Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that closely imitate our body’s hormones. Unfortunately, they’re found in countless household items, from plastics to cosmetics and cleaning products.
There’s one big reason we should be paying attention: the endocrine system is like the body’s central control hub, and hormones are the way it regulates our vital functions. When these messages go haywire, the health impacts can be far-reaching! Hormone imbalances can cause fatigue, weight gain, fertility struggles, and many more health concerns.
To learn more, I turned to Professor Katherine Samaras. She’s an endocrinologist and clinical researcher, with over 140 publications and a TEDx talk under her belt.
In this article, you’ll find out:
- What endocrine disruptors are
- How they can impact your health
- Common sources of endocrine disruptors
- How to reduce your family’s exposure
Let’s dive right in!
What are Endocrine Disruptors?
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can interfere with the body’s hormonal balance. Some EDCs can be natural, like the phytoestrogens found in soy, which is why diet affects our hormones. However, most are synthetic chemicals.
Contact with endocrine-disrupting chemicals can occur via air, skin, or ingestion (i.e. eating and drinking).
Here are some common endocrine disruptors found in the home:
- Bisphenol A (BPA): Bisphenol A is found in many everyday items such as plastic food containers, pesticides, household cleaners, electronic waste and even toys.
- Phthalates: Phthalates are used in many everyday products, such as plastics, cosmetics, and cleaning products. Often they’re used to make fragrances last longer.
- Pesticides: Many pesticides are EDCs, and they’re often consumed via non-organic fruit and vegetables.
- PBDE flame retardants: PBDE flame retardants are used to treat furniture and carpets but are known endocrine disruptors.
- Triclosan: Triclosan is an antimicrobial ingredient in soaps, toothpaste, mouthwash and cleaners – but it’s easily absorbed through the skin.
How do Endocrine Disruptors Affect Our Health?
Endocrine disruptors have a vast array of potential effects. Health impacts depend on the chemical itself, the amount of exposure, and how long the exposure lasts.
The potential effects of endocrine disruptors in children include:
- Low birth weight & premature birth
- Abnormal reproductive development
- Early onset puberty
- Developmental issues
- Childhood obesity
For adults, health issues linked to EDC exposure include:
- Weight gain
- Fertility problems
- Immune issues
- Endocrine disorders
- Metabolic problems
- Early menopause
The rate of endocrine disorders is increasing, and while genes play a significant role, environmental EDCs may be a factor. Common endocrine disorders include hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, Type 2 diabetes, Graves’ disease, Cushing disease, endometriosis and polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Endocrinologist Professor Katherine Samaras shares five early symptoms of endocrine problems to watch for:
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Thyroid issues
- Raised blood sugar
- Reduced libido
Busy women can easily miss these warning signs, so be sure to get an annual check-up to catch signs early.
Endocrine Disruptors & Weight Gain: What’s The Link?
Endocrine disruptors can also affect our weight, according to the research. Specifically, EDCs affect metabolism and fat storage, which can cause weight gain and a higher body fat percentage.
Weight gain can be both a symptom and a cause of endocrine disorders. Obesity increases endocrine disorder risk, which can further upset the body’s hormonal balance. Carrying extra weight also causes systemic inflammation, which leads to chronic conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and autoimmune disease.
Professor Samaras has some good news, though: losing weight can break the cycle and help relieve symptoms of endocrine disorders.
How to Reduce Exposure to Endocrine Disruptors
We’re also exposed to EDCs outside the home via air and water pollution, so avoiding them entirely is impossible. However, Professor Samaras explains that limiting exposure will always benefit your health.
Don’t feel you have to tackle them all at once, start on the easiest swaps for you and go from there.
Here are ten tips for reducing your family’s exposure to EDCs:
- Use natural cleaning products: Harsh chemical-based cleaners are packed with nasties! Opt for natural cleaning products in glass or aluminium bottles to avoid EDCs (I love Pleasant State natural cleaning products). You can also make your own cleaners at home.
- Ditch plastic containers and bottles: Hardened plastics are a major source of EDCs in the home. Instead of Tupperware, use glass or stainless steel. If you must use plastic, find BPA-free options – and don’t use them to reheat or put hot food into, as heating can leach more plastic into the food.
- Stop drinking bottled water: Did you know it often takes two years for bottled water to go from source to consumer? Plenty of time for chemicals like BPA to leach into the water – yuck!
- Check your canned food: Going plastic-free can be tricky, as canned goods often come with a BPA-plastic lining. Look for BPA-free and organic labelling to identify safer picks.
- Buy organic where possible: Conventionally grown fruit and vegetables contain higher levels of pesticides. If you can’t buy organic, be sure to thoroughly wash your produce, especially when you eat the skin.
- Use natural cosmetics and personal care products: When choosing shampoos, moisturisers and skincare products, find brands free from phthalates, parabens, triclosan, and synthetic fragrances. I like Sukin or Tailor skincare.
- Don’t buy plastic toys: Many kids’ toys are made from PVC plastics or other materials that contain BPAs. This is even more concerning for babies and toddlers who put everything in their mouths!
- Toss non-stick cookware: Non-stick linings contain PFASs, the same chemicals found in fire retardants. Avoid EDCs leaching into your food by switching to traditional pots and pans, like cast iron.
- Choose furnishings carefully: Carpets, mattresses and furniture are often treated with endocrine-disrupting flame retardants. Do your research and opt for products without them.
- Reduce soy products: Soy-based foods disrupt hormone levels as they contain natural phytoestrogens. Choose nut milk over soy milk and chickpea tempeh over tofu. However, in some cases, soy phytoestrogens can also be a helpful way to balance hormones through diet.
For example, phytoestrogens can help women going through perimenopause who see a drop in oestrogen in the second half of their cycle. Phytoestrogens can help reduce symptoms such as mood swings, night sweats and headaches.
When it comes to a healthy lifestyle, we usually think about things like diet, exercise and sleep.
But identifying hidden sources of toxins in the home is also an important health decision. Choosing products wisely helps to protect our precious hormone balance.
If the list above seems overwhelming, I asked Professor Samari about the simplest first step she recommends to reduce EDCs at home.
“Get rid of the plastic bottles,” was her immediate answer! “Replace plastic with glass where you can.”
There you have it – one easy swap to detoxify your kitchen and immediately reduce your daily EDC exposure!
Listen to my full interview with endocrinologist Professor Katherine Samaras on Healthy Her.