Are Hormone Disrupting Chemicals Making You Sick?

The endocrine system consists of glands located throughout the body whose job is to manufacture hormones. Different organs contain receptors that recognize and respond to the hormones. (Think of a lock and key. Hormones are the key and the receptor site is the lock.) Chemicals that interfere with this delicate system cause all sorts of chaos within our bodily systems, kind of like trying to open a lock with the wrong key that gets jammed and you can't pull it out. Chemicals commonly found in everyday products are throwing off the endocrine system, causing temporary, and in some cases, possibly permanent, damage. For instance, some chemicals mimic a natural hormone, causing the body to over-respond. Sometimes, the effect is hormones aren't released when they're needed, as in abnormal insulin production. And some hormone-disrupting chemicals block organ receptors that make the endocrine system work properly.

How do hormone-disrupting chemicals affect our health?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calculates that currently, more than 2 million American women are infertile, with more than 7 million women using infertility services. About 16 million Americans are believed to have diabetes, and more than 20 million are dealing with thyroid disease. All of these ailments have links to hormone disruption. The chemicals in our everyday environment can influence fertility, metabolic syndrome, and thyroid health. These aren't chemicals being studied just for the sake of science—they are being studied because they can have a serious impact on human health. Research on hormone-disrupting chemicals has increased exponentially over the last decade. Scientists have developed better tools to determine what effects these chemicals might be having on people who are exposed to very low levels in their everyday lives. This wealth of knowledge is incredibly exciting to scientists but can be overwhelming to the general public.

Could small dose exposure be more harmful than large dose exposure?

For several years, scientists studying hormone-disrupting chemicals have known that some of these chemicals can have effects at low doses that cannot be predicted based on the effects of high doses. This is because high doses of these chemicals are toxic—they kill animals, or cause serious birth defects. Low doses do not generally kill or disfigure animals, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are safe. Rather than an immediately obvious effect like death, animals exposed to low doses can experience changes that are harder to detect, such as permanent changes in the development of their organs. For example, an exposed animal may metabolize food differently, so even though it consumes the same number of calories as an unexposed animal, it will become obese later in life. Or, an exposed adult female can lose the ability to get pregnant. Most studies have focused on single chemicals, such as BPA or phthalates. Scientists have known for years that low doses of these chemicals can have serious and permanent effects. New research suggests that ALL hormone-disrupting chemicals have effects at low doses. The analysis of more than 800 peer-reviewed studies suggests that chemicals that mimic or block the actions of hormones have negative impact at low doses—which are currently in the range thought to be "safe".

It's on the store shelf, so it must be safe, right?
The kind of toxicology tests that are done for chemical safety involve giving animals large doses and evaluating whether they die or develop obvious problems like birth defects. Safety testers then use the results of those high-dose tests, plus some mathematical calculations, to predict a safe dose. But the low dose that is thought to be safe for humans is usually not tested. And if it is tested, regulators look to see if animals die or have obvious problems. They don't look at the other important endpoints like thyroid health, brain development, fertility, and other health conditions.

Where do these chemicals come from?
There are currently about 900 identified hormone-disrupting chemicals on the market, and they are commonly found in food packaging, plastics, pesticides, cosmetics, detergents, household cleaners, lawn care products, industrial pollutants, and other sources. Studies in the U.S. have found more than 100 hormone disrupting chemicals in umbilical cord blood samples, indicating that fetuses are exposed in the womb.

What power does the average consumer have in solving this problem?
It's easy to say, 'This problem is so big, I can't possibly make a difference' and give up. But that simply isn't true. There are small and simple changes that consumers can make to lower exposures to these types of chemicals:
1. Use greener cleaning products - Dr. Bronner’s, Seventh Generation, and Earth Friendly Products work great and are non-toxic.
2. Avoiding plastics whenever possible – Use glass and NEVER microwave anything in plastic.
3. Reduce the use of pesticides in homes and yards – Diatomaceous Earth, peppermint oil, citrus oils, & soap solutions are a good alternative.
4. Eat organic or try growing your own food this summer
5. Use natural cosmetics – Spry toothpaste, Dr. Bronners soaps, Mineral crystal deodorants, Desert Essence shampoo and conditioner, Derma E moisturizers, and more! Baums carries some wonderful, all-natural alternatives to what you’re used to using. Come browse our great selection. Ask us about them! We use them too.

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