What Are Endocrine Disruptors?

Last Update: June 1, 2023

Whether they’re called hormone disruptors or endocrine disruptors, these chemicals certainly have a fear factor about them.

Known for their ability to interfere with the body’s endocrine system, hormone disruptors have been blamed for a variety of illnesses, including birth defects, lowered fertility and some cancers.

So let’s break it down: what exactly do these chemicals do to your body?

What are endocrine disruptors?

The simplest way to describe endocrine disruptors is that they impact the function of the endocrine system. This system produces hormones and uses them to control many of our bodies’ functions, including fertility, storing fat, growth and development.

Depending on the specific endocrine disruptor, these chemicals can cause your body to produce more hormones, stop production of certain hormones, or trick your body by mimicking certain hormones.

How do endocrine disruptors affect the body?

Though little research has been done on these chemicals’ effects on humans, animal studies have shown far-reaching side effects of long-term exposure to endocrine disruptors.

The studies that have been conducted are startling. Research shows that the effects of exposure to endocrine disruptors shows up early in life. Research on animals shows endocrine disruptors can lead to reduced male fertility, a drop in the number of male babies, early puberty, problems with female reproductive health, spikes in mammary, ovarian and prostate cancers, and increases in immune and autoimmune disorders. Other studies suggest exposure to Bisphenol-A, or BPA, can affect obesity and diabetes.

Scientists have yet to conclusively study the effect of endocrine disruptors on humans. However, existing research indicates that even a low dose of exposure to these chemicals matters, and they are so common that they are difficult to avoid entirely. According to the National Institutes of Health, endocrine disruptors pose the greatest risk during pregnancy, as they can hinder the development of a baby’s organs and neurological system.

Where chemicals are considered endocrine disruptors?

The Environmental Working Group compiled a list of what they call the “dirty dozen” endocrine disruptors. Here’s an abbreviated version of the list of the most common of these chemicals, and where they are found.

1. BPA

What is it? BPA is a chemical used in plastics that mimics estrogen.

Found in: Plastics, like the lining of canned goods; thermal paper used for receipts; products marked with recycling label #7

2. Dioxin

What is it?  A chemical formed during industrial processes that disrupts male and female sex hormones.

Found in: Industrially processed animal products.

3. Atrazine

What is it? An herbicide widely used on corn crops linked to the feminization of male frogs.

Found in: Corn crops, drinking water.

4. Phthalates

What are they? A plasticizer that has been linked to death of testicular cells.

Found in: Plastic wrap, plastic food containers, plastic toys, and some personal care products.

5. Perchlorate

What is it? A component of rocket fuel that interferes with the thyroid.

Found in: Drinking water and many foods.

6. Fire retardants

What are they? Chemicals used to make products less flammable that can also imitate thyroid hormones.

Found in: House dust, foam furniture, the plastic mats under carpet.

7. Lead

What is it? A heavy metal that is harmful to children’s development, lowers sex hormones and can lead to brain damage.

Found in: Old paint, contaminated drinking water.

8. Arsenic

What is it? This toxin disrupts the way our bodies process sugars and carbohydrates.

Found in: Drinking water.

9. Mercury

What is it? A naturally occurring toxin that can interfere with a woman’s reproductive system.

Found in: Some fish, such as shark, swordfish and tuna.

10. Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)

What are they? Chemicals used to make nonstick cookware. One compound, PFOA, is completely non-biodegradable and has been linked to kidney disease, low sperm count, thyroid disease and other illnesses.

Found in: Nonstick pans, stain-resistant clothing and furniture.

11. Organophosphate pesticides

What are they? Pesticides that target the nervous system of insects that can affect brain development, behavior and fertility in humans.

Found in: Most conventionally farmed produce.

12. Glycol ethers

What are they? A solvent that the European Union said can damage the fertility of an unborn child.

Found in: Paints, cleaning products, brake fluid and cosmetics

The bottom line:  Endocrine disruptors change the way your body functions, and have been linked to long-term health problems in animals. If you’re concerned about their effect on your body, try to limit your exposure. Thrive Market is stocked with cleaning supplies, beauty essentials and personal care staples that are all free of endocrine disruptors so you can outsource your trust to us and make safer, smarter shopping decisions everyday.

This article is related to:

Beauty, BPA-free, Health

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