How to Avoid Endocrine Disruptors

by Diane, M.P.H, M.S.

Endocrine [ Greek origin: “secreting internally” (“endon”= within) + (“krinein”= to separate)], or hormone, systems are found in most varieties of animals, including humans. The endocrine system consists of an intricate network of ductless glands that secrete natural chemical messengers, i.e., hormones [Greek origin: “to set in motion”], and receptors that detect and react to the hormones. The endocrine glands include the two adrenal glands, pancreas, four parathyroid glands, pineal, pituitary, thymus, thyroid, ovaries and testes. These glands release specific amounts of  hormones directly into the bloodstream which then travel throughout the body and influence and regulate many of the body’s processes, such as growth, development, maturation, metabolism, reproduction, and the way various organs operate. A healthy endocrine system enables all organ systems to work together, so that the body functions properly throughout its entire life cycle. The following diagram shows the general location of each endocrine gland and endocrine-related organ:


Original illustration created by Diane Abeloff, 2002.

A hormone produced in one part of an organism causes an effect in a different part. Once the hormone reaches its target, the organ or tissue it affects, the hormone causes a specific reaction to occur which influences the activity of the organ or tissue. The hormone also provides communication among various parts of the organism, thus enabling these parts to function together in a coordinated way.

Hormones function at very small doses (part per billion ranges). They interact with cells that contain matching receptors in or on the cell surfaces. Much like a key fits into a lock, a hormone binds with a cell’s receptor. The adjustments brought on by a hormone are biochemical, changing a cell’s internal and external chemistry to bring about a long term change in the body.

Every hormone is affected by the level of another hormone. When hormonal imbalances occur, a variety of health effects can occur. Hormonal imbalances have been associated with an increased risk of diabetes, endometriosis, reproductive problems in women, decreased sperm counts in men, behavioral abnormalities in children, thyroid disorders, cancer of the breast, ovaries, and prostate, as well as problems with sleep, stress, metabolism, and mood.

Endocrine disruptors [i.e., hormonally active agents (13), endocrine disrupting chemicals (4), endocrine disrupting compounds (5)] are exogenous, synthetic chemicals that have hormone-like effects on both humans and wild-life and interfere with the endocrine system by either mimicking or blocking our natural hormones and disrupting their respective body functions. Disruptors do this by interfering “with the synthesis, secretion, transport, binding, action, or elimination of natural hormones in the body that are responsible for development, behavior, fertility, and maintenance of homeostasis (normal cell metabolism)” (3). These toxins can bind to the same sites to which our natural hormones bind, thereby changing, magnifying, or blocking the function of natural hormones. Endocrine disruptors are known to cause learning disabilities, severe attention deficit disorder, cognitive and brain development problems, deformation of the body and limbs, sexual development problems, feminine effects in males or masculine effects in females, immune system suppression, increased levels of total and LDL cholesterol, etc. Any organ system in the body which is regulated by hormones can be derailed by hormone disruptors.

All vertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals, including humans, can be affected by endocrine disruption. Even some plant species have shown ill effects from exposure to these toxins. However, developing fetuses, infants, and children are more vulnerable than adults, due to the fact that endocrine disruptors can do substantial damage during cell growth and differentiation, and the development of the body’s vital organs and hormonal systems.

Common sources of endocrine disruptors:

Unfortunately, sources of endocrine disruptors are everywhere today, in our food, water, and household products. Chemicals that are known human endocrine disruptors and some of their sources are as follows:

