How to Protect Yourself From These Hidden Household Dangers

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Your endocrine system is complex and contains the glands in your body that produce hormones. This system includes the adrenal glands, thyroid, pituitary, pancreas, ovaries (in females), and testes (in males).

These glands are very susceptible to a set of chemicals called endocrine disruptors. Anything that disrupts something else causes it not to work correctly. This is what these endocrine disruptors do.

The hormones produced by the glands in your body have a number of tasks to fulfill. They are messengers in chemical form that control many basic functions of your body. How you grow, how you develop, your ability to have children, how the food you eat is utilized, your blood pressure, your blood sugar, and the balance of fluids in your body are all determined by hormones.

Your bloodstream carries these hormones to target cells and organs to perform their tasks. One of the hormones that is important in the functioning of your body is cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands. One of cortisol’s main tasks is to help your body deal with the effects of stress.

What Are Endocrine Disruptors?
Endocrine disruptors are naturally occurring chemical compounds or man-made chemicals that do exactly what their name implies. They disrupt, or interfere with, the appropriate functioning of your endocrine system and the hormones that system produces. They bring about negative effects in neurological, immune, developmental, and reproductive systems in both humans and animals.

These chemicals can either shut off, turn on, or change the signals carried by hormones, and they can significantly affect how the target cells or organs function.

Research has shown how these effects work both in animals and humans.

Environmental hormones that mimic estrogen have been studied the most. Other endocrine disruptors that produce antiestrogen, antiandrogen, androgen, progesterone, and thyroid-like activity have been found.

Continuing research is being conducted into whether endocrine disruptors have an adverse effect on fertility in humans, whether they stimulate an increase in endometriosis, and whether they can increase some types of cancers. These disruptors appear to have the most significant adverse effects in the prenatal and early postnatal periods in the time when neural and organ systems are forming.

A large range of substances can be classified as endocrine disruptors. These substances are both man-made and natural. They include pharmaceuticals, dioxin and compounds like dioxin, DDT, other pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls, and bisphenol A and other plasticizers. These compounds can be found in many everyday products, including plastic bottles, detergents, foods, toys, flame retardants, cosmetics, metal food cans, and pesticides.

How Do Endocrine Disruptors Work?
Research has identified three mechanisms by which these chemicals affect your endocrine system and its hormones:

They mimic or partly mimic natural hormones. Estrogen (female sex hormone), androgen (male sex hormone), and thyroid hormones are particularly susceptible to these compounds. When endocrine disruptors are mimicking these natural hormones, your body will respond to them and become overstimulated. Such hormone disruptors are also called xenoestrogens when they mimic the hormone estrogen.
They bind to and block receptors. Endocrine disruptors can fill in the receptor sites within cells and prevent natural hormones from binding. This will block the normal signals to these cells and the body won’t respond in the right way. Antiestrogens and antiandrogens are two examples of disruptors that bind to receptors.
They interfere with receptor control or production. These chemical compounds can block or interfere with natural receptors or hormones, and how they are controlled or made. This can happen through an alteration of their metabolism in your liver.

Research indicates these disruptors work differently in different parts of your body. Hormone receptors and how endocrine disruptors affect them have been the focus of much research. These receptors are the sites in your cells where natural hormones attach and affect your body. When disruptors fill in these sites, they either interfere with or mimic your natural hormones.

Of equal importance are other ways in which these chemical compounds can have an effect. These include interfering with how natural hormones are made, carried to their cellular or organ sites, and the breakdown of natural hormones. The mechanisms behind these effects from disruptors aren’t fully understood.

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Since there is this incomplete understanding, its hard to differentiate between direct and indirect effects of these compounds. Generalizing research findings to actual humans and/or animals should be undertaken cautiously. Also, generalizing findings from animals to humans should be done with caution because of the similarities and differences in the endocrine systems of two different species.

Another aspect of the effects of endocrine disruptors has to do with how much it takes to have an adverse effect. Logically, it would seem that larger doses would cause more serious problems. This is due to what is typically seen with large doses of poisons when the effects are immediate and clearly indicate an emergency situation.

However, this is not true with endocrine disruptors. Even very small amounts of these chemical compounds can lead to significant detrimental results sometime in the future. This makes it difficult to make the connection between the results and what caused them.

Because of the delicacy of your endocrine system, even a small amount of exposure to these disruptors at certain times in your development can set the stage for serious illnesses later in life. This kind of exposure is measured in parts per billion.

Some health professionals are of the opinion that the amount of exposure to these chemicals is as important as how toxic the chemical may be. And different kinds of these compounds can affect health in different ways.

The World Health Organization says in a report that some uncertainty still exists regarding the effects of endocrine disruptors on human health. Some are listed in this report as human carcinogens or very likely carcinogens. These include cadmium, arsenic, DDT, lead, PCBs, TCDD dioxin, and di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate.

Clearly, these substances are significant dangers to human wellness.

Some Common Endocrine Disruptors
These chemical compounds are found in many common products found in your home. Becoming knowledgeable about these sources can help you avoid exposure to these chemicals.

