Remember the moment you first heard the term “endocrine disruptor?” Me either. I If I had to guess, I would say it was sometime in the last five years or so although endocrine disruptors are much older than that. Before you can fully understand what an endocrine disruptor is, it’s important to understand the endocrine system and the plethora of functions it does for the body.
The endocrine system consists of ten (10) separate glands:
- Pineal Gland
These ten glands work together to produce hormones that get distributed throughout the body via the bloodstream. Are you hungry? That’s the hormone ghrelin giving you hunger pangs. Are you full? Thank you leptin. Sleepy? Melatonin is singing you a lullaby. Is your hair falling out? Damn you, dihydrotestosterone! Menopause is causing hot flashes? Increase the estrogen and progesterone stat! Remember puberty? You can thank ghonadotrophin for those awkward years.
This is a very delicate system. A small change in the amount of hormones floating around can have a very big effect on your body. Disrupting this delicate endocrine system (endocrine disruption) can have some very dramatic effects. Just check out, some of the hormones that the hypothalamus produces:
- Anti-diuretic hormone (ADH): This hormone increases water absorption into the blood by the kidneys.
- Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH): CRH sends a message to the anterior pituitary gland to stimulate the adrenal glands to release corticosteroids, which help regulate metabolism and immune response.
- Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH): GnRH stimulates the anterior pituitary to release follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), which work together to ensure normal functioning of the ovaries and testes.
- Growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH) or growth hormone-inhibiting hormone (GHIH) (also known as somatostain): GHRH prompts the anterior pituitary to release growth hormone (GH); GHIH has the opposite effect. In children, GH is essential to maintaining a healthy body composition. In adults, it aids healthy bone and muscle mass and affects fat distribution.
- Oxytocin: Oxytocin is involved in a variety of processes, such as orgasm, the ability to trust, body temperature, sleep cycles, and the release of breast milk.
- Prolactin-releasing hormone (PRH) or prolactin-inhibiting hormone (PIH) (also known as dopamine): PRH prompts the anterior pituitary to stimulate breast milk production through the production of prolactin. Conversely, PIH inhibits prolactin, and thereby, milk production.
- Thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH): TRH triggers the release of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which stimulates release of thyroid hormones, which regulate metabolism, energy, and growth and development.
Even though the hypothalamus is about the size of an almond, it is considered the most essential gland in the endocrine system because of all it does (i.e. maintain your metabolism, body temperature, sleep cycles, immunity, etc.). Since each gland plays a vital part in managing the well-being of the whole body, you can see how an endocrine disruptor isn’t something you want to welcome into your life. And yet, you are surrounded by them. They are literally everywhere.
Many items from plastics to cosmetics to detergents to food to toys, etc., can contain (and often do contain) an endocrine disruptor. Simply put, an endocrine disruptor is a chemical that interferes with endocrine system. There are many endocrine disruptors such as:
- genistein and daidzein;
- diethylstilbestrol (the synthetic estrogen DES);
- dioxin and dioxin-like compounds;
- polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs);
- bisphenol A; and
A few that are often found in cosmetics and skin care products are Triclosan, Pthlates, and Bisphenol A (BPA). Triclosan is added to many consumer products such as soaps, toothpaste, and body washes to reduce or prevent bacterial contamination. Phthalates, which are estrogen mimics, are plasticizers used in many cosmetic products to dissolve ingredients, moisturize skin, and provide flexibility (as in nail polish). BPA is an industrial chemical used to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resin. Studies on animals have shown that triclosan alters hormone regulation. Pthlates have been shown to trigger what’s known as “death-inducing signaling” in certain cells and BPA tricks the body into thinking its estrogen, but it isn’t and the body doesn’t know how to process this synthetic estrogen which is why BPA has been linked to many issues (i.e. breast cancer, reproductive problems, obesity, early puberty and heart disease, etc.).
In 2003/04 the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found detectable levels of BPA in 93% of Americans six years and older. Additional testing regarding the toxicity for BPA only resulted in “negligible”, “minimal”, and “some” concern ratings. That means neither “concern” nor “serious concern” came into consideration after their testing which is one reason why BPA continues to be made and used.
At this point you may be wondering why chemicals, including endocrine disruptors, can be found in everyday household items. The reason is there is no required study on the toxicity of chemicals being made and even though the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976 was just recently amended in June 2016  it is unlikely it will make a huge difference…yet. It is, however, a step in the right direction especially with the following changes:
- Mandatory requirement for EPA to evaluate existing chemicals with clear and enforceable deadlines;
- New risk-based safety standard;
- Increased public transparency for chemical information; and
- Consistent source of funding for EPA to carry out the responsibilities under the new law
When we talk about testing chemicals and endocrine disruptors, it’s important to note that simply studying one does not account for what happens when many come in contact with your system. “For example, estrogen mimics in cosmetics demonstrate no adverse effects on their own… Yet, when more than one estrogen mimic is present, toxic health effects have been verified (i.e. several studies show that breast cancer cells multiply more quickly in mixtures of estrogen mimics than in exposures to the individual chemicals alone (e.g., Payne et al. 2001).”
You probably skipped over the above reference. I don’t blame you; they’re boring. Just be aware that the above information on estrogen mimics that was cited is from 2001. The idea of questioning how endocrine disruptors affect the body isn’t a new one. And yet, the Toxic Substances Control Act was just amended. Take a gander at this FDA consumer update about triclosan which states: “Triclosan is not currently known to be hazardous to humans. But several scientific studies have come out since the last time FDA reviewed this ingredient that merit further review.” Sometimes, when I realize stuff like this I want to jab a pencil in my eye. Seriously.
Endocrine disruptors are in my clothes, furniture, lotion, soap, shampoo, lipstick, shaving cream, perfume, and my deodorant. They’re in baby products and toys, and painted on my walls and folded into my carpet. So how do you avoid endocrine disruptors? Should you live in the woods, make your own tools, food, and clothes from what you gather, and have no contact with the outside world as if you are in an episode of Naked & Afraid? Well that certainly is one way to go, albeit a severe one. Here are a few tips from the Environmental Working Group’s the “Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptors and How to Avoid Them” article:
- Avoid products that simply list added “fragrance,” since this catch-all term sometimes means hidden phthalates.
- Find phthalate-free personal care products with EWG’s Skin Deep Database: ewg.org/skindeep/
- Go fresh instead of canned to avoid BPA
- Say no to receipts from retailers because thermal paper is coated with BPA
- Avoid plastics marked with a “PC” which stands for polycarbonate or that have a recycling label #7 on them.
Additionally, I can tell you that endocrine disruptors are not in our skin care products. Also, we use BPA-free packaging and make our products using ingredients free of endocrine disrupting preservatives, stabilizers, etc. We are doing our part to make the world a healthier place. You can support us and forge ahead in your journey to being a healthier person by buying our products by going here.
Farmer Ked & Jessica
These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. For educational purposes only.