  1. Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane (DDT): soil, food chain, wind, water.
  2. Diethylstilbesterol (DES): Pregnant women were provided DES during the 1950’s and 1960’s to prevent miscarriage.  While DES actually failed to prevent miscarriages, it did contribute to health problems for the children born to these women, such as high rates of vaginal cancer in teenage girls, birth defects of the uterus and ovaries, and immunosuppression.
  3. Dioxin
  4. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs): Industrial coolants, lubricants (Exposure increases the risk of chloracne; skin, liver, and brain cancer; thyroid disorders; childhood obesity following prenatal exposure; diabetes.)
  5. Bisphenol A (BPA): Plastic bottles, baby bottles, plastic food containers, dental materials, linings of metal food and infant formula cans, receipt paper used at grocery stores and restaurants.
  6. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs): Flame retardants used in plastic cases of televisions and, computers, electronics, carpets, lighting, bedding, clothing, car components, foam cushions, other textiles.
  7. Phthalates: Soft toys, flooring, medical equipment, cosmetics, air fresheners
  8. Alkylphenols: Degradation product from nonionic detergents which mimics estrogen.
  9. Perfluorochemicals (PFCs): Fluorine-containing chemicals used to make nonstick cookware, stain-resistant clothing, e.g., Teflon, Gore-Tex, Stainmaster, and Scotchgard.
  10. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA): fire-fighting foam, wire insulation, stain-resistant carpets, carpet cleaning liquids, house dust, microwave popcorn bags, nonstick cookware, “Gore-Tex” and other outdoor clothing, DuPont non-stick cookware.
  11. Products made with “Triclosan”, “Microban”, “Biofresh”
  12. Many pesticides

Additional chemicals are suspected of being endocrine disruptors, including antibacterials, detergents, fumigants, fungicides, insecticides, herbicides, pesticides, plasticizers, plastics such as hospital intravenous bags, and resins.

Routes of exposure:

Exposure to endocrine disruptors occurs through several routes. Many of us are exposed through the air and dust outside, water used for cooking, drinking, bathing or showering, as well as our skin and diet, when we handle and ingest produce that has been sprayed with pesticides and/or fungicides, as well as the fatty tissue of fish and other animal products (ex. dairy products, meats) where these toxins seem to concentrate. The increase in household products that contain these pollutants, house dust from all we have accumulated, and the decrease in building ventilation in recent years has also helped to increase our risk of exposure. Homes with wood floors treated in the 1960’s with PCB-based wood finish have also exposed their residents to significantly high levels of endocrine disruptors.

  1. Direct contact with pesticides and other chemicals used in agriculture or the home, e.g., fumigants, fungicides, herbicides, insecticides.
  2. Industrial workers may be exposed to endocrine disruptors in detergents, resins, and plasticizers.
  3. Ingestion of contaminated water, food (especially fatty foods and fish from contaminated water), or air.
  4. Endocrine disruptors may enter the air or water as a byproduct of many chemical and manufacturing operations and when plastics and other materials are burned. Disruptors can also leach out of plastics, such as the kind used to make hospital intravenous bags.

Avoid the following when possible:

  1. Detergents and household products containing nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs). NPEs are hormone disruptors commonly used in many industrial processes, such as the production of oil, pulp and paper, synthetic and natural textiles and leather, and are a component of many household products. They are also used as additives in latex paints and cosmetics, as anti-oxidants and stabilizers in some plastics, and in some pesticides. A form of NPE called “Nonoxynol-9 is the active ingrediant in contraceptive spermicides.
  2. Fatty foods such as: butter; cheese; “full-fat” cottage cheese, cream, ice cream, sour cream; whole milk; meat. Instead, choose low- or reduced-fat, natural and organic versions of these products. Remember, many hormonal contaminants, heavy metals, and other environmental toxins get stored in the fatty tissues of animals, as well as high-fat foods.
  3. Heating food in plastic containers
  4. Herbicide and pesticide use; Use non-toxic alternatives.
  5. Areas recently sprayed with herbicides and/or pesticides.
  6. Liquid Soaps: Some, like “Softsoap”, contain “Triclosan,” an antibacterial agent that has been associated with hormone disruption.
  7. Lotions: Some contain phthalates.
  8. Mercury: Mercury is used to produce button-type batteries, chlorine, fluorescent lights, pesticides, polyurethane, and thermometers, and is a component of mercury amalgam dental fillings. Request composite, gold, or porcelain fillings from your dentist, instead of mercury amalgam.
  9. Batteries: Properly dispose of all dead batteries as hazardous waste, since batteries often contain cadmium, lead, and/or mercury. “Lowe’s Home Improvement” stores provide recycling containers for such batteries in their lobbies.
  10. Plastics and synthetic products: Plastics often contain two chemicals considered to be hormone disruptors: bisphenol A (a key ingredient in certain kinds of hard plastics, the epoxy lining of cans used for canned foods, and some dental sealants) and phthalates (used to soften plastics).
  11. Direct contact between plastic cling wrap and food, especially hot fatty food.
  12. Storing fatty foods in plastic containers or plastic wrap
  13. Nonstick cookware
  14. Processed and refined foods.
  15. Products containing “Triclosan”: An antibacterial and antifungal (disinfectant) agent found in many common household products such as acne medications, antimicrobial creams, cosmetics, deodorants, detergents, dishwashing liquids, hand sanitizers, lotions, skin cleansers, toothpaste, mouthwashes, kitchen sponges, soaps such as “Softsoap”, various plastics including children’s toys, paint, wallpaper, flooring, textiles, curtains, sandal foot beds, public railings, keyboards, countertops, faucets, even dog bowls. It is being added to an increased number of consumer products including kitchen utensils, cutting boards, socks, and trash bags.Linens may be treated with this antimicrobial treatment in the near future. (See list below).
  16. Products containing “Microban” or “Biofresh”: “Triclosan” goes by the trade name “Microban” when used in plastics and clothing, and as “Biofresh” when used in acrylic fibers.
  17. Shampoos and conditioners
  18. Stain-resistant fabrics
  19. Sunscreens: Choose organic, chemical-free, “for sensitive skin” versions of these.
  20. Vinyl (PVC) blinds: These contain polyvinylchloride (PVC).

