The Disease Burden of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals – jameslyonsweiler.com
Companies who profit from products that expose us all to EDCs are higher than they should be because the cost of diseases they can cause is externalized to those companies. That has to change.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are chemicals that mimic, block, or interfere with the production, action, or interactions of hormones. There are an estimated 1,000 man-made compounds that have EDC properties. Over 5 billion tons of EDCs are produced each year worldwide, and they are found in many different consumer products.
By their actions, EDCs can alter normal fetal development in ways that can alter or impair sexual function, impair metabolic functions, increase the risk of certain cancers
The estimated disease burden in the EU due to EDCs per year is $340Bln – and children and individuals with impaired immune systems are most impacted.
In the US, the estimated disease burden of EDCs amounts to 2% of our GDP.
One of the most well-known EDCs, Bisphenol-A, is not supposed to be used in the US due to a ban put in place by the EPA. The ban, however, the ban is considered by environmental groups like The Environmental Working Group to have no teeth. More on that below.
The “Gender-Bending” Chemical Taboo
Most people who have hear about EDCs most likely have heard about their effects as “gender-bending” chemicals. While it’s true that come EDCs can have an influence on the development of sexual organs, it’s taboo to consider whether they influence or “determine” sexual orientation.
The taboo on that issue has stopped a lot of open discussion of the disease burden of EDCs; after all, who wants to represent homosexuality, bisexuality, or pansexuality as a medical disorder? EDCs place people of all shapes, sizes, color etc. at increased risk of other diseases, as well, like Type 2 diabetes. So we need to move on from that taboo.
Here’s the issue – unless we discuss the disease burden caused by exposure of people regardless of sexual orientation to EDCs, we’re not going to be able to influence policy change that leads to a a reduction of human pain & suffering – and also that ends the exposure of animals and other living things in the wild to powerful chemicals that impact their health and reproductive output, as well. So, love how you need to love, but let’s get down to business: EDCs are deadly.
Routes of Exposure
The primary routes of exposure to EDCs include ingestion of EDCs found in food & water, including public drinking water, to fetuses in utero due to EDCs in mothers’ plasma, ingestion of breast milk by infants of mothers with EDC body burden, absorption through the skin via lotions and grooming products, and inhalation of dust laden with EDCs.
EDCs Are Not Removed from Treated Drinking Water
EDCs are present in drinking water in surprisingly high amounts. An article in Nature reported:
“A variety of EDCs have been observed in the treated drinking water supply throughout the world, particularly in tap water from as low as 0.2 ng/L to as high as 5510.0 ng/L, while a maximum concentration (28,000.0 ng/L) was observed in drinking water from the wells in India. Apparently, this relatively incomplete removal has been due to the broad behaviors of varying EDC loadings, and even advanced treatments and remediation may have been ineffective. Thus, the public is inadvertently exposed to EDCs via drinking water consumption…” (Source)
Health and Medical Risks
The general risk categories of EDCs include
•Metabolic diseases & disorders
All-Cause Mortality Increase with BPA
In a 2020 study of all-cause mortality and BPA levels in urine, Boa et al found that the “adjusted hazard ratio comparing the highest vs lowest tertile of urinary bisphenol A levels was 49% higher for all-cause mortality and was 46% higher, albeit not statistically significant, for cardiovascular disease mortality”. (Source: Association Between Bisphenol A Exposure and Risk of All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality in US Adults, JAMA).
Some of the developmental risks are increasing in frequency but are not generally well known, such as “Phthalate syndrome”. Phthalates are plasticizers and are also androgen disruptors – they cause male genitalia to be smaller and tend (developmentally) to resemble female genitalia (See: “Phthalate syndrome” in rats exposed to Phthalates). The timing and dose of exposure determines the degree to which the male genitalia can be altered.
Phthalate syndrome has been described as follows: “Several animal studies report that DBP, DEHP and BzBP induce a marked reduction in fetal testosterone (produced by Leydig cells) and insulin-like growth factor-3 (Insl-3), resulting in a syndrome of male reproductive abnormalities, which, in addition to shortened AGD, include hypospadias, cryptorchidism and malformations of the epididymis, vas deferens, seminal vesicles, and prostate; together they comprise the “phthalate syndrome” (Source)
Here’s a table from Swan (2008) showing other reproductive harm from phthalate exposure
Some of the risks can be serious and immediate and more life-threatening. Soy, for example, can interfere with breast cancer treatments and encourage breast cancer growth (Source)).
