and heart disease.


EDCs are prevalent in many of our lives, and if you are concerned about any of the risks of exposure please read more of our updates about how to reduce your exposure in key areas such as food, toiletries, fragrances, and gardening products.



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