From BPA to Glyphosate: What Are the Risks of Endocrine Disruptors?

It’s like a bad dream, except… it’s real: Toxic chemicals are being sold to us, sprayed into the air we breathe and leached into our drinking water, all while multinational corporations tell us they’re perfectly safe. But science says otherwise, especially when it comes to BPA (bisphenol-A), the toxic epoxy resin found in plastic banned in a growing list of countries including China, Canada and most recently, Sweden. Glyphosate, the toxic pesticide best known as Monsanto’s Roundup, is present in nearly 80 percent of processed foods, as well as showing up in air and water. Both substances (and there are hundreds more) do major damage to our bodies, most notably our hormonal systems. They’re called endocrine disruptors. But what exactly does that mean for our health?

The endocrine system is glandular; pituitary, adrenal, thyroid, thymus, pancreas, ovaries and testes all release chemicals into our bloodstream to regulate many of our body’s most important functions including growth and development, reproduction, healthy weight, mood and organ performance. We simply would not be humans without the endocrine system. Which is why it’s not surprising that we’re actually beginning to look less like our human ancestors who had strong endocrine systems and more like a lab rat experiment gone wrong. Two of the nation’s biggest health issues are diseases of the endocrine system: diabetes and obesity, and countless other illnesses relate to imbalances and malfunctions of the endocrine system like cancer, osteoporosis, Cushing’s syndrome, hypo- and hyperthyroidism and some cardiovascular disorders. Infertility rates in the U.S. over the last five years saw the biggest spike in more than 30 years. How did this happen?

Certain chemicals, like BPA, glyphosate, dioxin, DDT and atrazine disrupt endocrine functions by mimicking or interfering with normal hormonal activity. Some chemicals alter hormone levels, some stop their production entirely, others stimulate excessive overproduction and some can even reroute the chemicals as they travel through the body. That’s a pretty major concern, especially when scientists have just barely begun to understand the effects, let alone the long-term damage they cause to exposed individuals and their offspring.

Sweden’s recent decision to ban BPA in products intended for children under age 3 cited a 2011 report released by the Swedish Chemicals Agency that found when animals were exposed to even very low doses of BPA, the result was a variety of noticeably negative effects on the brain. A recent study published in the journal Endocrine Reviews also found that low dose exposure could be even more harmful than exposure to higher levels of the toxins.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council,”fish in the Great Lakes, which are contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other man-made chemicals, have numerous reproductive problems as well as abnormal swelling of the thyroid glands. Fish-eating birds in the Great Lakes area, such as eagles, terns, and gulls, have shown similar dysfunctions. Scientists have also pointed to endocrine disruptors as the cause of a declining alligator population in Lake Apopka, Florida. The alligators in this area have diminished reproductive organs that prevent successful reproduction. These problems were connected to a large pesticide spill several years earlier, and the alligators were found to have endocrine disrupting chemicals in their bodies and eggs.”

But don’t look for a ban on these chemicals in the U.S. anytime soon. A recent petition submitted to the FDA in hopes of banning BPA was rejected by the agency, which cited not enough scientific evidence existed to prove the human health risks in order to enforce a ban.

The only way to truly avoid the serious health risks is to avoid exposure to the chemicals. And that’s a lot easier said than done! BPA is found in plastic baby bottles, soda and soup can linings, register receipts and countless more plastic substances. Glyphosate has been sprayed on genetically modified crops, mainly corn, soy, canola and cotton. Other pesticides are routinely applied to lawns and gardens, public parks and schools. But, choosing a diet rich in fresh organic foods can help. In fact, even if you can’t eliminate breathing in toxic air or other risk factors, research has shown that just a diet switch alone can greatly reverse the damage caused by toxins like BPA in a short period of time.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger


Image: Gribiche