Personal Care Products
One of the major types of endocrine disruptors found in these products is phthalates. A significant problem resulting from this type of disruptor is causing males to become more female. This result shows itself across several species.

Phthalates have been shown to cause disruptions in the endocrine systems of wildlife. These disruptions include cancer of the testes, decreased sperm counts, deformation of the genitals, and infertility.

Some common products that have been shown to contain phthalates are cosmetics, shampoo, moisturizer, and conditioners. In 2002, a report from the Environmental Working Group found phthalates in about three-fourths of the personal care products evaluated.

This report concluded that the loopholes in federal law allow cosmetic companies to include unlimited amounts of phthalates in their products with no testing or oversight. There is also no requirement for keeping track of potential health effects or labeling on their products.

Triclosan, another endocrine disruptor, has been found in toothpaste.

Switching to natural personal care products and decreasing the number of these products you use will decrease your exposure to these chemicals.

Drinking Water
Several chemicals that can disrupt your endocrine system have been found in drinking water. These chemicals include arsenic, perchlorate, and atrazine. Installing a water filtering system for your home will significantly decrease your exposure to these chemicals.

Canned Food
Bisphenol-A (BPA) has been found in a large number of canned foods. It is found in the lining of about 75% of the canned goods in North America, even though it is a noted endocrine disruptor. It has been associated with numerous health conditions in pregnant females, unborn children, and children, in addition to adults.

Some manufacturers have begun substituting another chemical (BPS) in the lining of their cans. This chemical is similar to BPA. The best way to protect yourself from exposure to this compound is to buy foods packaged in glass bottles and jars instead of metal or plastic ones.

Produce Grown Conventionally
If you buy produce that has been grown conventionally on large farms, you’re potentially exposing yourself to industrial runoff, pesticides, and herbicides. Many of these are endocrine disruptors.

The best way to protect yourself from these chemicals is to buy organic foods and free-range meat products. Meat that comes from animals raised in concentrated animal feeding operations will potentially contain antibiotics as well as hormones administered to the animals to increase meat production. These hormones and industrial chemicals in these operations are potential endocrine disruptors. Buying free-range animal products will be the best way for you to avoid this chemical exposure.

Kitchen Products
Some plastic containers and non-stick cookware may contain some of these chemical compounds. BPA and other disruptor chemicals can be found in the plastic and may leach out into your food if the plastic is heated. The chemicals that make non-stick, water-repellent, and stain-resistant coatings (poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS) are also toxic and will stay in your body and the environment for a long time.

Non-stick cookware releases perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) when heated. This substance has been associated with thyroid disease, infertility, reproductive problems, and developmental issues. Using ceramic and enameled cast iron cookware will lower your exposure to this chemical.

Cleaning Products
One common ingredient, nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), in laundry detergents and all-purpose cleaners has been banned in Europe and is known to be an endocrine disruptor.

Other industrial chemicals have been found in cleaners used on floors, ovens, windows, and toilets. Making your own detergents and cleaners is a good way to decrease your exposure to these chemicals.

Dangers of Exposure to Endocrine Disruptors
A properly functioning endocrine system is essential for your health. The hormones produced and secreted by this system control the primary functions of your body. A comprehensive report from the United Nations found associations between endocrine disruptors and several conditions. Some of these conditions include non-descended testes in young males, breast cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer, ADHD, and adverse nervous system development in children.

Nervous System Development Problems
Exposure to some of these chemical compounds before birth can lead to interference in the development of the nervous system, the neuroendocrine system, and behavior. Changes in the functioning of the thyroid or in the way chemical messages are carried between nerve cells may be the mechanisms behind these effects.

Immune System Dysfunction
Exposure to chemicals such as PCBs, dioxins, or DES (a synthetic estrogen) appears to lead to immune system dysfunction. Whether this is due to endocrine disruption isn’t fully known. Industrialized countries have seen an increase in the incidence of cancers at sites that are sensitive to hormones. Our increased ability to detect cancer can’t account for all of this increase. The increased use of industrial chemicals and their potential release into the environment has been presented as a possible cause of this increase.

Breast Cancer
Several studies have looked at endocrine disruptors in the environment as being a potential cause of breast cancer. While there may be a connection, current scientific evidence is lacking to substantiate this conclusion. Data regarding exposure during developmentally sensitive times is also lacking.

Endometrial Cancer
Exposure to estrogen has been shown to increase the risk of this type of cancer. Potentially, exposure to estrogen-like endocrine disruptors could also increase this risk, but there is no evidence to support this supposition.

Testicular, Prostate, and Thyroid Cancers
While some limited studies have been conducted regarding exposure to chemicals that could disrupt the functioning of the endocrine system and these cancers, there is no conclusive evidence of a significant connection.

Hormones and Stress
Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) is an increasingly common condition that often leads to serious dysfunction of the endocrine system, and it could potentially be caused or worsened by exposure to endocrine disruptors. In order to understand this connection, you must first understand AFS.

