What You Should Know About Hormone Disrupting Chemicals
Hormone disrupting chemicals, or more accurately endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs), came to light a few years ago with the Nalgene water bottle and BPA awareness campaign. Since then, EDCs have appeared in mainstream media reports warning of teething toys containing BPA and phthalates and in a recommendation from Health Canada to stop using borax.
Because these issues get attention very briefly, it can seem that all is well once the headlines shift to other news. The truth is, hormone disruptors are everywhere, and scientists are starting to discover more about the impact they have on our health.
What are endocrine disrupting chemicals?
Endocrine disrupting chemicals affect our endocrine system, which is controlled by hormones responsible for every gland in our body – from the thyroid, to sex organs, to parts of our brain.
They can interrupt or change the way our hormones are meant to work, affecting a number of different processes within our bodies: from reproductive health and development to mood and metabolism.
There are close to 800 chemicals that are known or suspected endocrine disruptors, but only a small fraction of them have been investigated. The Environmental Working Group published a list of the Dirty Dozen EDCs that outline the top chemicals of concern (note that it is outdated and there are a few more that have been identified – I outline some of these in the section on reducing exposure below).
Studies are showing that EDCs can cause changes at much lower exposures than previously thought, and scientists are starting to look at how our environmental exposures from everyday products may be impacting us. Based on this, the European Environment Agency believes that environmental exposure to chemicals is partly to blame for increased incidences of cancer and reproductive issues.
How do endocrine disrupting chemicals affect our health?
- We know that these chemicals are getting into our bodies, but we don’t know exactly what happens once they’re in there. Here are some ways EDCs are being studied:-
- The WHO is particularly concerned about toxic exposures for children, since their bodies are growing and changing so rapidly and their defense systems are immature. This means that they are more susceptible to their body’s processes being impacted by lower exposures of chemicals than adults.
- This could also be extended to teenagers, whose hormone systems go through another rapid change during puberty.
- Some studies suggest EDCs play a role in developmental disorders and autoimmune disease.
- Studies on fertility are preliminary, but they suggest that EDCs may impair hormone function and sperm production in men, and may impair ovulation and egg quality in women. For women with conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis, EDCs may make symptoms worse.
- Studies also suggest that exposure to EDCs during pregnancy can affect birth outcomes.
- EDCs increase our body burden of toxic chemicals, which can contribute to a wide range of long-term health impacts.
How you can reduce your exposure
Hormone disrupting chemicals are in our water, food and air. They cannot be avoided entirely. But by reducing your exposure where you have control, you are reducing your overall body burden of these chemicals and supporting your body to stay healthier. Here are some simple ways you can reduce exposure at home:
- Reduce food stored in plastics, especially #7, and cans (even those labelled BPA free).
- Reduce meat intake, especially varieties with high fat content.
- Avoid synthetic fragrance in body care, cleaners, and household products.
- Prioritize organic food, especially the Dirty Dozen.
- Filter your tap water with an activated carbon filter.
- Avoid foam mattresses and pillows.
- Vacuum (using a vacuum with a HEPA filter) and dust with a damp cloth regularly.
- Choose low-mercury fish and seafood.
- Read labels and use Think Dirty App to avoid EDCs in body care products.
You can also check out my room-by-room guide to reducing EDCs at home, here.
Emma Rohmann is an environmental engineer, mom of 2, and founder of Green at Home. Through consultations and seminars, she uses a scientific and practical approach to help her clients reduce exposure to toxic chemicals for improved health. You can learn more and download free resources at www.greenathome.ca.