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An endocrine disruptor is a synthetic compound that mimics a natural hormone when it is absorbed by the body. It can have the effect of altering normal hormone levels, triggering excessive action, or completely blocking a natural response. In addition any other bodily function controlled by hormones can also be affected.
Synthetic endocrine disruptors are now being found in living tissue at dramatically higher concentrations than natural hormones. A CDC report from July 2005 found that the bodies of Americans of all ages contain an average of 148 synthetic chemicals.
Our bodies have an active detoxification system in place in the form of our blood, lymph, liver, kidneys, intestines, lungs, and skin. However there is an abundance of manmade chemicals — experts estimate that 40 million pounds of hormonally active chemicals are produced in this country annual, with 2000 new varieties introduced to market each year. Even the healthiest person may have trouble filtering this exposure to these chemical.
Due to the long-term effect of endocrine disruptors, studies are beginning to show the possible connections between pesticides and frog deformities, fish sex reversals, and bird infertilities is well-documented. How this plays out with mammals seems to be highly individualized, relative to variables such as age at exposure, genetics, level and length of exposure, gender, and detox capability. Some humans seem to be better at dealing with these substances, but we suspect that the increase in chemical and medical sensitivities, childhood cancers, infertility rates, learning disabilities, autism and mood disorders may relate in some way to the sea of endocrine disruptors in which we all swim.
- Bisphenol–A: A synthetic substance widely used to make polycarbonated plastics found in food and drink containers, the lining of tin cans, toys, baby bottles, dental sealants, flame retardants, and plastic wraps. This chemical easily leaches out into food and water.
- Phthalates: Synthetic substances added to plastics to make them softer, more flexible and resilient. They also extend staying power. They are found in IV tubing, vinyl flooring, glues, inks, pesticides, detergents, plastic bags, food packaging, children’s toys, shower curtains, soaps, shampoos, perfumes, hair spray and nail polish.
- Parabens: Compounds used as preservatives in thousands of cosmetic, food and pharmaceutical products.
- PBDE’s (polybrominated diphenyl ethers): Found in flame retardants used on furniture, curtains, mattresses, carpets, television and computer castings. Categorized as a persistent organic pollutant (POP), this substance is stored in animal fats and thus found in dairy products, meat, fish, and human breast milk, and has been banned in several countries. It has also been detected in house dust.
- PCB’s (polychlorinated biphenyls): Another group of highly toxic synthetic chemical compounds found on the list of POP’s, once used widely as insulation fluid in electrical transformers, lubricating oil in pipelines, and components of plastics and mixed with adhesives, paper, inks, paints and dyes. Since 1976 PCB’s have been banned in new products, but they are highly stable compounds that degrade very slowly, and these chemicals still persist.
- Dioxin: Dioxin is a general name applied to a group of hundreds of chemicals that are highly persistent in the environment. The most toxic compound is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, or TCDD. Dioxin is formed as an unintentional by-product of many industrial processes involving chlorine such as waste incineration, chemical and pesticide manufacturing, and pulp and paper bleaching. Small molecules are diffused into the atmosphere, then land on soil, where they are eaten by soil microbes. From there they pass up the food chain into meat, fish, and dairy products and breast milk. We absorb 90% of the dioxin in our bodies through food sources, though you won’t find it listed on any label. Levels have been decreasing since the 1990’s with environmental measures, but it is still probably the most prevalent toxic chemical in our environment.
- Pesticides and herbicides: In particular, atrazine, simazine, and heptachlor and other organophosphates and organochlorines have been found to be toxic to the nervous system and to show damaging reproductive (e.g., decreasing sperm motility) and developmental effects.
- Heavy metals: Cadmium and arsenic are two heavy metals in widespread use whose endocrine disrupting mechanisms of action have been described. Mercury and lead are also implicated, and more studies are underway on heavy metals.
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