To further reduce your exposure to endocrine disruptors:

  1. Educate yourself, your family, and friends about endocrine disruptors.
  2. Wash your hands and those of your children often, and always before eating.
  3. Heat cold water for cooking instead of using hot tap water.
  4. Allow cold (not hot) water to flow from the water tap, after long period of disuse, in order to flush out lead-contaminated water.
  5. Eat lower on the food chain and include a variety of beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  6. Eat fewer and smaller portions of fatty meat and high-fat dairy products, since many hormonal contaminants are stored in fat.
  7. Choose fat-free or low-fat dairy, fish, and meat products. If you eat fish from bays, lakes, rivers, or streams, first check with your state to learn if they are contaminated.
  8. When purchasing meat, choose “American Grass-Fed” products from animals that had been raised without the use of antibiotics and hormones.
  9. Purchase organic food whenever possible, and eat plenty of whole-grain, high-fiber foods, in order to minimize your intake and absorption of endocrine disruptors.
  10. Wash and peel non-organic fruits and vegetables.
  11. Buy food grown locally and in season. Local farm methods are generally more accountable and transparent than those used in large agricultural corporations. Many pesticides whose use has been banned in the United States continue to be produced, sold to, and used in other countries, who then sell their produce back to American markets.
  12. Microwave food using microwave-safe ceramic and glass cookware, instead of plastic containers and plates.
  13. Use cast-iron or stainless steel cookware, instead of nonstick.
  14. Reduce your use of plastics in general: Use food-safe glass or ceramic containers to store food when possible. Use a stainless steel container as a water bottle, in place of a plastic bottle. Provide children with products made from natural materials (ex., cotton, non-toxic wood toys, etc.) that are free of Bisphenol A, phthalates, and other endocrine disruptors.
  15. Avoid chemicals in your personal care and cleaning products.
  16. Use non-toxic, environmentally-friendly household cleansers, laundry detergents, and dishwashing liquid.
  17. Exercise frequently, in order to reduce stress, promote health, boost your immunity, and help your organs and vascular system to function more efficiently.
  18. Support efforts to ban or restrict the use of endocrine disruptors, and demand better regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, state and local government and health department, agribusiness, industry, and manufacturers of children’s products and toys, etc.

List of products containing Triclosan (11):

SOAP: Dial® Liquid Soap; Softsoap® Antibacterial

Liquid Hand Soap; Tea Tree Therapy™ Liquid Soap;

Provon® Soap; Clearasil® Daily Face Wash; Dermato-

logica® Skin Purifying Wipes; Clean & Clear Oil Free

Foaming Facial Cleanser; DermaKleen™ Antibacterial

Lotion Soap; Naturade Aloe Vera 80® Antibacterial Soap;

CVS Antibacterial Soap, pHisoderm Antibacterial Skin

Cleanser, Dawn® Complete Antibacterial Dish Liquid,

Ajax® Antibacterial Dish Liquid.

