Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
There has been a great deal of speculation as to the true effect that chronic exposure to common toxins might have on our health. Acupuncturists have traditionally attempted to bring attention to these issues, but their opinion has consistently fallen outside of the mainstream. As more scientific evidence comes to light, there now appears to be a strong link between exposure to Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals or EDC’s (which are an extremely common class of toxin) and an increase in the prevalence of both infertility and obesity. As these are two of most common conditions we treat, we thought that a description of what EDC’s are, and more importantly, what to do about them, would be of great interest to our patient base.
What are Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals? As their name implies they are chemicals which disrupt the function of the Endocrine Glands. The Endocrine Glands are responsible for hormonal functions in the body. The major endocrine glands include the Pituitary, Pineal, Thyroid, Adrenals, Pancreas and reproductive glands, the testes and ovaries. This is no small issue we are talking about. EDC’s can impact every area of our health.
EDC’s are officially defined as: “a compound, natural or synthetic, which through environmental or inappropriate developmental exposures alters the hormonal and homeostatic systems that enable the organism to communicate with and respond to the environment”1
In short, EDC’s are chemicals that, when we are exposed to them, can alter the function of our hormonal environment, leading to detrimental health outcomes.
Some of the more common forms of EDC’s include: PCB, Bisphenol-A (BPA), phthalates, dioxins, heavy metals, parabens, xenoestrogens and organ chlorines to name just a few. They are found in most common household and personal care products. Take a look:
BPA: plastic bottles, food/soda cans
Paraben: lotions, shampoos, cosmetics, soaps
Organ Chlorines: pesticides, plastic manufacturing, dry cleaning
Others: nail polish and removers, laundry detergents
Phthalates: baby lotion and powder, perfumes, deodorizers, air fresheners2
This is just a partial listing, but as you can see these chemicals are pervasive. In a small study of nine patients conducted by Mt. Sinai school of medicine, 91 industrial compounds, irritants and pollutants were detected in the blood. None of the nine patients worked in a factory or in a career that relies on exposure to these chemicals. In all 167 different chemicals were identified. The major ones identified include PCB’s, dioxins, heavy metals, phthalates3.
There is some debate about the effect of EDC’s at low levels of exposure. What is becoming clear however is the dose-response relationship. The more you are exposed, the higher your risk. If all of these common household items contain small amounts that may not be harmful in isolation, we should still be concerned about the total impact of using all of these products in our day to day lives.
We’ll talk more at the end about how you can protect yourself but I want to examine the role of these chemicals in Fertility and Obesity.
Let’s start with this direct quote from the Endocrine Society’s Scientific Statement:
“The evidence for adverse reproductive outcomes from exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals is strong and there is mounting evidence for effects on other endocrine systems, including thyroid, neuroendocrine, obesity and metabolism and insulin and glucagon homeostasis”4
When we meet with fertility patients, we discuss the potential role of EDC’s in fertility and advise them to avoid exposure as much as possible. Of particular concern is the role of xenoestrogens (xeno= foreign), a subcategory of EDC. Xenoestrogens mimic the effects of estrogen in the body. In essence, they bind to estrogen receptors and cause the signaling system to go haywire, leading to a cascade of potential health issues.
Many women have been exposed to xenoestrogen early on through the use of the birth control pill. Wildlife studies and lab studies in rodents have shown that EDC’s play a role in the development of reproductive disorders including polycystic ovarian syndrome, primary ovarian failure, fibroids, endometriosis and ectopic pregnancies5.
On the male side, studies are now showing that exposure to Bisphenol-A is damaging to male reproductive function. The Journal of Fertility and Sterility is about to publish the results of a study conducted by Kaiser Permanente. The study followed 514 factory workers in China for five years. The study showed a direct link between BPA exposure and poor semen quality. Markers indicated reductions in sperm count, motility, vitality and concentration6. BPA has also been linked to higher incidences of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and abnormal liver enzymes7.
Fertility involves a complex interaction of multiple body processes and hormonal communication that may be disrupted by exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals. While avoiding many of the products that contain endocrine disrupting chemicals will not guarantee you improved fertility, eliminating them will not hurt. You will improve your overall health, improve your hormonal functions and provide a more hospitable environment for your future baby to grow in.
It’s no secret that obesity and diabetes are at epidemic levels today. There has been much blame passed around yet the epidemic keeps growing. In the past few years there has been an increased awareness into the role hormones play in weight loss (insulin, leptin, grehlin etc). In our research into obesity and working with weight loss patients over the past few years, we have seen first hand the role hormones play in weight loss. There is more to obesity and weight loss than just calories and exercise.
As they relate to obesity, endocrine disrupting chemicals are commonly referred to as obesogens. Obesogens contribute to obesity through multiple pathways. They can influence fat storage, fat burning, insulin and leptin signaling. Recent research is showing that exposure to chemicals plays a role in obesity by damaging mitochondrial DNA and inducing insulin resistance8.
