In Part 1 of this Endocrine System series, I outlined the basics of what the endocrine system is, the organs and glands involved and their functions.
The take-away message from Part 1: The endocrine system is the communication system of the body that determines hormonal production and regulation. These hormones include cortisol (stress), melatonin (sleep), estrogen (reproduction), progesterone, testosterone, serotonin (precursor to melatonin/rest-digest), thyroxin (thyroid), epinephrine (fight-flight response), norepinephrine (stress response), dopamine (pleasure/reward), antimullerian (fertility), adiponectin (regulates glucose), adrenocorticotropic hormone (regulates cortisol), angiotensinogen (blood pressure), cholecystokinin (digestion of fats/proteins) , erythropoietin (red blood cell production), growth hormone, leptin (appetite/weight), oxytocin (social bonding/love) , histamine (immune response), endothelian (blood pressure) – just to name a few.
The release and regulation of all these hormones happen through an intricate communication system known as the endocrine system. And just like any communication system, if you have mixed messages or even a “bad actor” sending incorrect messages, your entire system becomes vulnerable.
Why is this important to know? Because we are, in the year 2019, exposed to massive amounts of chemicals and substances known as ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS. These chemicals and substances literally disrupt the intricate and necessary communication of the endocrine system and DISRUPT the outcome – ie, your health and life expression. A disrupted process over a period of time leads to disease and chronic illness. And because the endocrine system has a hand in every system and process in the body, it’s imperative to know how to protect your health and the health of your family.
Before I dive into what these toxic substances are and where you find them in your everyday life, let’s review just a short list of conditions that are known to result from endocrine disrupting substances.
Adrenal Insufficiency (Addison’s)
The endocrine system is either involved primarily or secondarily in literally everything happening in your body!!!!! The road to better health is built with the endocrine system. There is no end to the tricks that endocrine disruptors can play on our bodies: increasing production of certain hormones; decreasing production of others; imitating hormones; turning one hormone into another; interfering with hormone signaling; telling cells to die prematurely; competing with essential nutrients; binding to essential hormones; accumulating in organs that produce hormones.
So, what are these bad actors called endocrine disruptors?
BPA – BPA has been linked to everything from breast and other cancers to reproductive problems, obesity, early puberty and heart disease, and according to government tests, 93 percent of Americans have BPA in their bodies! It is a chemical used in plastics imitating the sex hormone estrogen. It’s found in: lined food cans, receipt paper, food containers, electronic equipment, baby bottles and sippy cups.
Dioxin – Dioxins can disrupt the delicate ways that both male and female sex hormone signaling occurs in the body. Recent research has shown that exposure to low levels of dioxin in the womb and early in life can both permanently affect sperm quality and lower the sperm count in men during their prime reproductive years. Dioxins are very long-lived, build up both in the body and in the food chain, are powerful carcinogens and can also affect the immune and reproductive systems. Dioxin is ubiquitous in our environment, unfortunately. It’s found in our water, our food system (especially animal proteins) and soil.
Atrazine – a herbicide used widely on a variety of crops. Atrazine is widely used on the majority of corn crops in the United States, and consequently, it’s a pervasive drinking water contaminant. Atrazine has been linked to breast tumors, delayed puberty and prostate inflammation in animals, and some research has linked it to prostate cancer in people.
Phthalates – studies have shown that chemicals called phthalates can trigger what’s known as “death-inducing signaling” in testicular cells, making them die earlier than they should. Studies have linked phthalates to hormone changes, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes and thyroid irregularities. Phthalates are a family of man-made chemical compounds developed in the last century to be used in the manufacture of plastics, solvents, and personal care products. So, basically everything that has undergone any sort of production.
Parabens – preservatives used in a wide range of cosmetic products, including products for children, and some are permitted in foods. Parabens are preservatives used to prevent the growth of microbes in packaged products. These endocrine-disrupting chemicals can be absorbed through skin, blood and the digestive system. Parabens are found in shampoos, conditioners, lotions, facial and shower cleansers, and scrubs. In cell studies, parabens have been found to weakly bind to estrogen receptors. So if you have a paraben binding to an estrogen receptor, you have “real estrogen” getting down-regulated because the system thinks that there’s already enough estrogen circulating in the body. OR, it could be producing too much estrogen in response.
Perchlorate – perchlorate, a component in rocket fuel, contaminates much of our produce and milk, according to EWG and government test data. When perchlorate gets into your body it competes with the nutrient iodine, which the thyroid gland needs to make thyroid hormones. Basically, this means that if you ingest too much of it you can end up altering your thyroid hormone balance. This is important because it’s these hormones that regulate metabolism in adults and are critical for proper brain and organ development in infants and young children. Other Halides such as Bromine and Chlorine also compete with Iodine.
