Endocrine disruptors are chemicals known to interfere with the functions of our endocrine glands – including the pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, thymus, pancreas, ovaries, and testes. When functioning optimally, our endocrine system releases carefully-measured amounts of hormones into the bloodstream that act as natural chemical messengers, traveling to different parts of the body in order to control and adjust many life functions.
Altering these precise systems is playing with fire, because endocrine-disrupting chemicals may block hormonal signals in your body or interfere with the way the hormones or receptors are made or controlled, leading to health issues such as:
- prostate cancer in men
- breast and/or ovarian cancer in women
- ADHD in children
- skin disorders
- sleep disorders
- weight gain
How often are you likely to be exposed to these toxic chemicals? Probably far more often than you think, as they can happen on a daily basis when you use “normal” everyday products in your home. Below are the top 10 common sources of endocrine disruptors, as well as what you can do about them.
1. Personal Care Products
Shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, cosmetics, and other personal care products often contain endocrine disruptors, including (but certainly not limited to) phthalates, BPA, BHT, triclosan. These are a group of “gender-bending” chemicals causing males of many species to become more female. One 2002 study by the Environmental Working Group detected these chemicals in nearly three-quarters of personal care products tested. Switching to safer, non-toxic care products and cosmetics will help you avoid such exposures.
2. Drinking Water
Your drinking water may be contaminated with atrazine, arsenic, and perchlorate, all of which may disrupt your endocrine system. Filtering your water, both at your tap and your shower/bath, using a high-quality water filtration system can help protect you and your family.
3. Canned Foods
In an analysis of 252 canned food brands, 78 are still using bisphenol-A (BPA) in their canned goods, even though it’s a known endocrine disruptor. BPA has been linked to a number of health concerns, particularly in pregnant women, fetuses and young children, but also in adults, including:
- increased prostate size
- decreased sperm production
- ovarian dysfunction
- disrupted reproductive cycle
- increased fat production
- altered immune function
BPA coats about 75 percent of cans in North America, which means if you eat canned foods, it’s likely a major source of BPA exposure for you. Ideally, buy products that come in glass bottles and jars rather than plastic or cans.
4. Conventionally Grown Produce
Pesticides, herbicides, and industrial runoff may coat your conventionally grown fruits and vegetables in endocrine-disrupting chemicals. As much as possible, buy and eat organic produce and free-range, organic foods to reduce your exposure to endocrine-disrupting pesticides and fertilizers.
5. CAFO Meats, Poultry & Dairy Products
Conventional farms where animals are raised on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) also typically contain antibiotics, hormones, and other industrial chemicals that may disrupt your endocrine system. I often say: when an animal is raised to grow bigger, fatter, faster and you eat a by-product from this animal, you too will grow bigger, fatter, faster! Look for animal products that are free-range, organic and raised on small, local farms that avoid the use of such chemicals.
6. High Mercury Fish
Fish contaminated with high levels of mercury and other heavy metals are problematic because such metals also disrupt hormonal balance. Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, marlin, and tilefish are among the worst offenders here, but even tuna has been found to be contaminated with dangerously high levels. Farmed fish (think the “CAFOS of the sea”) also tend to be higher in contaminants and are better off avoided. When eating seafood, smaller fish like sardines, anchovies, and herring tend to be low in contaminants and high in omega 3 fatty acids.
7. Cleaning Products
Commercial solutions used to clean your floors, toilets, oven, windows, and more typically contain industrial chemicals that may throw your hormones out of whack. For instance, nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), a common ingredient in laundry detergents and all-purpose cleaners, is banned in Europe and known to be a potent endocrine disrupter, causing male fish to transform into females. It’s surprisingly easy to create your own cleaning products at home using different combinations of vinegar, baking soda, essential oils, and even coconut oil. Find tips for greener cleaning here.
Plastic containers and non-stick cookware are common in many kitchens are another type of hazards. The plastic containers may contain BPA or other endocrine-disrupting chemicals that can leach into your food, especially if the plastic is heated. Poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) used to create non-stick, stain-resistant, and water-repellant surfaces are also toxic and highly persistent, both in your body and in the environment.
When heated, non-stick cookware releases perfluorooctanoic acid(PFOA), linked to infertility, thyroid disorders, and developmental and reproductive problems. Healthier options include ceramic and enameled cast iron cookware, both of which are durable, easy to clean (even the toughest cooked-on foods can be wiped away after soaking it in warm water), and completely inert, which means they won’t release any harmful chemicals into your home.
9. Office Supplies
Ink cartridges, toner, and other solvents common in office environments are another common source of endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Handle such products with care and minimize your exposure as much as possible.
10. Cash Register Receipts
Thermal paper has a coating that turns black when heat is applied (the printer in a cash register applies heat to the paper, allowing it to print numbers and letters). It also contains BPA, and research shows that handling this type of paper is enough to increase your bodily levels. Holding the paper for just five seconds was enough to transfer BPA onto a person’s skin, and the amount of BPA transferred increased by about 10 times if the fingers were wet or greasy (such as if you’ve just applied lotion or eaten greasy food).
So, try to limit or avoid carrying receipts in your wallet or purse, as it appears the chemical is transferring onto other surfaces it touches. Wash your hands after handling receipts and currency, and avoid handling them particularly if you’ve just put on lotion or have any other greasy substance on your hands. If you’re a cashier or bank teller who handles such papers often, you may want to wear gloves, especially if you’re pregnant or of child-bearing age.