In this fast-paced, modern world we live in there are many things that truly make life easier. Since the 1940’s, products like plastics and synthetic chemicals have revolutionized the way we live, eat, and raise our families, in many ways making life simpler, more affordable, and enjoyable. Where would we be without fertilizers, plastic food containers, canned goods, bug spray, and air fresheners?
Recently, a growing body of research has revealed the hidden cost of modern life. Infertility, autism, hypothyroidism, Parkinson’s disease, cancers, obesity, and diabetes have been linked to exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, EDCs are “chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.” The endocrine system produces and secretes hormones that regulate activities of cells and organs, basically all of the body’s systems, including growth, sexual development, reproduction, and metabolism. Endocrine disruptors can imitate hormones, increase or decrease the production of hormones, and interfere with bodily hormones and their functions. These interruptions of critical steps in development can have lifelong effects.
Most diseases have both a genetic and environmental component. Diabetes may run in your family and through your DNA but lie dormant until something in your environment flips the “on” switch. This may be the foods you eat, lack of exercise, or your exposure to certain chemicals. The effects of EDCs can be stealthy since some of the problems may not be seen until adulthood when a lifetime of chemical exposure reaches a critical mass in fatty tissues.
While repeated exposure to EDCs can cause increasingly adverse effects on the body, the timing of the exposure is also important. Seemingly minor exposure to EDCs to a fetus during pregnancy, infancy, or childhood can cause major functional deficits and increased disease risk later in life. Infants have an underdeveloped system that has a harder time metabolizing and eliminating toxins. An unborn baby exposed to certain EDCs during pregnancy can result in reduced development, low birth weight, and growth retardation. A common example of this is maternal tobacco use. Tobacco and tobacco smoke contain EDCs. Infants and children exposed to secondhand smoke have stunted growth, behavioral problems, and poorer immune systems than their peers who were not exposed.
Ways to Decrease Exposure to Endocrine Disruptor Chemicals
Go fresh instead of canned. Many canned food containers are lined with bisphenol A (BPA), an EDC that mimics estrogen in the body and that has been linked to cancer, early onset of puberty, and obesity.
- Eat more organic fruits and vegetables and reduce intake of animal products. Milk, eggs, butter, and meats contain dioxin, and EDC known to reduce sperm count and quality in males. Join a local community supported agriculture share program (CSA) to increase fruit and vegetable intake. Check out www.vervesouth.com to find a CSA in your community.
- Buying organic produce also reduces your family’s intake of pesticides. Organophosphate pesticides are linked to ADHD, decreased memory, difficulties in thinking, and poor coordination.
- Choose unscented body care products. Fragranced products contain pthalates, often listed as “fragrance” on body care product ingredient labels. Pthalates are linked to thyroid disorders, obesity, diabetes, and lessen sperm quality and count.
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter to capture toxin-laden house dust.
- Select mineral-based sunscreens with zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
- Select natural cleaning products and avoid products with 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME).
- Drink filtered water. Atrazine, a chemical used on corn crops, is a pervasive water contaminant linked to breast tumors and prostate cancer. Water filters can also reduce lead, arsenic, and perchlorate.
- Choose glass food containers and steel water bottles.
- Shop for wild salmon, farmed trout, and canned light tuna to decrease your intake of mercury. A good rule of thumb is to select fish or shellfish that tend to be smaller. Larger pieces of fish like tuna steaks or swordfish tend to contain higher concentrations of mercury than smaller fish.
DID YOU KNOW?
Tobacco and secondhand smoke contain EDCs that are dangerous to you and your family. If you or a loved one smoke, call the MS Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW for help to quit. Avoid smoky restaurants and bars. Check the map at www.mstobaccodata.org to see if your community is smokefree.
Want to avoid BPA? Reduce use of canned goods, avoid paper receipts (often coated with BPA), and use of plastic with recycling label #7.
Need another reason to eat well? People with healthy diets absorb less lead, a heavy metal and EDC that can cause anemia, learning difficulties, and behavioral problems.
EDCs can affect normal sexual development, as well as the development of the immune system and neurological system.
RESOURCES TO HELP
Feeling overwhelmed about choosing safe cleaning products for your family? Great brands include Mrs. Meyer’s, Seventh Generation, Dr. Bronner’s, Arm & Hammer and Ecover.
The Environmental Working Group website has a Guide to Healthy Cleaning at www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners.
Go to www.ewg.com to download a list of the endocrine disruptors and how to avoid them.
For more information on EDCs, go to www.niehs.nih.gov//health/topics/agents/endocrine.