DENTAL CARE: Colgate Total®; Breeze™ Triclosan

Mouthwash; Reach® Antibacterial Toothbrush; Janina

Diamond Whitening Toothpaste

COSMETICS: Supre® Café Bronzer™; TotalSkinCare

Makeup Kit; Garden Botanika® Powder Foundation;

Mavala Lip Base; Jason Natural Cosmetics; Blemish Cover

Stick; Movate® Skin Litening Cream HQ; Paul Mitchell

Detangler Comb, Revlon ColorStay LipSHINE Lipcolor

Plus Gloss, Dazzle

DEODORANT: Old Spice High Endurance Stick Deodor-

ant, Right Guard Sport Deodorant

Queen Helene® Tea Trea Oil Deodorant and Aloe De-

odorant; Nature De France Le Stick Natural Stick Deodor-

ant; DeCleor Deodorant Stick; Epoch® Deodorant with

Citrisomes; X Air Maximum Strength Deodorant

OTHER PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS: Gillette®

Complete Skin Care MultiGel Aerosol Shave Gel; Mu-

rad Acne Complex® Kit, ®; Diabet-x™ Cream; T.Taio™

sponges and wipes, Aveeno Therapeutic Shave Gel.

FIRST AID: SyDERMA® Skin Protectant plus First

Aid Antiseptic; Solarcaine® First Aid Medicated Spray;

Nexcare™ First Aid, Skin Crack Care; First Aid/Burn

Cream; HealWell® Night Splint;

HealWell® Night Splint 11-1X1; Universal Cer-

vical Collar with Microban

KITCHENWARE: Farberware® Microban Steakknife Set

and Cutting Boards; Franklin Machine Products FMP Ice

Cream Scoop SZ 20 Microban; Hobart Semi-Automatic

Slicer; Chix® Food Service Wipes with Microban; Com-

pact Web Foot® Wet Mop Heads

COMPUTER EQUIPMENT: Fellowes Cordless Microban

Keyboard and Microban Mouse Pad

CLOTHES: Teva® Sandals; Merrell Shoes; Sabatier Chef’s

Apron; Dickies Socks; Biofresh® socks

CHILDREN’S TOYS: Playskool®: Stack ‘n Scoop Whale,

Rockin’ Radio, Hourglass, Sounds Around Driver, Roll ‘n

Ra le Ball, Animal Sounds Phone, Busy Beads Pal, Pop

‘n Spin Top, Lights ‘n Surprise Laptop

OTHER: Bionare® Cool Mist Humidifier; Microban®

All Weather Reinforced Hose; Thomasville® Furniture;

Deciguard AB Ear Plugs; Bauer® 5000 Helmet; Aquatic

Whirlpools; Miller Paint Interior Paint;QVC®Collapsible

40-Can Cooler; Holmes Foot Buddy™ Foot Warmer, Blue

Mountain Wall Coverings, California Paints®, EHC AM-

Rail Escalator Handrails, Dupont™ Air Filters, Durelle™

Carpet Cushions, Advanta One Laminate Floors, San Luis

Blankets, J Cloth® towels, JERMEX mops

 

References:

