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From EDC's to BD -- Are Endocrine Disruptors the Culprit Behind Escalating Bipolar Disorder?

Updated on August 2, 2012

In the past several decades, the last two in particular, there has been an explosion of increased diagnoses for numerous ailments and diseases affecting both the physical and mental health of people worldwide. The vast numbers of newly reported cases covering all types of illnesses has left many of us scratching our heads in bewilderment and sometimes, even denial. We can't help but wonder if the numbers are a true reflection of the rapidly declining health of human beings, or if the medical profession is simply over diagnosing certain illnesses in an effort to drum up more business. There are also those who are inclined to believe the increases are only a result of pharmaceutical companies vigorously peddling their wares through fear and manipulation tactics.

While there may be some partial truth to all of the above reasons, there is evidence that something more devastating is happening to our species. We are being made sick by our environment and the food grown in it. In some cases, our genetics are being tampered with and the result is ever increasing instances of profound illnesses afflicting each new generation.

The term “Bipolar Disorder” has been around since the 1950s, though the illness it described was more often referred to as Manic-Depressive Illness. It wasn't until 1980 when the APA released the 3rd edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III) that the term came into common usage.

In those earlier days prior to 1980, the disorder was considered rare. According to one academic scholar, only one person out of 13,000 was hospitalized for the illness in 1955, but recent statistics given by the National Institute of Mental Health, are claiming a whopping increase of one in every forty adults as having the disorder. Something interesting to take notice of is the fact that prior to psychiatric medications being introduced, the long-term result for those patients was relatively positive. Back then, only half of those hospitalized for a manic attack ever experienced a second one over the ensuing 20 years. In fact, 75 – 80 % of them recovered within a year of their hospitalization.

In the 30 years since psychiatric medications began being prescribed for the disorder, it has been transformed from a rare incidence with a great prognosis, to one that is 325 times more common and requires a lifetime of treatment and medications. How did this happen? It's probably very likely that Bipolar Disorder was more prevalent than actually reported in earlier times, given the stigma associated with mental illness, while there's also a good possibility that it's being over diagnosed by medical doctors who don't have specialization in psychiatric fields. Add newer diagnosing criteria and technology to the mix, and an expanded awareness is created. Not withstanding these three possibilities and likelihoods, there is yet, another reason for such dramatic increases.


There is still much debate and speculation about the causes of BD (Bipolar Disorder). However, it's believed that much of the cause is an underlying problem of imbalanced brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Three of these chemicals – serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline are involved in the functions of both brain and body. Research has shown a consistent connection between serotonin and noradrenaline to psychiatric mood disorders such as BD, while dopamine is linked to the pleasure system of the brain. A disruption of the dopamine system leads to severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia and psychosis where distortions in reality and illogical thought patterns and behaviors are exhibited. An abnormally high level of dopamine is associated with the development of manic episodes while abnormally low levels of serotonin and norepinephrine are associated with the opposite extreme, that of depression.

Because serotonin is related to body functions such as sleep, wakefulness, sexual activity, learning and memory, impulsivity and eating, researchers believe a presence of abnormal serotonin levels are contributory to mood disorders like BD. In studies using animals, lower serotonin levels have a direct correlation with higher levels of violence.

The Endocrine Society is an international body with over 14,000 members dedicated to the clinical practice of endocrinology and hormone research. In 2009, the group released a scientific statement concerning the health threats of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC's), making clear their belief that “EDC's can have neurobiological and neurotoxic effects... Numerous neurotransmitter systems such as dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, glutamate, and others are sensitive to endocrine disruption. This point is important because it explains neurological effects of EDC's on cognition, learning, memory, and other non-reproductive behaviors.”

TEDX (The Endocrine Disruption Exchange) has created a list of 1,518 potential endocrine disrupting chemicals used in agriculture, food processing, packaging, and manufacturing. Every chemical listed has at least one verified citation to published and accessible scientific research. Numerous studies provide evidence that EDC's not only affect those people and animals directly exposed to them, but their offspring as well, guaranteeing that generations to come will be battling the illnesses caused by them.


The Genetic Connection

A great many controlled studies of bipolar patients and their relatives have demonstrated that the illness runs in families. In studies of identical twins carrying the exact same genes, if one identical twin suffers from BD, the second twin has a greater chance of developing the disorder than any other sibling in the same family. In fact, the researchers have concluded the chance of the second twin developing BD is 40 – 70%. In studies conducted at Stanford University, scientists found that children with one biological BD parent have an increased risk of getting BD themselves. 51% of children with a BD parent also had BD, depression, or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Other findings show that first degree relatives of BD patients are at increased risk for major depression compared to those with no history of BD in their families, and the risk for all affective disorders increases substantially, depending on the number of BD diagnosed relatives.

