This is a first post in a series, which explains how and why it is essential for you try and steer clear of a class of chemicals known as endocrine disrupting chemicals or EDCs. Over the next few posts, I will discuss typical household products that contain EDCs and suggest safe alternatives.
What are EDCs?
As you probably know, the endocrine system governs all the hormones in our bodies. Hormones regulate nearly every aspect of our daily lives including metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep, and mood, just to name a few.
EDCs are natural or manmade substances, external to the body, that directly alter the function of the endocrine system, and cause negative health effects1. EDCs are a genuine health concern because they can really mess with chemical signaling within cells and wreak havoc with our hormones.
How do EDCs work?
EDCs can disrupt normal hormone activity by:
- Mimicking our natural hormones like estrogens (the female sex hormone), androgens (the male sex hormone), and thyroid hormones.
- Binding to cells preventing hormones from doing their job.
- Interfere or block the way our hormones are made.
Consequences of hormone disruption
Over the past few decades, the consequences of EDCs in our environment have been studied extensively. Scientists now have a really good idea of how powerful and damaging these chemicals can be. Some EDCs are so damaging, that the FDA, EPA and CDC have mandated bans on their use…remember DDT and Agent Orange?
There are so many adverse effects to EDC exposure that the list is too long to print here. However, scientists and doctors belonging to the Endocrine Society recently issued a statement linking everything listed below to EDC exposure2.
- Hormone-sensitive cancers (testicular, breast, endometrial, thyroid and prostate)3
- Obesity and cardiovascular disease4, 5
- Onset of Type 2 Diabetes6
- Onset of asthma7
- Female reproduction toxicity8
- Decline in quality and quantity of male sperm3
- Deleterious effects on fetal neural development 9
- Early puberty in girls10
Have you been exposed to EDCs?
Unfortunately, if you live in any industrialized country, the answer is a resounding “yes.” EDCs are ubiquitous in our surroundings because they are found in the soil, air, and drinking water and in loads of everyday products– including plastic bottles, carpet, electronics, furniture, metal food cans, fragrances, detergents, fabric softeners, flame-retardant clothing, pharmaceuticals, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides. Wow!
The effects on children are compounded. Why? Because children are not just tiny adults. As a percentage of their body weight, they breathe more air, drink more water, and eat more food than adults. This is because their organs are undergoing rapid change and development. To top it off, we unwittingly expose them to personal care products, toys, and clothing that contain EDCs. Research shows that EDCs may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are forming.11
Don’t these products have to be safe to be on the market?
No. The majority of the more than 2,000 chemicals that come onto the market every year do not go through even the simplest tests to determine toxicity. Even when some tests are carried out, most do not assess whether a chemical has endocrine disrupting properties.12
Further, manufacturers don’t have to list all the ingredients on their labels because they are considered proprietary, or “trade secrets.” It is practically impossible for a consumer to actually know what is in a product.
You’re freakin’ me out…what should I do?
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing easy ways for you to limit exposure to EDCs. Fortunately, there are a bunch of things you can do to get started right away13.
- Buy organic foods when possible. Refer to my post Biggest Bang for your Organic Produce Buck.
- Avoid drinking water from disposable plastic water bottles.
- Get a water filter that will remove pesticides, lead and heavy metals. Click here for recommendations.
- Eat fewer animal products. EDCs can accumulate in milk and animal tissues.
- Don’t store food in plastic containers. Use glass instead.
- Avoid personal care products that list “fragrance” in the ingredients. More about this biggie in a later post.
- Get a HEPA filter and HEPA bag for your vacuum cleaner to cut down on toxic EDC laden dust generated by furniture, carpet and electronics.
- Minimize use of canned foods and don’t buy infant formula in cans. The can liner contains EDCs.
- Skip the non-stick pans unless they are “green” non-stick pans.
Stay tuned over the next few weeks for more detailed descriptions about which products to avoid and which products and brands are safe.
See you next time!