Another theory holds that EDC’s affect fat cell precursors and adipocytes via their estrogen receptors. Recent studies in mice show that the mother’s exposure to xenoestrogens during pregnancy can cause adult obesity in the offspring and in a separate study, mice who have estrogen receptor alpha removed will gain significant amounts of weight9,10. In rats, administering estrogen depleted triglyceride stores11.
The National Health And Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999-2002 showed a link between the presence of persistent organic pollutants in the blood and diabetes. The researches concluded that the dose-response relationship was ‘strongly positively associated’.12
Now that we’ve seen how these chemicals can interfere with fertility and weight management, what can we do about it? Despite the pervasiveness of these chemicals, there are ways you can protect yourself.
1. Diet: Eat a diet focusing on nutrient density (low calorie/high nutrient value), high anti-oxidant foods like fruits and vegetables. Be sure to wash them and buy organic if you can. Increase fiber in your diet to aid elimination and consider taking an Omega-3 supplement if you don’t eat fish. Omega 3’s are valued for their anti-inflammatory properties.
If you eat meat, purchase meat that is hormone and anti-biotic free and is grass fed (side bar: don’t rely on an organic label- an animal fed organic grain will be labeled organic even though it’s much healthier to eat grass fed animals. End of soapbox).
Avoid processed foods, foods high in sugar and unhealthy sources of fat.
2. Store food in glass or ceramic containers. Don’t heat plastic ever-it causes the chemicals to leach out into the food. Bad idea.
3. Clinical detox: to help support and cleanse your liver will help rid your body of toxic buildup and improve your ability to absorb nutrients from your diet. A detox at the change of seasons is a good way to ensure you ‘clean out’ during the year. Infrared saunas also help to detoxify the body.
4. Water. Water is key to flush toxins out of the body.
5. Check labels of the products you buy. Look for personal care and household cleaning products that are free of chemicals. These products are more prevalent now and easier to find.
6. Exercise: exercise boosts the immune system, improves cardiovascular health, improves muscle mass, prevents bone loss13
1. Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals. An Endocrine society scientific statement. Evanthia Diamanti-Kandarakis, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, Linda C. Guidice, Russ Hauser, Gail S. Prins, Ana M Soto, R. Thomas Zoeller, Andrea C. Gore
2. List of Xenoestrogens – Chemical EstrogensHow to Avoid Xenoestrogens Feb 26, 2010 Linda Beadle. List of Xenoestrogens – Chemical Estrogens: How to Avoid Xenoestrogens
3. Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals. An Endocrine society scientific statement. Evanthia Diamanti-Kandarakis, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, Linda C. Guidice, Russ Hauser, Gail S. Prins, Ana M Soto, R. Thomas Zoeller, Andrea C. Gore
4. Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals. An Endocrine society scientific statement. Evanthia Diamanti-Kandarakis, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, Linda C. Guidice, Russ Hauser, Gail S. Prins, Ana M Soto, R. Thomas Zoeller, Andrea C. Gore
5. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/206102.php Article soon to be published in Fertility and Sterility.
6. Association of Urinary Bisphenol A Concentration with Medical Disorders and Laboratory Abnormalities in Adults. JAMA. 2008;300(11):1303-1310. Published online September 16, 2008 (doi:10.1001/jama.300.11.1303). Iain A. Lang, PhD; Tamara S. Galloway, PhD; Alan Scarlett, PhD; William E. Henley, PhD; Michael Depledge, PhD, DSc; Robert B. Wallace, MD; David Melzer, MB, PhD
7. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2010 Jul;1201:166-76.Persistent organic pollutants, mitochondrial dysfunction, and metabolic syndrome.Lim S, Cho YM, Park KS, Lee HK.Department of Internal Medicine, Seoul National University College of Medicine, Seoul, Korea
8. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2007 Jul;51(7):912-7.Perinatal exposure to environmental estrogens and the development of obesity. Newbold RR, Padilla-Banks E, Snyder RJ, Jefferson WN
9. Naaz, A., Yellayi, S., Zakroxzymski, M. A., Bunick, D., Doerge, D. R., Bubahn, D. B., Helferich, W. G., and Cooke, P. S. (2003). The soy isoflavone genistein decreases adipose deposition in mice. Endocrinology 144, 3315–3320.
10. Masumo H., Kidani, T., Sekiya K., Sakayama, K., Shiosaka, T., Yamamoto, H., and Honda K. (2002). Bisphenol A in combination with insulin can accelerate the conversion of 3T3L1 fibroblasts to adipocytes. J. Lipid Res. 43, 676–684.
11. Diabetes Care. 2006 Jul;29(7):1638-44. A strong dose-response relation between serum concentrations of persistent organic pollutants and diabetes: results from the National Health and Examination Survey 1999-2002.Lee DH, Lee IK, Song K, Steffes M, Toscano W, Baker BA, Jacobs DR Jr. Department of Preventive Medicine, School of Medicine, Kyungpook University, 101 Dongin-dong, Jung-gu, Daegu, Korea 700-422. firstname.lastname@example.org
12. List of Xenoestrogens – Chemical EstrogensHow to Avoid Xenoestrogens Feb 26, 2010 Linda Beadle. List of Xenoestrogens – Chemical Estrogens: How to Avoid Xenoestrogens