  1. Abeloff, Diane. “Diagram of Endocrine Glands”. Original illustration created in 2002. The Hormone Foundation. 2011.
  2. Dr. Axe. “Endocrine Disruptors: How to Avoid Excess Estrogen”. 11/04/09. (www.draxe.com/endocrine-disruptors-how-to-avoid-excess-estrogen/)
  3. Crisp TM, Clegg ED, Cooper RL, Wood WP, Anderson DG, Baetcke KP, Hoffmann JL, Morrow MS, Rodier DJ, Schaeffer JE, Touart LW, Zeeman MG, Patel YM (1998). “Environmental endocrine disruption: An effects assessment and analysis”. Environ. Health Perspect.. 106 (Suppl. 1): 11–56. PMC 1533291. PMID 9539004.
  4. Diamanti-Kandarakis E, Bourguignon JP, Giudice LC, Hauser R, Prins GS, Soto AM, Zoeller RT, Gore AC (June 2009). “Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement”. Endocr. Rev. 30 (4): 293–342. doi:10.1210/er.2009-0002. PMC 2726844. PMID 19502515.
  5. “Endocrine Disrupting Compounds”. National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  6. “Endocrine Disruptor”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 06/25/11.
  7. “Endocrine Disruptors”. Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). 11/25/98. (www.nrdc.org/health/effects/qendoc.asp)
  8. Environmental Working Group: (http://www.ewg.org/reports/BottledWater/Bottled-Water-Quality-Investigation)
  9. “Executive Summary”. (PDF). Global assessment of the state-of-the-science of endocrine disruptors. International Programme on Chemical Safety, World Health Organization. 2002. Retrieved 2007-02-28. “An endocrine disruptor is an exogenous substance or mixture that alters function(s) of the endocrine system and consequently causes adverse health effects in an intact organism, or its progeny, or (sub)populations.”
  10. “Four Ways to Avoid Endocrine Disruptors”. Living on Earth: Sound Journalism for the Whole Planet. (www.loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=95-P13-00042…)
  11. Glaser, Aviva. “The Ubiquitous Triclosan: A Common Antibacterial Agent Exposed” and “List of Products Containing Triclosan”. Pesticides and You: A Beyond Pesticides Factsheet-National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides. Vol. 24, No. 3, 2004. pp. 12-17. (www.beyondpesticides.org/pesticides/factsheets/Triclosan…)
  12. “Hormone Disruptors-Avoid These Products to Stay Safe and Prevent Cancer”. Cinco Vidas Blog. 08/20/09. (blog.cincovidas.com/hormone-disruptors-avoid-these-products-to-stay-safe-and -prevent-cancer)
  13. Krimsky S (December 2001). “An epistemological inquiry into the endocrine disruptor thesis”. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 948 (1): 130–42. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2001.tb03994.x. PMID 11795392.
  14. “Reducing Your Exposure: Avoiding Hormone Disruptors”. Citizens for a Better Environment. Womens’ Health and the Environment Network: Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (www.wsn.org/cbe/hormone.html)
  15. Springer Link: http://www.springerlink.com/content/x6087214563368q6
  16. Wiley Interscience: http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/21549/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0
  17. Williams, Rose Marie. “Health Risks and Environmental Issues: Triclosan-A Controversial Antibacterial”. The Townsend Letter: The Examiner of Alternative Medicine. May 2006. Source: Triclosan: Controversial Antibacterial (May 2006) (www.townsendletter.com/May2006/healthrisk0506.htm)

{ 8 comments }

Scotty Strehle February 4, 2013 at 4:04 am

I need to to thank you for this excellent read!! I absolutely loved every bit of it. I have you bookmarked to look at new things you post…

Chantell Force December 20, 2012 at 12:55 am

I love reading through a post that can make people think. Also, many thanks for allowing for me to comment!

Berneice Selvera September 22, 2012 at 5:33 pm

Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular article! It is the little changes that will make the largest changes. Many thanks for sharing!

TD/N BBY/B.C. May 28, 2012 at 8:55 pm

My source was the Vancouver Edition of The Epoch Times, May 24 – 3o, 2012. This article was next to the article Non-browning GM apple worries BC fruit growers. Too much power in the hands of private enterprise with the governments powerless to act in the best interest of the people who elected them. Apparently, one of their qualifications is to have money or know where to secure it along with the promise/s that come with it
There seems to be a host of companies that make billions at the expense of peoples’ health and lives, yet are not held to account. It’s makes for interesting conversations and elevated emotions and varying degrees of frustration/s. Many, if not all thinking/saying WHAT CAN BE DONE??? TD

Diane, M.P.H, M.S. May 30, 2012 at 3:38 pm

I agree with you completely. I have sent letters to my congressmen, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), White House, and signed petitions. However, I am just one person (Actually, I went ahead and and sent letters and signed petitions for my husband, kids, and mother, too, since they all agree with me on such topics.). More citizens need to become educated about what is going on and contact their congressmen, as well as the above agencies. There are so many other issues I would like to write about on my website to help educate the public, but I just don’t have the time to do so. -Sincerely, Diane

Elnora Root April 10, 2012 at 7:35 pm

Thank you for the sensible critique. Me and my neighbor were just preparing to do a little research about this. We got a grab a book from our local library but I think I learned more from this post. I am very glad to see such magnificent information being shared freely out there.

George Balaban January 19, 2012 at 10:47 am

I view something really special in this website.

Mary Bolds January 8, 2012 at 5:38 pm

Enjoyed looking through this, very good stuff, thankyou . “A man may learn wisdom even from a foe.” by Aristophanes.

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