What is the Endocrine System?
Before understanding what endocrine disruptors are, it’s important to understand the endocrine system. Like many systems in the human body, the endocrine system is made up of several parts (glands and organs in this case) and is essential to proper functioning. The endocrine system is responsible for producing, storing, and secreting hormones.
Examples of some of the main glands that produce hormones include:
- Adrenal glands (adrenaline and cortisol)
- Ovaries in women (estrogen, progesterone, and some testosterone)
- Pancreas (insulin)
- Pineal (melatonin)
- Testes in men (testosterone)
- Thyroid (triiodothyronine/T3 and thyroxine/T4)
Two other important glands include the pituitary gland, which creates the hormones that control several other glands, and the hypothalamus, which uses information from the nervous system to tell other glands when to produce their hormones.
As with other systems of the human body, some substances can disrupt the proper functioning of the endocrine system. Here’s a look at what endocrine disruptors are, examples of endocrine disruptors, and the effects they have on the endocrine system and the entire human body.
What Are Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals?
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are environmental substances that interfere with the body’s normal functioning of the endocrine system. Because EDCs are environmental, people can become exposed to them in a variety of ways. EDCs can be found in the:
- Food we eat
- Personal care products we purchase
- Water supply
EDCs can interfere with the way hormones are supposed to work. One way is that they can mimic the natural hormones that are produced by the endocrine system, and another way is that they can completely prevent the natural hormones from doing their jobs. Another way EDCs interfere with hormones is by decreasing hormone levels in the blood, and the last way of interference is by changing the body’s sensitivity to certain hormones.
So as you can see, EDCs can cause many problems for the endocrine system, which then causes problems in the human body.
Effects of Endocrine Disruptors
From the information above, you can imagine how much EDCs affect the human body. Here are a few examples of illnesses, diseases, and other conditions that can result from endocrine disruptors.
Some cancers (breast, endometrial, ovarian, prostate, and testicular) are hormone-related, and some EDCs have been linked to cancer because of this. Several studies have concluded that early and long-term exposure to certain EDCs can cause cancer. For example, chemical hair relaxers are known to contain EDCs and have recently been linked to women developing cancer. These women can gain compensation by speaking with a personal injury lawyer specializing in hair relaxers.
A person develops diabetes when insulin isn’t working properly. As mentioned above, insulin is the hormone made by the pancreas, and it’s necessary for blood sugar regulation. Type 2 diabetes is the most common type, and this is the type where the body can’t use insulin properly, resulting in a buildup of glucose in the blood. Although type 2 diabetes is usually caused by poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle, EDCs can cause problems with insulin production, which can result in diabetic symptoms.
Heart problems can develop as a result of diabetes. Again, a poor diet, lack of exercise, and other environmental factors can also play a role in the development of heart problems. However, it’s important to understand that EDCs can be considered an environmental factor.
Obesity can also lead to heart problems and type 2 diabetes, and it can also be caused by a poor diet and a lack of exercise. However, obesity can also be caused by a hormonal imbalance— which could be the result of EDCs in the body. An example is PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), which causes excessive weight gain.
Both hypothyroidism (not enough hormones are produced) and hyperthyroidism (too many hormones are produced) can also result from EDCs being present in the body. Hypothyroidism can lead to a low body temperature, anemia, heart failure, and weight gain, while hyperthyroidism can lead to an increased body temperature, rapid heartbeat, swelling of the neck, and unhealthy weight loss.
Examples of Known and Suspected Endocrine Disruptors
Some of the most common endocrine disruptors include:
- BPA (Bisphenol A), which is found in the lining of canned goods, polycarbonate plastic bottles, and receipts from cash registers
- Flame retardants, which can be found in furniture, insulation, and electronics
- PFAS chemicals, which are water-resistant and nonstick chemicals used to make cookware
- Phthalates, plasticizers found in many items made of plastic, including children’s toys
Endocrine disruptors can cause issues throughout the body. It’s important to know what they are and what products they’re in so that you can avoid them.