EDCs are substances in the environment, food sources, personal care products, and manufactured products that interfere with the normal function of the body’s endocrine system.
The major components of the endocrine system are the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, thyroid gland, adrenal glands, pancreas and the gonads (i.e. reproductive organs). The endocrine system regulates all biological processes in the body from conception through adulthood and into old age.
EDCs interfere with this system through a variety of mechanisms including increasing the production of certain hormones, decreasing the production of others, imitating hormones, interfering with hormone signalling, instigating premature cell death, competing for essential nutrients, binding to essential hormones and much more. As a result of this, exposure to EDCs has been linked to numerous diseases such as obesity, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, infertility, hormonal excesses/deficiencies and dementia, to name a few.
Given the health consequences associated with EDC exposure, it’s important that we put measures in place to minimise our exposure.
In this article, we’re going to discuss the 12 most prominent EDCs to avoid.
1. BISPHENOL-A (BPA).
BPA is probably the most well-known endocrine disruptor, used to make certain plastics, epoxy resins and thermal cash register receipts.
BPA imitates the sex hormone oestrogen and is linked to several diseases including breast cancer, prostate cancer, PCOS, infertility, early puberty and obesity.
AVOID IT by avoiding canned foods, saying no to receipts that you don’t need, avoiding take-away coffee cups and avoiding polycarbonate (#7) plastics. BE WARY of BPA-free alternatives as the BPA in these products is generally replaced with a different bisphenol (such as BPS) which is also toxic.
Dioxins are long-lived and accumulate in the human body and in the food chain.
Dioxins are powerful carcinogens and can also affect the immune and reproductive systems.
AVOID IT by eating foods lower on the food chain as dioxin builds up in animal products.
Atrazine is a toxic weedkiller that is commonly found in non-organic produce as well as in drinking water. It has potent effects on the reproductive system and can cause abnormalities in both males and females.
AVOID IT by opting for organic produce where ever possible and ensuring you are filtering your water with a filter that is certified to remove atrazine.
Phthalates are used to make plastics softer and to make fragrances or cosmetics stick to your body longer.
Phthalates are known to cause changes to sex hormone levels and damage to the thyroid gland and they are also linked to diseases ranging from diabetes to obesity to developmental issues.
AVOID IT by avoiding all perfumes as well as personal care and cleaning products that contain fragrance or ‘parfum’. Additionally avoid #3 plastic wrap and vinyl flooring and products.
Perchlorate is a byproduct contaminant of rocket fuel. It competes with the nutrient iodine when it gets into our bodies and thus damages thyroid function and causes metabolic dysfunction.
AVOID IT by filtering your water with a filter such as reverse osmosis that is certified to removed perchlorate.
6. FLAME RETARDANTS / PBDEs
Flame retardants are widespread and difficult to avoid completely. They are used to prevent fires in a range of products but most commonly, in upholstered foam furniture.
AVOID IT by avoiding reupholstered foam furniture, taking care when reupholstering old carpet (the foam underneath might contain flame retardants), and using a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Additionally, when purchasing a new couch, look for a label that says ‘The upholstery materials in this product contain NO added flame retardant chemicals’.
Lead is a heavy metal that is ubiquitous in the environment. It can be found in the air, soil, water, food, as well as other products. Lead can harm almost every organ system in the body and has been linked to brain damage, lowered IQ, hearing loss, miscarriage, premature birth, hypertension, kidney damage and nervous system problems.
AVOID IT by removing old lead paint carefully, filtering water with a water filter that removes lead and eating whole foods (as this will insist in reducing lead absorption).
Arsenic is a heavy metal with carcinogenic properties. It also interferes with the normal hormone functioning in the glucocorticoid system that regulates how the body processes sugars and carbohydrates.
AVOID IT by filtering your water with a filter that removes arsenic and opting for white rice over brown rice when consuming rice (this includes brown rice products such as rice cakes, brown rice syrup. etc). Arsenic accumulates in the grain’s outer layers which are removed to make white rice. Whilst this process also removes some of the nutrients contained within the rice, if you are eating a nutrient dense diet, those nutrients can be better obtained from other nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, nuts, seeds, lentils and legumes.
Mercury is a heavy metal that winds up in the air and oceans, primarily through burning coal. Mercury has been shown to cause systemic health consequences throughout the body including nervous system damage, reproductive issues, kidney damage and immune dysfunction.
AVOID IT by choosing Atlantic wild salmon, Pacific sardines or Atlantic mackerel over other higher-mercury fish options when consuming fish.
10. PERFLUORINATED CHEMICALS
PFCs are used in non-stick cookware and to coat the inside of popcorn bags and fast food containers. They are linked to decreased sperm quality, low birth weight, thyroid disease, kidney disease, high cholesterol and more.
AVOID IT by avoiding non-stick cookware (opt instead for options such as enamel-coated cast-iron, clay or stainless steel), limiting use of take-away food containers (and never re-heating them) and avoiding stain-resistant treatments on furniture and carpeting.
11. ORGANOPHOSPHATE PESTICIDES
Organophosphate pesticides are one of the most commonly used pesticides today. They have been shown to cause severe neurological, neurophysiological and/or psychiatric symptoms with prolonged exposure.
AVOID IT by opting for organic produce or growing your own organic produce whenever possible.
12. GLYCOL ETHERS
Glycol ethers are common solvents used in paints, cleaning products, brake fluid and cosmetics. They have been shown to cause immune system dysfunction and reproductive abnormalities in both males and females.
AVOID IT by making your own (or purchasing) non-toxic cleaning products, opting for organic and toxin-free personal care products, and avoiding products with ingredients like ‘2-butoxyethanol’ and ‘methoxydiglycol’.
If you want to know more about EDCs and measures you can put in place to avoid them, don’t hesitate to get in touch.