The established genetic connection between Bipolar Disorder and those it strikes is important when considering the consequences of continued consumption and exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals. In a system that is extremely sensitive, endocrine disruptors can make for serious mayhem, even in very small amounts. Dr. Theo Colborn is the founder of TEDX. He has written and lectured on human health and the threat posed by industrially-produced chemicals at low concentrations in the environment. According to TEDX, “The endocrine system is so fine tuned that it depends upon changes in hormones in concentrations as little as a tenth of a trillion of a gram to control the womb environment (during pregnancy). That's as inconspicuous as one second in 3,169 centuries.” Recent advances in research have served to confirm that EDC's can, and do, interfere with the signaling systems which determine fetal development.

An eleven nation study published last year in the March issue of Archives of General Psychiatry gave us the first comprehensive compilation of international figures dealing with the current prevalence of Bipolar Disorder. About 2.4% of the world's population have had a diagnosis of BD. Higher income countries showed the highest prevalence while the lower incomes reflected a lower incidence. The United States has the highest lifetime rate of the disorder, standing at 4.4%, almost double the world figure, as well as ranking higher in every category of the disorder. Given the soaring use of products containing EDC's throughout prosperous nations, it isn't surprising that the US ranks the highest.

A 2007 report comprised of analyzed data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey prompted calls for more research studies on the subject of Bipolar Disorder diagnosis in children. After analyzing the data, Mark Olfson, MD, MPH, professor of clinical psychiatry at the NY State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University, and National Institute of Mental Health researcher, Gonzalo Laje, MD, found a 40 fold increase in the diagnosis of BD in youth. In 1994 and 1995, the annual number of office visits resulting in a BD diagnosis among people 19 or younger was only 25 per 100,000 people. The number had risen to a staggering 1003 out of 100,000 by the years 2002-2003. During the same time frames, the adults diagnoses went from 905 to 1679 per 100,000 adults. Another report analyzed data from the National Hospital Discharge survey. Bipolar Disorder related discharges among children were found to have risen from 1.3 per 10,000 American children in 1996 to 7.3 in 2004.

While the usual possibility of over diagnosis or corrected under diagnosis may explain some of the increase, it's doubtful that they explain all of it. Given the genetic connection established between BD parents and their children, the ability of EDC's to interfere with dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, their ability to change gene expression, and the ever increasing amounts of EDC's to which the American population is being exposed, it isn't much of a jump to conclude that EDC's are the primary culprit in the astronomical rise in rates of Bipolar Disorder.

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    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Skin Cancer, reproductive problems, hypothyroidism, arthritis, psoriasis, Lupus, deformed corneas, Aspsberger's Syndrome, and ADHD. All in previously healthy family generations and good life styles. Shocked and saddened is the feeling here Teri. And can only agree with you on the causes. You have the right to be fired up and active if anyone does. PS- one can tell a lot from a portrait; in your case all attributes are very fine and extraordinary.

    • Terri Meredith profile imageAUTHOR

      Terri Meredith 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks again. Out of my four children, I have two who suffer the illness. My family comes from relatively healthy stock, so seeing the state of our deteriorating health has been a shocker for me. I was never a sun worshiper...yet I developed skin cancer. I was never much of a junk food junkie, preferring my veggies (raw) over all else, yet I've suffered severe reproductive problems & hypothyroidism. I was always very active, very competitive in sports, very much about walking every where rather than drive, yet I'm suffering from arthritis, having had knee surgery that still doesn't allow me to do too much walking. My other daughter suffers from psoriasis since she was 8, and has developed Lupus and all the ailments that go with it. There is no history of Lupus in the family. She has 4 children...the 12 yr old has psoriasis, the 7 yr old has psoriasis and deformed corneas. It's very probable that he will be legally blind before he's 18. (no history of eye deformities in the family) Her 11 yr old has Aspsberger's Syndrome, and the 10 yr old is severely ADHD. Neither she, nor I, were mothers that fed junk food to our children, being very mindful of the types of cereals and snacks offered. How does a family whose genetic roots show long living healthy ancestors turn into a mix of medical malfuntions in only a generation or two? Environmental sabotage forced on us by a profiteering corporate government!

    • Alastar Packer profile image

      Alastar Packer 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      325 times more common, requires a lifetime of treatment and medication. Terri, another excellent clarion call. Got a friend who was put on psychotropics after a divorce 15 years ago, and the stuff has totally messed em backwards and forwards ever since. The only one that really helped was $800 a month surprise surprise. Well done Terri.


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