8 Tips to Reduce Your Exposure to Harmful Environmental Chemicals

EDCs linked to thyroid cancer, diabetes, infertility, and more

Endocrine disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, are chemicals that act the same as, block, or change the way that natural hormones act in the body. Many researchers believe that the growing use of EDCs over the past 20 years has contributed to the rising number of people with diseases such as diabetes, infertility, cancer, among other conditions.

These chemicals may be found in the air, water, and soil around the world as well as things used in everyday life day, including children’s toys, cleaning products, lotions, shampoos, and cosmetics.

While it is not clear how many EDCs there are, the most common environmental substances are:

  • Pesticides (ie DDT, which stands for dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane)
  • BPA (Bisphenol A) used in certain children’s toys, plastic bottles, and food containers, food can linings, and cash register receipts
  • Phthalates found in beauty products and plastics
  • Flame retardants used in certain furniture and floor coverings
  • Triclosan used in antibacterial products

While some EDCs, like DDT and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyl), are no longer used, these chemicals are known to stay in the water and ground for decades. Some EDCs are stored in the body's fat cells for years and may be passed on to children during pregnancy. Other EDCs like BPA do not build-up in the body, so you can reduce your exposure by avoiding products containing BPA. Unfortunately, BPA is used in so many products that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have estimated that more than 96% of Americans have this chemical in their bodies.

Why Should You Be Concerned about Your Exposure to EDCs?

Endocrine disrupting chemicals change the way hormones in the body are supposed to work. Like natural hormones, even small levels of EDCs can affect body functions.

Hormones are made by endocrine glands such as the ovaries, thyroid gland, pituitary gland, testes, pancreas, hypothalamus, and adrenal gland. Hormones are messengers in the body that trigger responses to help control a variety of functions, including how your body uses food (metabolism), growth, reproductive system, healing, blood sugar levels, mood, body temperature, and blood pressure. When hormones don’t act as they should, many normal body functions are changed, which can lead to diseases over time.

Endocrine disrupting hormones have been linked to the following conditions:

  • Diabetes
  • Early start of puberty in girls
  • Early menopause in women
  • Heart disease
  • Higher risk for diabetes and heart disease in children born to women exposed to ECDs during pregnancy
  • Infertility (problems getting pregnant)
  • Low testosterone levels (which plays a role in growth, muscle strength, brain function, bone density, and heart health)
  • Thyroid Cancer

Two Endocrine Distruptors Linked to Thyroid Cancer

Researchers have found cause for concern about the potential for harm from two common pollutants: bisphenol AF (BPA) and phytates (diethylhexylphthalate). In a study published in Chemosphere, the authors evaluated the blood levels of more than 14 EDCs and found a significant link between these two endocrine disrupters and thyroid cancer.

The researchers identified 55 patients from five different medical sites across Italy who were seeking treatment for thyroid nodules; their blood was evaluated for levels of these EDCs. They found that in patients who had both BPA and phthalates in their blood, there was a dose-response effect regarding the development differentiated thyroid cancer.  No effect was found with the patient's level of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).

In fact, the risk of developing thyroid cancer appears 14-times greater in the individuals who have been exposed to low doses of these environmental toxins, according to Dr. Vincenzo Marotta, the lead study author, who is an oncologist from  IRCCS National Cancer Institute in Naples, Italy.

The sooner you reduce your contact with these environmental endocrine disruptors the better, says Dr. Marotta. You don't need to consume these toxic substances as they can be absorbed through the skin so just handling products containing these substances may increase your health risk.

To lessen your exposure to BPA, for example, if you haven't already purchased a BPA-free, reusable water bottle, do so, and keep it with you whenever you leave your home so you are not faced with having to buy a plastic bottle of water while out.  

8 Tips to help you Avoid Your Exposure to Endocrine Distrupers 

  • Avoid using anything made of plastic, including plastic shopping bags, and takeout food containers. Instead use glass food storage containers, and choose bottles and sippy/snack cups made of stainless steel, silicone, or glass, especially when microwaving food.
  • To avoid pesticides and fertilizers, buy organic foods selectively and as your budget permits. Use the EWG guide to help you create a priority list of the fruits, vegetables, and other food products that you typically eat and which contain the highest content of chemical toxins.
  • Do not take cash register receipts, which contain  phthalates;  instead, they can be emailed, or patients can pay by credit card to have proof of the purchase.  Whole Foods have banned register tape made with BPA
  • Look for phthalate-free beauty products and avoid plastic children’s toys
  • Use cast iron or stainless steel pots and pans; skip the nonstick pans.
  • Purchase clothing, carpets, and outdoor furniture (cushions) without a stain- or water-resistant coating and choose products made without flame retardants
  • Buy PVC-free (non-plastic) shower curtains, flooring, raincoats and rainboots, and outdoor furniture
  • Check the label of canned foods to look for those with BPA-free liners. Choose canned products that announce they have BPA-free liners. This list changes often so keep checking as you shop. Companies that make BPA-free canned foods include Amy’s, Eden Foods, Bionaturae canned tomatoes, Bumble Bee tuna, Earth’s Best, Farmer’s Market, Health Valley, Hain Pure Foods, Westbrae Natural, and many others. Some companies like Trader Joe’s list what foods are in BPA-free packages


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