7 Endocrine Disruptors You Need to Know About

In the quest to lead a healthier lifestyle, there are any number of things we can add into and eliminate from our routines. For the former, think lots of colorful fruits and veggies, regular exercise, and calming activities like meditation and journaling. In terms of the latter, we should limit the likes of ultra-processed foods, unproductive outlets for stress management, and exposure to chemicals and products that can derail our health and well-being. On this last point, endocrine disruptors are one such culprit that we should take care to avoid… especially given their potential health risks and how prevalent these chemicals are.

Ahead, discover the ins and outs of endocrine disruptors—including what they are exactly, how they can impact your health for the worse, and where to spot them. Plus: how to reduce your exposure from this day forward.

What Are Endocrine Disruptors?

As its name would suggest, endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with your endocrine system. As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explains, this all-important system is comprised of the body’s hormones and is tasked with regulating biological processes such as:

  • Brain and nervous system development
  • Reproductive function
  • Metabolism and blood sugar regulation

When endocrine disruptors, aka endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs), interact with the endocrine system, a variety of health problems can ensue. “These chemicals can mimic hormones as they enter our bodies and interfere with the [normal] production and regulation of hormones,” says board-certified family medicine physician Laura Purdy, MD. As she continues, this can result in developmental difficulties, problems with reproduction, and a range of other health issues.

Endocrine Disruptors

7 Endocrine Disruptors to Avoid

Unfortunately, endocrine disruptors exist at what seems like almost every turn… including in some surprising places. “They are found in products we use every day, including our food, what our food is stored in, products around the home, plastics, skincare, cosmetics, detergents, and toys,” Dr. Purdy shares.

In other words, you can be exposed to them depending on what you touch, taste, and inhale—and sometimes, this exposure is beyond your control.

Here are some of the most ubiquitous endocrine disruptors, with tips to avoid or minimize your exposure:

1. Bisphenol A (BPA)

You might have seen certain products labeled as BPA-free, perhaps not fully knowing what that means but having a vague sense that it’s less harmful for you. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a harmful chemical used in plastic, which Dr. Purdy says you’ll find in everything from plastic serving ware to plastic toys. It also exists in some canned foods and drinks, jar lids, and bottle caps. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), BPA has the potential to cause or contribute to the risk of:

  • Learning and behavioral issues
  • Fertility issues
  • Abnormalities of the brain, heart, and nervous system
  • Diabetes

Tip: Invest in BPA-free containers, and look for this callout on other plastic products. “Switching to glass over plastic when possible is a quick fix,” Dr. Purdy adds.

2. Phthalates

Phthalates are another endocrine disruptor you’ve likely heard of. “Phthalates are also found in plastics, and even cosmetic products like nail polish and hairspray,” says Dr. Purdy. Per a 2021 review in the journal Healthcare, chronic exposure to phthalates is associated with adverse effects related to:

  • Pregnancy success
  • Child growth and development
  • Reproductive function and health

Tip: When shopping for cosmetics and personal care products, prioritize phthalate-free options.

3. Dioxins

According to the EPA, dioxins are resistant to breaking down and thus accumulate in the environment and in our food chains. These highly toxic EDCs heighten the risk of:

  • Reproductive and developmental issues
  • Immune system damage
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Cancer

“Dioxins can be found in animal products we consume such as eggs, meat, milk, and butter,” Dr. Purdy adds.

Tip: The EPA notes that over 90 percent of dioxin exposure is via intake of animal fats. To minimize your risk, Dr. Purdy advises eating lean meat and/or trimming the fat of animal protein whenever possible, on top of adhering to a healthy, varied diet.

