Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs)
EDCs are synthetic compounds that mimic our natural hormones when absorbed by the body. They can turn on, turn off, or otherwise change normal hormonal signals. They can alter normal hormone levels, triggering excessive action, or completely block a natural response. Any other body function controlled by hormones can also be affected, including the immune system.
We find EDCs in everything these days: they make our plastic products softer and easier to handle, our lotions smoother and longer lasting, and our clothes and furnishings resistant to fire. They are used in clothing dye (especially denim), cars and computer casings, Teflon® coatings, and disinfectant bleaches. They are diffused throughout the atmosphere by the burning of industrial waste, and they leach into groundwater from landfills. What’s more, some scientists are concerned because these chemicals have a tendency to biomagnify, or increase their concentration, as they pass up the food chain.
EDCs are now being found in living tissue at dramatically higher concentrations than natural hormones. A Centers for Disease Control report from July 2005 found that the bodies of Americans of all ages contain an average of 148 synthetic chemicals. These chemicals can hang out in our fat cells for years, and can even be passed from mother to child in breast milk.51
The Most Common EDCs
Bisphenol-A (BPA) is commonly used to make the plastics found in food and drink containers, baby bottles, toys, flame retardants, dental sealants, plastic wraps, and often comprises the linings of tin cans. Studies have linked BPA to autoimmunity, breast and prostate cancer, and infertility. In genetically susceptible mice, BPA has been shown to simulate the production of autoantibodies.52 BPA has been shown to affect the human immune system, and is associated with cardiovascular disease, miscarriage, diabetes, childhood behavioral problems, and hormonal imbalances.53 In a recently published study in the Journal of Biochemical and Molecular Toxicology, one University of Michigan team found a wide range of BPA in the livers of 50 first- and second-trimester fetuses, indicating that there is considerable exposure to the chemical during pregnancy. The team also found that the babies’ livers could not eliminate the chemical over time like adult livers can. We really don’t know what BPA is doing to the DNA of our babies and children, but I think it’s safe to say it’s not doing anything good! In recent years growing awareness of the dangers of BPA has led some manufacturers to eliminate it from their products and advertise the item is “BPA-free.”
Phthalates are chemicals added to plastics for flexibility, resiliency, durability and softness. Phthalates are found in plastic bags, children’s toys, IV tubing, perfumes, food packaging, vinyl flooring, pesticides, glues, nail polish, inks, shampoos, detergents, shower curtains, hair spray, and soaps. A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Toxicology Program stated that phthalate exposure is increasingly widespread, especially in women ages 20 to 40. Other studies indicate potential links with asthma, rhinitis, and eczema in children, and altered development of the sexual organs of male infants. Scientists in the Life Sciences department at Indiana State University accidentally discovered that phthalates cause lupus in genetically susceptible mice, but researchers are hesitant to say whether they affect humans in the same way. Phthalates don’t have to be disclosed on the label and are often included under the generic label of “fragrance.” Beware of “V,” “PVC,” or the “3” recycling code on an item or its packaging. The Environmental Working Group’s page at www.ewg.org/skindeep is a good resource for identifying companies that don’t use phthalates in their products.
Parabens are compounds used as preservatives in thousands of cosmetics, foods, and pharmaceutical products. They are used as inexpensive antifungal/antibacterial agents and can mimic the hormone estrogen, which is known to play a role in the development of breast cancers. According to the Environmental Working Group’s Web site, parabens can disrupt the hormone (endocrine) system, and were found in the breast cancer tumors of 19 of 20 women studied. The CDC tested urine from 100 adults and found parabens in nearly all.54 Check all your self-care products for parabens (also known as ethyl paraben; methyl paraben; butyl paraben; propyl paraben; benzyl paraben, etc.) and be wary, as manufacturers have come up with hundreds of ways to rename these chemicals to confuse consumers. Again, www.ewg.org/skindeep is a good resource for identifying companies using healthy ingredients in personal care products.
PBDEs (polybrominated diphenyl ethers) are common flame-retardants used on furniture, curtains, mattresses, carpets, pillows, beds, car seats, car interiors, rugs, drapes, pajamas, television and computer monitors, and a host of materials where flame resistance might be helpful. PBDEs are persistent organic pollutants, which accumulate up the food chain in animal fats, and consequently are found in fish, dairy products, meat, and even human breast milk. PBDEs have been banned in several countries. PBDEs used in foam furniture were taken off the U.S. market in 2005. PBDEs can interfere with thyroid hormones as a result of their bromine. The Environmental Working Group has helpful information at http://www.ewg.org/pbdefree on how to handle items that potentially contain PBDEs and which manufacturers have pledged to eliminate them from electronic products.
PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) are toxic chemical compounds on the list of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs). PCBs were banned in 1976, but degrade very slowly, so PCBs still pollute the environment and find their way into our bodies. They were once used for many industrial applications in electrical transformers, pipeline lubrication, and plastics, and mixed with paints, adhesives, inks, dyes, and paper.
Dioxins and dioxin-like compounds (DLCs) are a class of highly toxic chemicals that have remained in the environment long after their use was restricted. Dioxin is a byproduct of industrial processes involving chlorine in the pesticide, paper, and chemical industries. Small particles of dioxins accumulate in the food chain in fish, meat, dairy products, and even breast milk. We are mostly exposed to dioxins through contamination of our food. Dioxins and DLCs are still one of the most prevalent toxic chemicals even though levels have been decreasing due to regulations instituted in the 1990’s.
Pesticides and Herbicides: Organophosphates and organochlorines in pesticides and herbicides can be toxic to the nervous and reproductive systems. They play a role in autoimmune diseases such as Parkinson’s, as well as childhood acute leukemia.55 Some pesticides have recently been implicated in the serious issue of the widespread death and disappearance of honeybees. The chemicals we use to make things easier and cheaper often have unintended consequences and by the time we realize the danger, it’s difficult to remove the harmful chemicals from the marketplace.
Michelle Corey, C.N.W.C., FMC, is a Wellness Recovery Specialist, Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant, researcher and author. Michelle studied holistic nutrition at Clayton College of Natural Health and completed a comprehensive 2-year practical program at Academy of Functional Medicine and Genomics. Since reversing her autoimmune condition, Michelle has helped hundreds of people reverse autoimmune and other chronic conditions. She is currently an advisor to the Academy of Functional Medicine and Genomics and the Functional Medical University. She is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine and the National Association of Healthcare Advocacy Consultants. Michelle and offers Functional Mind-Body healing retreats, workshops and online courses.
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