Endocrine disruptors (EDs) are chemical compounds that interfere with the function of hormones and can have adverse effects on both human health and wildlife. These compounds are found in everyday products such as plastics, condoms, baby products, cosmetics and/or pesticides among others.
Exposure to these substances can have long-term effects, such as increased incidence of tumours in sexual organs, increased frequency of miscarriages, low birth weight and congenital malformations. Problems in the development of the central nervous system, altered thyroid hormone levels, increased immune disorders, effects on sex ratio, increased obesity and type 2 diabetes have also been observed.
The main endocrine disruptors include industrial compounds such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dioxins, organochlorine pesticides (chlorpyrites, methoxychlor, 2,2-bis-(p-chlorophenyl)-1,1,1-trichloroethane (DDT) and its metabolites), fungicides (vinclozolin), plastics and plasticisers (bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates), pharmaceuticals (diethylstilbestrol (DES) and, more recently, paracetamol), metals (cadmium, lead, mercury, uranium and a metalloid, arsenic) and natural compounds such as phytoestrogens, such as soy, alfalfa and clover.
The key ideas related to endocrine disruptors are:
1) The effects of pollutants can be different on the embryo, foetus, perinatal or adult organism.
2) Effects are more often manifested in the offspring than in the exposed parent.
3) The timing of exposure in the developing organism is decisive in determining the nature, severity and course of exposure.
4) Even if the critical exposure occurs during embryonic development, the manifestations may not become evident until the individual matures.
5) The effects of different EDs may be additive or even synergistic.
6) Low doses of DEs may sometimes exert greater counterproductive effects than high doses.
To reduce exposure to these substances, the following is recommended:
- Prioritise the consumption of organic products.
- Use inert materials such as glass instead of plastic.
- Use natural fibres such as cotton.
- Reduce consumption of canned and precooked foods.
- Read cosmetic and cleaning product labels carefully to choose products free of DEs.
- Do not heat food in containers made with bisphenol A.
- Limit consumption of large oily fish.
- Eat meat from animals not exposed to hormones, pesticides and fertilisers.
- Wash hands frequently as we are exposed to a multitude of DEs in our daily lives.
- Avoid using insecticides in and around the house.
- Use paraben-free hygiene products and do not overuse sanitary towels.
In conclusion, endocrine disruptors can have significant adverse effects on human health. These effects include altered thyroid function, decreased fertility, birth deformities, metabolic abnormalities, behavioural abnormalities, de-masculinisation and feminisation, defeminisation and masculinisation, alterations of the immune system, accelerated puberty, increased body weight, alteration of the mammary gland, disruption of the female genital tract, impaired human reproductive health, increased frequency of miscarriages, low birth weight and congenital malformations, problems in the development of the central nervous system, increased immune disorders, effects on sex ratio, and increased prevalence of obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Source: Pombo M, Castro-Feijóo L, Barreiro J, Cabanas P. A review on endocrine disruptors and their possible impact on human health. Rev Esp Endocrinol Pediatr 2020; (11) 2.