4. Pesticides

Pesticides are another family of endocrine disruptors that are likely to make it onto your plate. While pesticides (such as atrazine) discourage pests and fungi from growing on crops, they pose their own risks. Depending on the level of exposure and toxicity of a given pesticide, potential health problems include but aren’t limited to:

  • Headache
  • Skin and eye irritation
  • Nausea
  • Neurological problems
  • Thyroid conditions
  • Allergic reactions
  • Dysfunction in the reproductive organs (such as ovarian cysts and fertility issues)

Tip: To minimize exposure to pesticides, Dr. Purdy advises washing your produce thoroughly, as well as buying organic fruits and veggies whenever possible.

5. Heavy metals

While you might enjoy heavy metal as a music genre, you’ll definitely want to mute it on the endocrine-disrupting front. “Lead and mercury can be found in our everyday environments such as in soil,” and thus our food and water, says Dr. Purdy… but that’s not all. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, heavy metals including lead, mercury, iron, nickel, chromium, zinc, and cadmium are found in countless personal care products such as:

  • Moisturizers
  • Sunscreen
  • Nail polish
  • Lipstick
  • Foundation and concealer
  • Blush
  • Whitening toothpastes
Endocrine Disruptors

Some metals, like iron and zinc, hold important functions in the body. Others, like lead and mercury, are non-essential and potentially toxic. In either case, an excess of heavy metals in the body are linked to adverse effects for your immune, reproductive, and nervous systems.

Tip: Be mindful of how much food you’re consuming that either comes into contact with metal (such as canned foods) or readily absorbs it (such as rice and some types of fish). On the skincare and makeup front, seek out clean beauty brands that don’t use metals and other EDCs in their products.

An Extra Tip: Incorporate HUM’s Hormone Balance into your supplement routine, daily

6. Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs)

“Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) can be found in cookware, specifically non-stick [pots and pans],” says Dr. Purdy. Per the EPA, PFCs repel water and oil—hence why they’re commonly used in cookware in addition to some paper packaging, carpets, leather products, and some textiles. Microwave popcorn bags are another source of exposure to PFCs, yet people may also be exposed to them via meat, dairy, and even house dust.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences notes that more research in humans is necessary to unpack the specific dangers of exposure, as current data is mixed on their health risks. However, animal studies show that some PFCs can:

  • Cause endocrine disruption
  • Hinder immune function
  • Adversely affect the liver and pancreas
  • Cause developmental problems

Tip: Dr. Purdy suggests investing in non-stick pans for cooking. Moreover, rid your home of dust as much as possible through regular cleaning and keep an air purifier in the rooms you spend the most time in.

7. Synthetic Fragrance

While certain scents may be pleasing to your nose, some fragrances can be anything but nice for your health. The term ‘fragrance’ in products—ranging from skincare, deodorants, and perfumes to household cleaning liquids—is basically a grab-bag name for all kinds of endocrine disruptors including phthalates, heavy metals, and parabens. Per a 2017 review in the journal Medical Hypotheses, the chemicals comprising synthetic fragrances “run parallel with the unprecedented rates of diabetes, cancer, [and] neural ailments,” among other health issues.

Tip: To reduce your exposure to a range of EDCs, Dr. Purdy advises going fragrance-free for your beauty buys and household cleaning supplies alike.

The Bottom Line on Endocrine Disruptors

Unfortunately, endocrine disruptors exist in everything from the food we eat and the products we buy to even the air we breathe. While this may be cause for concern, it’s not exactly grounds for outright panic. Some forms of exposure may be outside of your immediate control, but you do have agency over others. “Limiting this exposure starts with you and your personal overall lifestyle changes,” says Dr. Purdy.

A good place to start, she continues, is by making small changes—such as skipping plastics whenever possible and diligently reading labels. In addition, you don’t necessarily need to toss out all your canned food, plastic food packaging, non-‘clean’ skincare, and the like at this very second. Instead, you can gradually make smarter choices and healthier purchases going forward. “More exposure is more risk, especially when looked at over time,” Dr. Purdy concludes. “It is best to limit this exposure as best as we can, and control what is in our control and what’s important to you.”

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