Fire Retardants – These incredibly persistent chemicals, known as polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDEs, have since been found to contaminate the bodies of people and wildlife around the globe – even polar bears. These chemicals can imitate thyroid hormones in our bodies and disrupt their activity. That can lead to lower IQ, among other significant health effects. While several kinds of PBDEs have now been phased out, this doesn’t mean that toxic fire retardants have gone away. PBDEs are incredibly persistent, so they’re going to be contaminating people and wildlife for decades to come. PBDEs are found in furniture, mattresses, carpets, electronics, children’s pajamas, car interiors to just name a few.
Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) – used to make non-stick cookware and can actually stick to you. Perfluorochemicals are so widespread and extraordinarily persistent that 99 percent of Americans have these chemicals in their bodies. One particularly notorious compound called PFOA has been shown to be “completely resistant to biodegradation.” In other words, PFOA doesn’t break down in the environment – ever. That means that even though the chemical was banned after decades of use, it will be showing up in people’s bodies for countless generations to come. This is worrisome since PFOA exposure has been linked to decreased sperm quality, low birth weight, kidney disease, thyroid disease, and high cholesterol, among other health issues. Scientists are still figuring out how PFOA affects the human body, but animal studies have found that it can affect thyroid and sex hormone levels.
Organophosphate pesticides – Neurotoxic organophosphate compounds that the Nazis produced in huge quantities for chemical warfare during World War II were luckily never used. After the war ended, American scientists used the same chemistry to develop a long line of pesticides that target the nervous systems of insects. Despite many studies linking organophosphate exposure to effects on brain development, behavior and fertility, they are still among the more common pesticides in use today. A few of the many ways that organophosphates can affect the human body include interfering with the way testosterone communicates with cells, lowering testosterone and altering thyroid hormone levels. Glyphosate and RoundUp are probably the most well-known organophosphate pesticide.
Glycol Ethers – Shrunken testicles is one thing that can happen to rats exposed to chemicals called glycol ethers, which are common solvents in paints, cleaning products, brake fluid, and cosmetics. Worried? You should be. The European Union says that some of these chemicals “may damage fertility or the unborn child.” Studies of painters have linked exposure to certain glycol ethers to blood abnormalities and lower sperm counts. And children who were exposed to glycol ethers from paint in their bedrooms had substantially more asthma and allergies.
Heavy Metals (Lead/Arsenic/Mercury) – Research has shown that lead can disrupt the hormone signaling that regulates the body’s major stress system (called the HPA axis). You probably have more stress in your life than you want, so the last thing you need is something making it harder for your body to deal with it – especially when this stress system is implicated in high blood pressure, diabetes, anxiety, and depression. Arsenic can interfere with normal hormone functioning in the glucocorticoid system that regulates how our bodies process sugars and carbohydrates. Disrupting the glucocorticoid system has been linked to weight gain/loss, protein wasting, immunosuppression, insulin resistance (which can lead to diabetes), osteoporosis, growth retardation, and high blood pressure. Mercury is known to bind directly to one particular hormone that regulates women’s menstrual cycle and ovulation, interfering with normal signaling pathways. In other words, hormones don’t work so well when they’ve got mercury stuck to them! The metal may also play a role in diabetes since mercury has been shown to damage cells in the pancreas that produce insulin, which is critical for the body’s ability to metabolize sugar.
Looking at these top endocrine disruptors as a whole, you can see how you are inundated with exposure every moment of your life – literally 24/7. Your furniture, your car, your personal care products (lotion, hair products, makeup, menstrual products), food containers, food, water, air pollution, and the list goes on.
Below is an environmental toxin report for my son when he was 5. Talk about shocking and scary and defeating as a mother. To learn that my son was absorbing such a chemical load just crushed me. And those high values? They were so high they went beyond what they could chart on these results. But it also motivated me to make major changes in our life and our house. It probably seems overwhelming and “why bother” if these chemicals are such a part of life in 2019 but trust me – ANY REDUCTION IN EXPOSURE HELPS THE BODY and you have to start somewhere.
In Part 3, I’ll outline room by room some top ‘interventions’ and replacements you can implement for yourself. And always, my suggestions are REAL LIFE BASED meaning they will be as easy as possible, and as inexpensive as possible because our lives are already super complicated and you don’t need more of that in your life!