What are Hormone Disrupters?

Mary Heim RPh FAAFM Women's Health Specialist

Mary Heim RPh FAAFM
Women’s Health Specialist

In the hormone replacement therapy (HRT) field, we generally treat hormone deficiencies and imbalances. A new concern is whether the hormone receptors in the body are capable of a healthy response, or have they become “disrupted”.

Xenoestrogens or Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) are synthetic, environmental compounds that interfere with normal hormone production and function. The sources of xenoestrogens are numerous and various: components in plastic, pesticides, flame retardants, fragrances, cosmetics, sunscreens, electronics, furniture, cleaning products, cars, building materials and food packaging. We breathe, eat, drink and touch EDCs every day. Some can be persistent, remaining in the environment for centuries and building up in the body. Microwaving or storing food in foam containers, plastic wrap or plastic containers can transfer EDCs into our food.

Unnatural effects contributed to EDCs include:

  • Decreased testosterone in men
  • Lowered sperm counts in men
  • Estrogen dominance
  • Endometriosis
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Breast atypia
  • PCOS
  • Early puberty
  • Infertility
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Metabolic syndrome including glucose intolerance

Besides the pesticide DDT and the drug DES (both no longer used in the United States), the most familiar EDC known to the general public is bisphenol-A (BPA). BPA is an organic compound found in many plastics since the 1960s, and human exposure to BPA is thought to be ubiquitous. There remains some debate about the quantity of exposure necessary to cause adverse effects. A central feature of endocrine disruption is that effects are found using very low chemical concentrations. The EPA currently sets the human exposure limit as 50 mcg/kg/day, although there are numerous studies that suggest toxic levels occur at much lower doses. For example, a recent study found that oral administration of only 2 mcg/kg for 14 consecutive days in rats reduced the sperm count as well as the serum levels of testosterone and FSH.  This has significant implications when it comes to fertility. In addition, BPA exposure contributes directly to metabolic syndrome and diabetes risk by disrupting the release of insulin from pancreatic beta cells.

These are all compelling reasons to keep ourselves, children, grandchildren , spouses, parents, and siblings away from BPA. The fact is that no one should be exposing themselves to this dangerous chemical. Common sources of exposure to BPA include hard, reusable, plastic water bottles or food containers (especially bad if food or beverages are heated in them), canned food liners, thermal receipts and soda and beer cans.

So remember

  • skip the receipts
  • eat fresh foods, organic and/or local if possible
  • enjoy that next beverage from a glass bottle or container
  • do not microwave in plastic or Styrofoam
  • do not store food in plastic, especially high fat foods
  • replace plastic wraps/trays with wax paper or freezer paper
  • use glass baby bottles
  • buy free-range, hormone-free meat and dairy if possible
Vandenberg LN, Chahoud I, Heindell JJ et al. Urinary, circulating, and tissue biomonitoring studies indicate widespread exposure to bisphenol A. Cien Saude Colet. 2012 Feb; 17(2):407-34.
Integrated Risk Information System: Bisphenol A. (CASRN 80-05-7): Oral RfD Assessment: Bisphenol A; 1988 [cited May 10, 2013
Pengpeng J, Wang X, Chang F et al. Low dose bisphenol A impairs spermatogenesis by suppressing reproductive hormone production and promoting germ cell apoptosis in adult rats. J Biomed Res. 2013 March; 27(2): 135-144.
Jayashree S, Indumathi D, Akilavelli N et al. Effect of Bisphenol-A on insulin signal transduction and glucose oxidation in liver of adult male albino rat. Environ Toxicol Pharmacol. 2013 Mar, 35(2): 300-10. Mohan M, Tracey R, Guerrero-Bosagna C, Skinner MK. Plastics derived endocrine disruptors (BPA, DEHP and DBP) induce epigenetic transgenerational inheritance of obesity, reproductive disease and sperm epimutations. PLOS ONE 8(1): 1-16.
Nagel SC, Vom Saal FS, Thayer KA et al. Relative binding affinity-serum modified access (RBA-SMA) assay predicts the relative in vivo bioactivity of the xenoestrogens bisphenol A and octylphenol. Environ. Health Perspect. 1997;105(1):70-6
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