5 Common Endocrine Disruptors—and How to Avoid Them

I hear you, what on earth is an endocrine disruptor? The endocrine system is a network of hormone-producing glands that plays a vital role in all phases of our body’s development, metabolism, and reproduction. Before writing this article, my knowledge of estrogen, and testosterone stemmed was from the doctor giving me my contraception tablets explaining how they work. This wasn’t seminal, this was a five-minute conversation about three options I had and how they would affect my body. I have tried three types of contraception and now I feel like they all disrupted my endocrine system!

Certain chemicals affect our endocrine system by interfering with hormones’ normal functions. Known as endocrine disruptors, these chemicals increase the production of certain hormones and decrease the production of others. As humans, we engage in marketing adverts, whether it is watching something on the television, and we remember an advert about a new shampoo to try or you an email pops up enticing us to click and buy with a limited time offer code. When we engage in this game of media consumption, we often ignore how things are made and what they are made with. This part of the buying process, the bit where you choose what you put on your skin, is the most important part of your shopping experience.

Prevalent in our everyday lives, these substances are found in common household items such as cleaning products, shampoo, perfume, deodorant, toothpaste, processed food and its packaging and even tap water.

Studies have linked them to cancer, lowered sperm count, lowered IQ, thyroid disease, birth defects, and other developmental disorders. Babies and children are at the greatest risk for adverse effects.

Here are five of the most common endocrine disruptors and more importantly, how to avoid them.

Bisphenol A (BPA)

Manufacturers use BPA in the production of certain plastics and resins. It is commonly found in the lining of canned foods and other food-packaging materials, certain polycarbonate plastic bottles, and cash register receipts.

Health concerns

BPA has been linked to breast and other cancers, reproductive and fertility issues, obesity, and early puberty.

Why not…

Switch to glass dishes, they are a safer option for heating food.

Given the lack of transparency in the market, it’s nearly impossible to know where BPA and other similarly concerning replacement chemicals are being used. But there are ways to reduce your exposure.

Here’s how:

Say no to receipts, since thermal paper is often coated with BPA.

Avoid plastics marked with a “PC,” for polycarbonate, or recycling label #7. (Not all of these plastics contain BPA, but many do.)

Buy food that uses sustainable packaging. Tesco has started offering brown paper bags to put fruit and vegetables in. Alternatively, you could bring a cloth bag to put them in.

Use the microwave less and the pan more. I think food tastes better prepared on the stove, don’t you?

You can check whether an item you’re buying contains BPA using EWG’s BPA product list. If it does, look for alternatives in EWG’s Food Scores.

Phthalates

Phthalates are plasticizer chemicals found in “fragrance,” PVC plastic, toys, and plastic wrapping. Studies have linked phthalates to birth defects in the male reproductive system, lower sperm count, lower sperm motility, miscarriages, and gestational diabetes. A 2014 Swedish study suggests that phthalate exposure shortened the anogenital distance—the distance between the anus and the base of the penis, which some studies have correlated to genital development and testicular function—in Swedish boys. The shorter the distance, the greater the risk of problems, including low sperm count and undescended testicles.

Make the switch:

Switch from plastic food containers to sustainable ones.

Avoid plastic children’s toys, there is plenty of wood and alternative toys out there. Better yet, let them make mud pies and talk to animals outside and feed their imagination!

Check the ingredients before you buy. I’m allergic to artificial sweeteners so this has always been something I’ve practised but get into the habit of knowing what is in your food and what you’re putting on your body. It’s enlightening and will change the way you view products.

Any products that list phthalates as an ingredient as well as those that list “fragrance” avoid them at all costs! Keep in mind that fragrance can show up in unexpected places, like a baby (nappies and talc powder) and female health products (vaginal washes, period pads).

PFAS chemicals

The family of fluorinated compounds known as PFAS chemicals includes more than 4,700 chemicals. Some chemicals are linked to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened immunity, and developmental defects, and others whose health effects are unknown. Often used in waterproof clothing, coatings on upholstered furniture and food packaging, these chemicals shouldn’t but are in a lot of products we buy and consume every day. Ever bought a Teflon frying pan? Have you seen ‘PFC-free labels on your waterproof coat? According to PFAS Free, PFAS are a group of over 4,700 industrial chemicals that are used in the products we use every day. These thousands of toxic chemicals leak into our environment during production, our daily use and when we dispose of them that contaminate our blood, water, air and food, creating the kind of pollution you can’t get rid of until you stop consuming them.

Drinking water is one of the most common sources of exposure to PFAS chemicals.

Here’s how to avoid PFAS chemicals:

Buy a water filter to remove or reduce PFAS chemicals from your tap water. Black and Plum offer a great natural alternative to filtering your water…charcoal!

EWG’s Water Filter Buying Guide provides information on the different types of water filters and the contaminants they remove is helpful research when looking for a natural filter, too.

Skip the optional stain-repellent treatment on new carpets and furniture. Many of these coatings are made with PFAS chemicals.

Choose fast food services that offer sustainable packaging.

Do things the old-fashioned way like cooking popcorn on the hob! I love watching it pop in the pan and buying a bag of corn is super cost effective too!

Do not use non-stick pans and kitchen utensils that are manufactured with PFAS chemicals. Check the labels and brand policies.

Atrazine

In farming and gardening, Atrazine is widely used to kill weeds and insects to protect crops. Researchers have found that exposure to even low levels of the weed killer atrazine can turn male frogs into females that produce viable eggs. In July, the Environmental Protection Agency reviewed, but chose to ignore, recent science and human health studies linking atrazine to such ailments as childhood leukaemia and Parkinson’s disease. Atrazine has also been linked to breast tumours, delayed puberty, and prostate inflammation in animals. Some research has linked it to prostate cancer in people.

Here’s how to avoid atrazine:

Get a drinking water filter certified to remove atrazine.

Buy organic, or grow your own fruit and vegetables.

Use EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce™, which can help you find the items that have the fewest pesticide residues.

For decades, people have been exposed to flame resistant coatings used on furnishings such as mattresses, upholstered furniture, foam cushions, baby car seats, insulation, and electronics. These chemicals have been linked to hormone disruption, cancer, and attention and IQ deficits in children.

Flame retardants furnishings

Flame retardants migrate from products to indoor air and house dust. You can inhale them, ingest them, and absorb them through your skin. Case-control studies have found exposure to flame retardants can alter thyroid hormone regulation and its function in women.

Reduce your exposure with these four helpful tips

Check the labels! Make sure your home furnishings are made without flame retardants. Foam furniture and mats made without chemical flame retardants should say so on the label (if you purchased your furniture before 2015, there’s a good chance the manufacturer treated the cushion foam with toxic flame-retardant chemicals.)

If you don’t see a label, by all means, ask the manufacturer whether flame-retardant chemicals are in the upholstered product.

Wash your hands frequently using soap and water. This is especially important before meals and for babies and young children who put their fingers in their mouths.

When cleaning, using a filter for your hoover or dusting with a wet cloth will help reduce chemicals building up in your home.

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