This is a condition that can result from overly burdened adrenal glands. When your body is hit by stress from any source, it responds with activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This sets in motion a cascade of hormones to deal with the effects of stress. The most important of these is cortisol, the stress-fighting hormone. When stress continues, the adrenal glands ultimately become fatigued, unable to produce cortisol. This is when symptoms of AFS begin. At first, these symptoms are vague, but without effective intervention, they increase in severity, resulting in debilitation and even death.

Because of the vague nature of AFS symptoms and medical training, conventionally trained health professionals are not educated in assessing or remediating this condition. A more comprehensive approach to AFS requires a new way of looking at the symptoms. The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response model is that approach. This way of dealing with symptoms says there are six organ circuits that interact to keep your body functioning well. When stress affects one of these circuits, others are also affected. This allows for a more comprehensive way to assess and remediate the root causes of symptoms.

The adrenal glands are vulnerable to toxic influences. A wide range of chemicals are known to interfere with adrenal function. Because of the HPA axis’ ability to maintain homeostasis, it takes a significant amount of damage before the problem is recognized as disruptions in adrenal function.

How Endocrine Disruptors Affect Adrenal Fatigue
One of the main hormones involved in dealing with stress is cortisol. A precursor to cortisol is cholesterol. The cycle in this conversion of cholesterol to cortisol appears to be cholesterol is converted to pregnenolone to progesterone to cortisol. Cholesterol is also involved in the production of testosterone. Cortisol also triggers the production of cholesterol which is then used by your body as fuel.

Research indicates that the presence of phthalates detrimentally affects cholesterol metabolism, resulting in lower testosterone production, but not reducing its ability to convert into progesterone. This suggests a tendency for increased female hormone effects as a result of phthalates. Also suggests a decreased tendency for cholesterol to be transported into cells, resulting in decreased energy production.

Research has also suggested early exposure to endocrine disruptors to be associated with an increased risk of obesity later. This may have an additional connection to the development of metabolic syndrome. Systemic and local inflammation of adipose tissue has been shown in some research. Research with Lipe knock-out mice has suggested a tendency for developing metabolic syndrome when these mice are exposed to endocrine disruptors. Insulin resistance is seen in these mice in their livers, adipose tissues, and skeletal muscles.

Endocrine Disruptors and the NEM Stress Response
The six circuits involved in the NEM stress response also are vulnerable to chemical compounds that are disruptors of the endocrine system. At least three of the six circuits could be directly affected.

Since endocrine disruptors, directly and indirectly, affect hormone production, the hormone response circuit could be the first affected. These chemical compounds cause adverse effects on the adrenals, thyroid, and reproductive organs. The thyroid gland is also a part of the metabolism response circuit, bringing that circuit under the effects of these chemicals. Also in this circuit are the pancreas and liver. The insulin resistance seen in research with mice would affect these organs. The liver is also part of the detoxification circuit, along with the immune system and the extracellular matrix, including the interstitium.

When the hormone circuit is affected, it can lead to estrogen dominance, especially if the compound involved is an estrogen-like compound. Low libido may also be a result, along with low cortisol output, thyroid resistance, and brittle adrenals. When the effect is on the metabolism circuit, sugar and salt cravings, dyslipidemia, and metabolic syndrome will be seen. When the detoxification circuit is affected, hypersensitivity to drugs and foods can be experienced.

Reducing Your Exposure
There are a number of things you can do to reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors.

Personal Care Products
Avoid antibacterial soaps. They can contain triclosan, one of the endocrine disruptors. Castile soap and hot water are excellent substitutes.

Check the labels on your shampoo, body washes, and conditioners for phthalates or parabens listed as ingredients.

Many fragrances in these products also contain endocrine disruptors. Essential oils are a great substitute. The term ‘fragrance’ is often a generic label used to cover up the chemicals that are used in products.

Another change you can make is to minimize the amount of makeup you use or switch to organic cosmetics.

Sunscreen is another personal product with large amounts of these dangerous chemical compounds. Again, switching to organic and chemical-free sunscreens and using only a little will be of benefit.

In Your Home
Dirt and dust are some of the largest sources of endocrine disruptors in your house. Use a vacuum that seals in the dirt it picks up to decrease your exposure.

A lot of the furniture made before 2005 was sprayed with fire retardant chemicals that are made up of these kinds of chemical compounds. Older electronic equipment has been treated with flame retardants like PBDEs or decaBDE. If you can’t replace your current equipment, you should get it out of your bedroom into a well-ventilated area.

Food Products
Organic foods or foods grown on local farms where farmers practice environmentally safe methods are best for you to eat. Unless canned products are labeled as BPA free, don’t buy them.

Beverages in plastic bottles are often full of disruptors, also. You can make your own beverages to avoid this exposure.

When you do buy food products, take them out of the plastic packaging as soon as possible to decrease your exposure.

Those chemical compounds known as endocrine disruptors are prevalent in every part of our world. Evidence exists of significant health problems resulting from even small exposure to these chemicals in early stages of development. These health problems may not show up until later in life, but they are still there. There are a number of things you can do to reduce your exposure to these chemicals, but being informed is the first step.