Mother Nature has a way of suppressing or even eliminating species that overextend their natural domain: Including the human species.
If you have no knowledge of chemicals classified as endocrine disruptors, you should. You’re likely to be consuming them all the time. The problem with these chemicals is that they can mimic and affect your hormones. And they do so at extremely low dosage levels, which means normal toxicology testing won’t protect you.
Here’s an explanation from The Endocrine Disruption Exchange.
“The endocrine system is the exquisitely balanced system of glands and hormones that regulates such vital functions as body growth, response to stress, sexual development and behavior, production and utilization of insulin, rate of metabolism, intelligence and behavior, and the ability to reproduce. Hormones are chemicals such as insulin, thyroxin, estrogen, and testosterone that interact with specific target cells. The interactions occur through a number of mechanisms, the easiest of which to conceptualize is the lock and key. For example, target cells such as those in the uterus contain receptors (locks) into which specific estrogenic hormones (keys) can attach and thereby cause specific biological actions, such as regulating ovulation or terminating pregnancy. Other endocrine disrupting mechanisms include binding hormone transport proteins or other proteins involved in signaling pathways, inhibiting or inducing enzymes, interfering with uptake and export from cells, and modifying gene expression.
Over the past 60 years, through technological advances a growing number of synthetic chemicals have been used in the production of almost everything we purchase. They have become a part of our indoor environment, found in cosmetics, cleaning compounds, baby and children’s toys, food storage containers, furniture and carpets, computers, phones, and appliances.
We encounter them as plastics and resins every day in our cars, trucks, planes, trains, sporting goods, outdoor equipment, medical equipment, dental sealants, and pharmaceuticals. Without fire retardants we would not be using our computers or lighting our homes. Instead of steel and wood, plastics and resins are now being used to build homes and offices, schools, etc. A large portion of pesticides are endocrine disruptors. What this constant everyday low-dose exposure means in terms of public health is just beginning to be explored by the academic community.”
What kind of effects might these chemicals develop in our bodies? From a Scientific American article here.
“For example, bisphenol A (BPA), a primary component of some plastics, reacts with cells in the same way as the female hormone estrogen and could be acting synergistically with other pseudoestrogens in the bloodstream to produce heart disease, diabetes or liver failure. Such effects have been observed in animal studies in the lab as well as in frogs in the field for chemicals ranging from the phthalates (used to help perfumes scent linger and make plastics soft) to ubiquitous herbicides like atrazine, linked to malformation in frogs……
Among health issues that some advocates have linked to chemical exposures: early pubescence in girls (BPA hastens the onset of pubescence in juvenile rats); asthma (car and truck exhaust can induce or worsen lung inflammation), and genital malformation (phthalates have been linked to lower sperm count and deformed penises in rats). The rise in autism is also believed by some to be at least partially linked to an environmental cause; NIEHS began in 2006 a study of mothers of autistic children who are pregnant again to see if there is any association with particular environmental exposures.”
The issue is finally broken into the major media. Here’s an article in the NYT by Nicholas Kristof entitled “It’s Time to Learn From Frogs.”
Kristof writes in his article “Now scientists are connecting the dots with evidence of increasing abnormalities among humans, particularly large increases in numbers of genital deformities among newborn boys. For example, up to 7 percent of boys are now born with undescended testicles, although this often self-corrects over time. And up to 1 percent of boys in the United States are now born with hypospadias, in which the urethra exits the penis improperly, such as at the base rather than the tip.”
And further on in the article Kristof reports:
“A lot of these compounds act as weak estrogen, so that’s why developing males — whether smallmouth bass or humans — tend to be more sensitive,” said Robert Lawrence, a professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It’s scary, very scary.”
The scientific case is still far from proven, as chemical companies emphasize, and the uncertainties for humans are vast. But there is accumulating evidence that male sperm count is dropping and that genital abnormalities in newborn boys are increasing. Some studies show correlations between these abnormalities and mothers who have greater exposure to these chemicals during pregnancy, through everything from hair spray to the water they drink.
Endocrine disruptors also affect females. It is now well established that DES, a synthetic estrogen given to many pregnant women from the 1930s to the 1970s to prevent miscarriages, caused abnormalities in the children. They seemed fine at birth, but girls born to those women have been more likely to develop misshaped sexual organs and cancer.”
None other than the prestigious Endocrine Society is sounding a strong warning.
“There is growing interest in the possible health threat posed by endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), which are substances in our environment, food, and consumer products that interfere with hormone biosynthesis, metabolism, or action resulting in a deviation from normal homeostatic control or reproduction. In this first Scientific Statement of The Endocrine Society, we present the evidence that endocrine disruptors have effects on male and female reproduction, breast development and cancer, prostate cancer, neuroendocrinology, thyroid, metabolism and obesity, and cardiovascular endocrinology. Results from animal models, human clinical observations, and epidemiological studies converge to implicate EDCs as a significant concern to public health. The mechanisms of EDCs involve divergent pathways including (but not limited to) estrogenic, antiandrogenic, thyroid, peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor , retinoid, and actions through other nuclear receptors; steroidogenic enzymes; neurotransmitter receptors and systems; and many other pathways that are highly conserved in wildlife and humans, and which can be modeled in laboratory in vitro and in vivo models. Furthermore, EDCs represent a broad class of molecules such as organochlorinated pesticides and industrial chemicals, plastics and plasticizers, fuels, and many other chemicals that are present in the environment or are in widespread use. We make a number of recommendations to increase understanding of effects of EDCs, including enhancing increased basic and clinical research, invoking the precautionary principle, and advocating involvement of individual and scientific society stakeholders in communicating and implementing changes in public policy and awareness….”
So it’s time to become more aware. The EPA is beginning to test these chemicals, but they are going to use outdated technologies that won’t flag low dose dangers. Again from the Scientific American here.
“Each test and assay was designed under the surveillance of corporate lawyers who had bottom lines to protect and assorted toxicologists who were not trained in endocrinology and developmental biology. For over a decade, EPA has ignored the vast wealth of information on endocrine disruption from independent academic researchers funded by the United States and other governments in Europe and Asia. This 21st century research is based on different assumptions than the toxicological assumptions that drove the EPA test designs. And most important, because of the limited scope of its test battery, EPA is not in a position to address the pandemics of endocrine-related disorders that pose a threat to every child born today.”
Sound familiar in our political landscape? Corporate interests interfere with the public’s safety, whether their physical safety such as that endangered by endocrine disruptors, or their financial safety which was recently severely damaged by a Wall Street protected by Washington.
President Obama promised us change. I wonder if even he underestimated the amount of change that’s so desperately needed.