Some more specific findings include
•Pesticides like DDT can increase the risk for cardiovascular disease and inflammation in women who are premenopausal.
•BPA has been linked to an increased risk of infertility, cancer, and metabolic disorders, including diabetes.
•BPA during pregnancy may increase offspring’s risk for developing diabetes or cardiovascular disease later in life.
•Early onset of menopause has been linked to 15 chemicals, including phthalates and PCBs.
•PCBs can interfere with thyroid hormone action in pregnant women, which may affect brain development in fetuses.
•Men, women, and children exposed to high levels of phthalates may have reduced levels of testosterone.
Common Sources of Exposure
EDCs are commonly found in
•Pesticides on and in food
•Hormones in drinking water
•Ground water near point sources
•Soy food products
•Printed receipts (thermal paper)
•Fabrics treated with flame retardants
•Products with fragrance
Some Specific EDCs and Their Sources
The US NIEH lists the following specific EDCs and their sources:
Bisphenol A (BPA) — used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, which are found in many plastic products including food storage containers
Dioxins — carcinogens produced as a byproduct in herbicide production and paper bleaching, they are also released into the environment during waste burning and wildfires
Perchlorate — a by-product of aerospace, weapon, and pharmaceutical industries found in drinking water and fireworks
Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) — “forever chemicals” used widely in industrial applications, such as firefighting foams and non-stick pan, paper, and textile coatings
Phthalates — used to make plastics more flexible, they are also found in some food packaging, cosmetics, children’s toys, and medical devices
Phytoestrogens — naturally occurring substances in plants that have hormone-like activity, such as genistein and daidzein that are in soy products, like tofu or soy milk
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) — used to make flame retardants for household products such as furniture foam and carpets (More Info)
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) — used to make electrical equipment like transformers, and in hydraulic fluids, heat transfer fluids, lubricants, and plasticizers (More info)
Triclosan — may be found in some anti-microbial and personal care products, like liquid body wash. (More info).
Acute exposures to EDCs can lead to
•Impaired sperm function
•Impaired follicular function
•Expression of oxidative stress genes
•DNA strand breaks
According to US NIEHS: “Even low doses of endocrine-disrupting chemicals may be unsafe. The body’s normal endocrine functioning involves very small changes in hormone levels, yet we know even these small changes can cause significant developmental and biological effects” (Source).
Avoiding EDCs by Consumer Choice – The Hermosa Study
In a study of Latina women conducted at UC Berkeley, reduction of exposure via use of personal care and grooming products that stated that they did not contain EDCs lead to a marked reduction in plasma levels of EDCs (Study Link)
There are some effective steps you can take to reduce the total environmental exposure of you and your family to EDCS:
•Eat and grow organic!
•Use an NSF-certified water filter
•Have your well water tested pre- and post-filtration
•Avoid exposure via careful product selection (cosmetics, cleaners)
•Be extra careful in the months coming up to pregnancy, during pregnancy, and during childhood
•Dust and vacuum frequently
•Don’t use plastics to store, heat or serve food & drinks
•Avoid canned foods unless the can is BPA and EDC-free
•Contact companies and ask them to create EDC-free products
If you must drink from plastic bottles, purchase a BPA-free bottle and spare yourself chronic exposure.
Effects on Nature
It’s been known for decades that EDCs can skew gender ratios in fish. I did a quick scan of the literature on measured effects of EDCs on wildlife and found studies reporting negative effects of EDCs on
Water fleas (Daphnia)
The cost of EDCs contributing to chronic diseases and health conditions does not impact the producers of EDCs in a manner that would lead them to find ways to produce EDC-free products.
The EWG has been extremely proactive in educating the public and in advocating bans and restrictions on EDCs. Their page includes reviews of studies and of the stalled fight against BPA in the US that underscore the urgency of bans on EDCs (BPA levels in retail works 46% higher BPA levels in retain workers, for example).
I encourage everyone to join and support EWG in their fight. Sign up for emails from EWG and consider donation. Tell them Dr. James Lyons-Weiler sent you (I receive no remuneration and am not affiliated with EWG other than my personal support of their efforts). You can also Contact the EPA directly, and tell them you want the ban on BPA to be enforced, and new actions aimed at reducing the total release of EDCs of all types by companies that produce EDC-containing products. We need new, sweeping actions.
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This article first appeared on jameslyonsweiler.com.