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What are Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals?

Everyday Toxic Overload is More Than Your Body's Detox System Can Handle

If you’ve already done any research about fertility and environmental toxins you have most likely read about “endocrine disrupters.” Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are natural or synthetic chemicals that alter the body’s normal hormonal activity. More specifically, they are the subset of toxic chemicals that are capable of mimicking hormones. Our body’s hormones are controlled by our endocrine system. The endocrine system of the body includes the pancreas, pituitary gland, thyroid gland, ovaries and testes, all of which are responsible for producing hormones that control specific physiological processes in a very precise manner.

Because they are essentially capable of “impersonating” hormones, endocrine-disrupters can wreak havoc on systems that rely on our real hormones. EDCs are capable of increasing or decreasing production of certain hormones, converting one hormone into another, blocking the signaling between hormones, telling cells to die prematurely, and clogging organs that produce hormones.

How Does the Disruption Occur?

For a hormone (such as estrogen or testosterone) to produce its intended result, it must bind to a specific “carrier protein” that can transport it through the bloodstream directly to the wall of specific cell. Once it reaches the cell wall, the hormone binds to a receptor on the cell wall, and works with that receptor to activate cellular processes. Normal metabolic activity can be disrupted if any of these steps do not happen in the appropriate manner.

This is where the endocrine disruption story begins. Endocrine disrupting chemicals can disrupt normal hormone function in some of the following sneaky ways:

  • mimicking the action of a certain hormone (such as estrogen) by binding to that hormone’s receptor and activating the same response that the natural hormone has.
  • preventing hormonal action by taking up the receptors, thereby leaving no room for the real hormone to bind to the receptor.
  • binding to the carrier proteins, thereby reducing the availability of these proteins to transport hormones like estrogen and testosterone through the blood stream to the target cell.
  • negatively impacting the level of hormones by accelerating the breakdown of hormones or by deactivating the enzymes that facilitate their breakdown.

Hormone imbalance due to endocrine disrupters shows up as low sperm count, poor morphology, damaged egg quality, or other fertility issues. Regardless of the mode of action, it is easy to see how endocrine disrupters negatively impact the function of hormones and alter the delicate hormonal balance within our bodies.

What Are Some Specific EDC Examples?

It would be nice if labeling would alert the consumer to endocrine disrupters but we are not that lucky. Use this list to start to become familiar with what to look for and what to avoid.

What: A chemical used to make some plastics.
Where: Resins that line the inside of some of canned goods; most thermal paper used for receipts; polycarbonate plastics marked with recycling label No. 7.

What: A chemical formed during industrial processes.
Where: Animal products including meat, fish, milk, and eggs.

What: A herbicide widely used on corn crops.
Where: Corn crops, drinking water.

What: Chemicals that make plastic soft, also called plasticizers.
Where: Plastic food containers, plastic toys, and some personal care products.

What: A component of rocket fuel.
Where: Drinking water and some foods.

Fire Retardants
What: Chemicals used to make products less flammable.
Where: Some foam furniture, house dust and the padding under carpet.

What: A heavy metal.
Where: Some older paints and pipes, drinking water.

What: A toxic chemical.
Where: Drinking water.

What: A naturally occurring toxic metal.
Where: Some fish (such as shark, king mackerel, swordfish), halogen light bulbs, thermometers.

Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs)
What: Chemicals added to nonstick cookware, clothing, upholstery, tents and more for their ability to repel water and resist stains.
Where: Some nonstick pans, stain-resistant clothing, and furniture.

Organophosphate Pesticides
What: Pesticides that target the nervous system of insects.
Where: Most conventionally farmed produce.

Glycol Ethers
What: Solvents that the European Union said can damage the fertility of an unborn child.
Where: Paints, cleaning products, brake fluid, and cosmetics

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