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Enocrine Disruptors Make You Sick

Updated on September 2, 2012

What exactly is an Endocrine Disrupting Chemical (EDC)? Though the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has defined the term in a long, detailed explanation, very simply put, they are compounds which alter the hormonal and homeostatic systems which enable living organisms (people, animals, etc..) to communicate and respond to their environment. EDC's can be natural or synthetic, and exposure can be had through the environment or through inappropriate developmental exposures.

By understanding the mechanisms by which EDC's exert their effects, we can begin to eliminate those causing adverse effects on our health, our environment, and those of future generations. EDC's were originally thought to exert actions mainly through specific receptors such as estrogen, androgen, and thyroid receptors, among others. We now know that the mechanisms are much broader than originally believed and include not only receptors, but also enzymatic pathways, metabolism, and more.

Endocrine disruptors are many and varied, and include synthetic chemicals used as industrial solvents or lubricants, as well as their byproducts, and plastics, plasticizers, pesticides, fungicides, and pharmaceutical agents. Some natural chemicals found in food can also act as disruptors. Because the sources of exposure are diverse and varied, it can be difficult to pinpoint whether a substance in particular may be the cause of endocrine disruption.

EDC's interfere with the human endocrine system by blocking, mimicking, or altering hormones and their signaling systems. Our hormones work in tandem with our nervous and immune systems to regulate behavior, metabolism, reproduction, and growth. When a signal is altered, it changes the way the body works and often leads to health problems. And while, hard evidence is not abundant at this time, there is sufficient anecdotal evidence suggesting the link between EDC's and cancer, obesity, learning disabilities, diabetes, and even behavioral changes.

Documented evidence consists of studies of laboratory animals, wildlife, some cell cultures, and humans who have been exposed to EDC's. The results show that EDC's can cause a wide range of problems related to growth, developmental issues, and sexual reproduction. To date, more attention has been paid to those compounds and chemicals which produce estrogenic, androgenic, and anti-thyroid type actions. There is less currently known about the effects on immunity, metabolism, body organs, and future generations.

There are thousands of known EDC's, and just as many diverse health effects resulting from exposure. While some adults may not show any ill effects, fetuses and embryos are more vulnerable because their growth and development is so highly controlled by the endocrine system. Children who suffered exposure in utero may suffer lifelong health problems or reproductive abnormalities. In some cases, pre-birth exposure can cause permanent alterations leading to adult diseases.

No one in the modern world has escaped contamination. Not only have our parents passed some of them on to us, but we also gather them at every location in our environment from our homes, work, schools, to the air we breathe and the food and beverages we consume. Some of the longer lasting chemicals are stored in our fat and passed on to our children through the womb and/or breast milk.

In its 2005 National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, the Center for Disease Control maintains that Americans harbor a multitude of chemicals in our blood and tissue. The CDC analyzed 2,400 people for 148 specified chemicals and found more than 90% carry a mix of pesticides, with children carrying a larger amount of plasticizer and pesticide ingredients.

Individual differences such as age, lifestyle, genetics, and more will determine the types and severity of health problems suffered, if any are suffered at all. However, there is mounting evidence that EDC's have adverse effects on human health. There is a wide range of reproductive troubles associated with EDC's: reduced fertility, reproductive tract abnormalities (both male and female), skewed male/female sex ratios, miscarriages, and menstrual problems. There have been documented changes in hormone levels, brain and behavior problems, numerous different types of cancers, impaired immunity functions, and early onset of puberty.

Benzoates are used in food preservation, cosmetics, and personal care products. They kill microorganisms associated with yeasts and fungi. The are added to food and beverages, as well as medicines, mouthwashes and nutritional supplements. They react with ascorbic acid in high temperatures or light to form benzene, a powerful cancer-causing agent, linked with leukemia, cirrhosis of the liver, and Parkinson's Disease.

Propylene glycol, also known as Propanediol, is used in shampoo, conditioner, soap, toothpaste, cosmetics, and lotions. It is colorless, thick, hygroscopic (picks up water from the air) liquid also used in anti-freeze, in brake fluid, and as a de-icer and solvent. It's been implicated in liver abnormalities and kidney damage. The Material Safety Data Sheet states that it can cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, and damage to cell membranes.

Amaranth is a red coloring agent used in jams, Jell-O, cake decorations, and ketchup. It causes tumors, allergic and respiratory reactions, and birth defects.

Modified starch can be any one or more of 23 permitted starch modifying agents used in puddings, pie fillings, and baby foods. It is linked to kidney damage, causes chromosome changes, and is suspected to cause cancer.

Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) can be found in vegetable oils, shortening, dry breakfast cereals, dry beverage mixes, instant potatoes, margarine and chewing gum. Ill health associated with it is reproductive failures, behavioral effects, blood cell changes, lung/stomach/ovarian tumors, long term effects from storage in fatty tissues.

Many food additives are known to destroy vitamins and trace minerals normally found in foods. Others interfere with the body's utilization of fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K.

For a complete list of potential Endocrine Disruptors with one or more verified citations to published scientific research, visit:

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    • Terri Meredith profile image

      Terri Meredith 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      No, I'm not confusing the two. Ethylene glycol is a related chemical to propylene glycol, and BOTH are very dangerous. I'm not sure where you got the idea that one is less toxic than the other, but you might want to recheck your information sources. Ethylene glycol is commonly used in acrylic paints, brake fluid, antifreeze, tile grout, primer, floor polish, tire sealant and shoe polish. It's also used in some "smoothing lotions" and "firming moisturizers"! Known side effects are throat irritation, headache, backache, kidney problems, swelling, & necrosis of cells (death). If swallowed, it can cause drowsiness, and slurred speech, possibly stupor, vomiting, respiratory failure, coma, convulsions, and DEATH.

      Propylene glycol is a cosmetic form of mineral oil that can be found in automatic brake and hydraulic fluid and industrial antifreeze. When used in cosmetics for skin and hair, propylene glycol causes retention of moisture in skin and/or the cosmetics themselves because it prevents the escape of the moisture. Sort of like a "sealant". The Material Safety Data Sheet warns users to avoid skin contact with propylene glycol as this strong skin irritant can cause liver abnormalities and kidney damage. Known health effects are skin irritations, irritations of the eyes, dry skin and defatting of the skin. If swallowed, the effects are much the same as ethylene glycol.

      Propylene glycol is used in: makeup, shampoo, deodorant, hair detangler, styling mousse, skin cleansing creams, mascara, soap, skin creams, bubble bath, baby powder, baby wipes, hair conditioner, skin toner, & after shave.

      In addition to the industrial uses already mentioned in the above article, it's used to clean rubber, to seal tires, in stain removers, degreasers, paint, in fabric softeners, adhesives, and in wallpaper strippers.

      I don't know about you, but I don't think I'd like to smooth a little wallpaper stripper over my infant to help with that nasty rash. BOTH of these chemicals are not safe. They are Toxic to human beings. Besides, toxic is toxic, what matter if you die from toxicity in 10 years or 10 minutes? Saying one is less toxic than another is like saying it's okay to be poisoned as long as it's done slowly. Really???????

    • cathylynn99 profile image

      cathylynn99 6 years ago from northeastern US

      i think you are confusing the ethylene glycol in antifreeze with the less toxic propylene glycol.