Are your hormones being sabotaged by chemicals from the environment?
You are probably aware of muscle-building anabolic steroids and the male and female sex hormones. Are there more? You bet – 40 to 50 that are essential to a person’s health.
Although chemicals can cause cancers, they also are able to damage the endocrine system, that system of ten glands (the adrenal, pituitary, thyroid, parathyroid, thymus, hypothalamus, pancreas, pineal, testes and ovaries) that secrete more than 50 hormones. Insulin, adrenalin, estrogen and testosterone are familiar examples of hormones produced. Hormones circulate in the blood and lymph where they regulate metabolism, reproduction, the balance of water and salts, maintain levels of calcium and glucose in the blood, regulate biological rhythms, stimulate cells of the immune system and the production of milk, and many aspects of development before birth. In short, hormones are the master controllers of the intricate machinery of our bodies.
As the hormones affect the balanced activity of the whole body, any alteration of their activity has serious effects on health. Many toxic substances can disrupt the normal functioning of endocrine glands. The National Institute of Environmental Sciences reports that there is a growing body of evidence that endocrine disrupters may contribute to problems with fertility, pregnancy, birth defects, menstrual disorders, and other reproductive disorders. Known endocrine disrupters include PCBs, DDT, the insecticide endosulfan, the herbicide atrazine, and the fungicide vinclozolin; chemicals suspected of being endocrine disrupters are bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates.
Scientists are also finding that extremely low levels of some types of estrogen mimics disrupt specialized brain cells and their ability to regulate brain chemistry. They found that BPA, DDE (metabolic product of DDT), and the pesticides dieldrin and endosulfan affected how rat brain cells release and absorb dopamine – the nerve transmitter. Surely this is a sobering, even frightening, finding. We can only wonder if such foreign chemicals in the brain contribute to Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases.
If hormone disrupters are so important, why do we hear so little about them? One reason is that, in contrast to cancers whose presence is unmistakable, their effects are subtle – your body simply does not work as well as it should. A second reason is that evidence for their effects have been limited to observations of developmental defects in small animals such as frogs. Consequently, any public scientific statements about the dangers of hormone disrupters are vigorously disputed by industries that use the identified chemicals. A current controversial example is BPA. You may have heard that it is (or has been) found in polycarbonate water and nursing bottles, and in canned foods, and there are efforts to ban its use in these items. (Some manufacturers have voluntarily removed BPA from their products.) Recently BPA has been found as a contaminant on a most common item: sales and debit and credit receipts. It is reported to be on the surface of the paper and can be absorbed through the skin. However, not all receipts are contaminated. If you are concerned (why wouldn’t you?), I recommend contacting the corporate office of the stores and banks you frequent and ask them. It is easy: most companies have a “contact us” on their websites.