Saturday, August 29, 2009

Endocrine Disruptors: Where do we find them?

In the first installment I defined endocrine disruptors as exogenous substances (coming from outside the body) that act like hormones in the endocrine system and disrupt the physiologic function of endogenous (inside the body) hormones.

So the next logical question would be where are these hormone-like substances found? Some man-made chemicals found in household products that we use daily – cleaners, laundry products, personal care products – are likely suspects. These chemicals are also found in many of the foods we eat. We are exposed through the air we breathe, the food and water we take in, and the products we absorb through our skin (think shampoo, body lotion, cosmetics, etc).

Here is a sampling of chemicals thought to be endocrine disruptors:

Phthalates – used to make plastics more flexible and durable. It is used in PVC plastic found in upholstery material, shower curtains, floor tiles & children’s toys. It is also found in toiletries (especially nail polish), toothbrushes and insect repellents. (This is just a very small sampling.)

Bisphenol A (BPA) – is a component of plastic used in the lining of food cans & bottle tops. It is also in polycarbonate plastics like soft drink containers, water jugs and baby bottles.

Dioxins – not intentionally produced, dioxins are released into the environment as a by-product of chemical processes involving chlorine. Most dioxin is emitted into the air and then deposited on grass and trees and consumed by cows and other animals; or it goes into lakes and streams and ingested by fish. Ninety-five percent of our exposure is through meat, fish, and dairy products.

PVC (polyvinyl chloride) aka vinyl – one of the most common plastics. Manufacturing and burning PVC creates dioxins. It has been used widely in upholstery, home furnishings, children’s toys and hundreds of other products.

Detergents – a class of chemical surfactants that dissolve and remove oils and grease and make products more water soluble. They are found in ordinary household products like laundry detergents, all-purpose cleaners, personal care products like soaps, shampoos shaving foams, cosmetics and spermicides.

Other Endocrine-Disrupting Compounds: Pesticides, lead, cadmium and mercury.

Pesticide are used on food crops and home gardens, and are also found in flea collars, lice shampoo and even under the foundation of your home.

I just want to say that this is a daunting subject and cannot possibly be covered thoroughly in a few blog posts. I would encourage each of you reading this to please do your own due diligence and learn what products you should remove from your homes and replace with safer alternatives.

Next time: How do endocrine disruptors affect us and what can we do to support our health and our bodies?
Primary source of information: Hormone Deception by D. Lindsey Berkson

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Endocrine Disruptors: What Are They?

In 1962 Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring was published, creating an outcry that forced the banning of DDT. Since then there has been growing concern that chemicals in the environment might exert profound and disasterous effects on wildlife populations, and that human health is inextricably linked to the health of the environment.
Although researchers had studied the endocrine effects of chemicals for some time, the term endocrine disruptor was coined in 1991 by Theo Colborn at a conference at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, Wisconsin. Theo Colborn is co-author of Our Stolen Future, published in 1996. Her extensive research and that of many others firmly establishes that environmental chemicals disrupt the development of the endocrine system, and that effects of exposure during development are permanent.

Although hormone disruption isn’t new, the growing incident of it that we are experiencing today is such that we must consider it a modern-day epidemic. In her book Hormone Deception, D. Lindsey Berkson takes up where Theo Colborn left off by extending the evidence into the realm of human health. If this subject concerns you as much as it concerns me, I would highly recommend that you purchase Dr. Berkson’s book.

So what are endocrine disruptors anyway? According to Wikipedia this term refers to exogenous substances (coming from outside the body) that act like hormones in the endocrine system and disrupt the physiologic function of endogenous hormones (inside the body).

Simply put, our cells have receptor sites which allow hormones to attach to the cell. When we are exposed to environmental chemicals (that mimic hormones) the receptor site doesn’t know if it is the real hormone or an imposter. So, these imposters are reeking havoc with our cells and thus with our overall health.
As Dr. Berkson says in her book “All this points to what can go awry. If something is wrong with the signal, the body will respond to the wrong message. In other words, an unnatural signal may create an inappropriate response. What science is discovering is that hormone disruptors can bind with receptors and send messages the same way our natural hormones can. But these particular messages can significantly alter normal cell function and growth.” [Hormone Deception, pg.13]

Next time: Endocrine Disruptors: Where do they come from and how do they affect us?