Endocrine disrupting chemicals

People can be a bit over the top about avoiding alcohol, cigarettes and other foods when they are pregnant. On my journey through parenting forums, I have read post after post by people worried sick about the absentmindedly eaten tablespoon of cookie dough, the possibly unwashed salad  or whether the alcohol cooked out of a beef and red wine casserole. In my mind these risks have been hugely overblown (but more on that later) particularly in heavily regulated, food safe Australia. However on the flip side of that there may be a more concerning worry out there.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals.
For all of the talk about things you should and shouldn't do while pregnant I only remember the slightest mention about avoiding chemicals and that was in some overcautious hippy book that I disregarded halfway through. Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC) however are a more legitimate concern than this absence of information would suggest.

What are they?
Chemicals, both naturally occurring and synthetic, which alter the actions of the endocrine system. There are at least 800 and possibly many more still unknown.  Some well known examples are BPA (bisophenal A), dioxin and DDT (a pesticide). They are largely contained within solvents, lubricants, solvent/lubricant by products, plastics and plasticisers, pesticides, fuels, fungicides and pharmaceutical agents.

What is your endocrine system?
A series of glands that release hormones into your blood stream. It is involved in most processes in your body. However some of the major effects of EDCs have to do with  how your body creates energy, your bodies response to stress and reproduction and sexual activity.

Who should be worried?
Well everyone really. There is increasing evidence linking EDCs to infertility, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancers. EDCs however have the greatest effect when the endocrine system is at its most active development and as such the most vulnerable groups to EDCs effects are teenagers, those in utero (i.e embroyos/fetuses) and young infants.
Evidence indicates that fetal malformations are increased by exposure to EDC. Furthermore the effects of EDCs can be longer term following an exposed child throughout their life and their childrens lives. So far links have been made with ADHD, obesity, early puberty, early breast development, asthma, infertility/reduced fertility, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, polycystic ovary syndrome, reduced lactation, obesity and cancer.
It is worth noting that very few of the known or suspected EDCs have been tested for effects at all. However endocrine conditions are on the rise worldwide.

What's the evidence?
This is difficult as there is a wide range of EDCs, they vary throughout the world and exposure is constantly changing as products change and substances are used in different ways. This makes interpreting of epidemiological studies such as the Denmark study showing decreasing sperm count difficult.
Case studies such as single large exposures and trials on animals are not a good example of the constant low level exposure that most people receive. Effects will also vary depending on the stage of life of the person exposed, the exact dosage of exposure and the other chemical exposures.
Most EDCs have long half lives meaning they remain in the environment long after they have stopped being used. This means their effects can manifest many years after exposure, in addition they also cause changes in gene expression that mean future generations can be affected without ever being exposed. This makes accumulating evidence on the exact affect of each chemical extremely difficult.
However mechanisms, animal models and epidemological studies/case studies do exist linking the above conditions to EDCs. For an excellent summary of the research see the endocrine societies statement (http://tinyurl.com/m8x565m)

What's being done?
Nothing at the moment. Since the evidence is inconclusive at the moment, the TGA, FDA and other relevant Australian authorities are waiting before taking any action.
Research is still being done on the impact of a variety of different EDCcs.

But I'm pregnant and now I'm terrified. What can I do?
Sorry about that. Stress is bad for the baby too you know.
EDCs surround us at such levels that complete avoidance is impossible. At the moment we do not have the evidence to do much except to limit exposure as much as possible. However avoidance of EDCs should not be done at the expense of things known to protect your health and that of the baby. Continue to eat a varied and nutritious diet, use sunscreen and  practice good hygenine.

Limitating your exposure of EDCs can be done by doing the following


  1. Wash fruit and vegetables before consumption
  2. Try and eat local fruit and vegetables  as much as possible (eating in season will help with this). 
  3. Avoid fruit and vegetables imported from China, North Korea and tropical countries where DDT may still be used
  4. Avoid genetically modified soy, canola, corn and sugar beet.

Food containers and utensils

  1. Avoid water bottles and food containers with a 7 in the recycling triangle. 
  2. Avoid using teflon coated cookware. If you must use, use it only at low heats. Get rid of any cookware that is peeling.
  3. If using nonstick cookware try to use those labelled as PFOA free. Some brands that are PFOA free are Le Creuset, Stone Dine, GreenPan, EarthPan and Cuisinart.
  4. When purchasing baby bottles, ensure the bottles are BPA free. 

Personal care

  1. As much as possible use sunscreens with physical blockers rather than chemical ones. Good examples of these are zinc oxide and titanum oxide. 
  2. Avoid perfumes, nail polish and lotions with fragrances
  3. Check the labels of hair dyes for the word resorcinol and avoid these products.
  4. Check the label of your treatments for acne, dermatitits, eczema, psoirasis, corns and waters. If it contains the word resorcinol limit your usage over broken skin. Clearasil is an example of a product containing resorcinol.
  5. Avoid soaps and toothpastes marketed as 'antibacterial'. If you must use, check the label for the words triclosan and triclocarban and avoid these
  6. When choosing a nappy cream look for the words propyl-, isopropyl-, butyl- and isobutyl-parabens and avoid products containing these. Examples of nappy creams that do not contain these chemicals are Nappymate, Bepanthen and Aromababy.   

Household products
Avoid household products that contain fragrances such as air fresheners
Do not use pesticides particularly ones containing glyophosate e.g. round up. Avoid exposure to areas that have been treated with these.

The above will help to limit your exposure to EDCs, however as part of living in an industrialised society you can not prevent it completely. For the sake of yourself, your children, their children and the whole community consider engaging in lobbying to prevent companies from using these products and supporting research of alternative products. Studies from areas where a disease causing EDCs has been banned has shown improvements in health over the whole region.

Bray, K. 2013. Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals and Consumer Products (Online). Choice Online. http://tinyurl.com/oqsunxy
Diamanti-Kandarakis E et al. 2009 Endocrine-Disrupting
Chemicals: An Endocrine Society Scientific Statement.
Endocrine Reviews 30(4):293-342 Located here:  http://tinyurl.com/m8x565m
World Health Organisation/ United Nations Enviromental Program. 2012. State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals. http://tinyurl.com/q28zcnb


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