- Many products including cosmetics, food, food supplements, textile materials, pesticides for protection of crops, animals and people from malicious organisms contain compounds called endocrine disruptors (or EDs).
- EDs either mimic or partly mimic our hormones, either prevent hormones from binding to their receptors or change the normal homeostasis (work) of our hormones.
- Results of ED exposure – male and female infertility, thyroid problems, underdeveloped fetuses, miscarriages, babies born with learning difficulties, animals (domestic or wild) born with unnatural aggression or passiveness and all kinds of other disabilities.
- New ways of testing are possible – such is the in silico testing, where we do computer simulations and calculate the probability that an ED would bind to certain receptors.
- EDs, don’t act with the receptors in very low concentration like hormones do. They can act in any concentration. The dose – response is nonlinear, which means that a low dose can be more potent than a higher dose for a given response to a certain compound.
- Scientists through receptor – based toxicology screening can find out if a certain environmental substance has a public health significance.
- Not all pesticides are EDs and not all EDs are pesticides. EDs can be all sorts of substances. Pesticides can be useful.
- Should DDT be still used? It is time for precautionary actions that include both use and reduced exposure.
- Can we have a good, practical, fashionable, tech-diverse lifestyle and at the same time be safe from EDs? Sure we can! Read what you can do to reduce exposure.
We live in an era when healthy, pragmatic and stylish lifestyle is important and a goal to many people. Image, looks, diet and even the way we exercise are judged and scrutinized. Thousands of ads, articles, blog posts and books promote and present all kinds of products and slap our faces with colorful pictures of unattainable perfection.
Marketing is very powerful these days. That’s not a bad thing, if we think of perfect products that deliver what they promise. That is to say – we don’t want any side effects, strange outcomes, lies, misleading or bullshit. But perfection doesn’t exist. What is endlessly promoted to us, and what is pressing us to become, is not the same to what is realistically attainable. Hence – debt, depression, anger, jealousy and general dissatisfaction poisons our existence.
Many products contain compounds that screw with our hormonal system (endocrine system). By products, I mean everything – from medication, cosmetics, food, food supplements to textile materials, pesticides for protection of crops, animals and people from malicious organisms… Those compounds are called endocrine (hormonal) disruptors. They either mimic or partly mimic our hormones, either prevent hormones from binding to their receptors or change the normal work of our hormones. The results – male and female infertility, underdeveloped fetuses, miscarriages, babies born with learning difficulties, animals (domestic or wild) born with unnatural aggression or passiveness and all kinds of other disabilities. Worst of all, endocrine disruptors seem to be everywhere, all industries are using them, households and agriculture. We are surrounded by them and they are in the air, the water and in the soil.
So, is there any good news in sight?
Well, yes and no. This is “sort of” a new age problem that requires a new age solution. I say “sort of”, because the term “endocrine disruption” was first used in the mid ’70s and early ’80s. But, only now we get to do an in-depth research thanks to technology. This doesn’t mean that the research from the 20th century is useless, far from that, it represents a valuable base for the newer ones.
I mentioned good news somewhere, didn’t I?
Good news is that we can prevent the use of these compounds. New ways of testing are possible – such is the in silico testing, where we do computer simulations and calculate the probability that an ED would bind to certain receptors. These tests are cheap, fast and precise.
In vitro studies are done in tubes and in vivo are done in an alive organism or cells. Thanks to social media and the wonders of the Internet, knowledge can be shared and certain problematic substances avoided. This is especially important for babies (plastic bottles), children (toys, plastic cups, bottles, etc) and pregnant women (certain food supplements, plastics, etc).
What is most important and dangerous about some of the EDs, is that they don’t act with the receptors in very low concentration like hormones do. They bind to the same receptors and can act in any concentration. The dose – response is nonlinear, which means that a low dose can be more potent than a higher dose for a given response to a certain compound. (1) But, it gets even more complicated than that. We’re talking about complex mixtures, dose additivity and synergism between the chemicals. (2) Still, this kind of summation is not the only way EDs can interact with endogenous hormone systems to produce adverse effects. (2)
EDs also act on enzymes involved in steroidogenesis, steroid metabolism, and protein/peptide synthesis. They affect intracellular signaling processes and cell proliferation, growth, and death. There are hundreds, if not thousands of papers showing that ED exposures affect expression of genes and proteins in different cells, tissues, and organs.
Recent evidence suggests that some EDs may cause molecular epigenetic changes, including in the germline, which in turn may lead to trans-generational effects of EDs on numerous organ systems. This latter point is important, because it suggests that the legacy of ED exposures may go beyond the individual, and can last even if there is no further exposure, or despite efforts to clean the environment. (2)
But, if the relationship between a hormone and its receptor is highly specific (meaning a certain hormone binds only with a certain receptor), how and why do some of these EDs bind to the same receptors? Shouldn’t their structure be the same? Well, no. Their structure is sometimes similar, sometimes it is not. Most of them are lipophilic substances, but not all. Scientists don’t know yet, why some substances, that are structurally different than certain hormones, have a similar effect as those hormones. They’re evil – that’s one reasonable scientific explanation.
Perhaps, another one is that the hormonal activities of environmental chemicals reside in a functional attribute rather than a structural one. This one is more logical than pure evil, I guess. (3)
To see if this theory applies, scientists developed a new way of screening the substances. They called it receptor – based toxicology screening. How this works – they take a little tube and put human cells with a specific receptor/s and then throw in different environmental substances. And then they observe – what binds to the receptor, how it does that, what happens when it does and what is its structure like. Through the results (results like a certain receptor response) they can find out if a certain environmental substance has a public health significance. For example – they can predict toxicities at a certain dose.
This cool method will in no way provide a complete toxicological profile of a chemical, or replace complete animal testing or epidemiology and public health strategies, but it will generate useful, essential information for an important set of toxicological problems in a relatively short time and at relatively small cost. (4)
Not all pesticides are EDs and not all EDs are pesticides. EDs can be all sorts of substances.
Pesticides can be useful. Ever heard of malaria and insecticides (in particular DDT)?
I can hear you thinking: yes, they are useful, but are they safe??
Well, there’s no good way to answer this question. No way to please the anti-pesticide and the pro-pesticide communities. It is definitely an ethical issue, though. And one that needs to be resolved.
Let’s take DDT as an example:
Is DDT “good”?
Well, yes if we look at how many lives it has saved.
But, is it safe for people, animals and the environment?
There have been many concerns about its safety, so to claim that it is safe, is indefensible.
Are inhabitants and also people who apply DDT exposed?
Oh, yes they are! And to high levels.
So, should it be used?
Well, in some circumstances, malaria cannot be halted, which is why DDT has to be used. But, now we have the technology, and we have the knowledge of what it is capable to do to the environment and our health (and the wildlife’s health). At the very least, it is time for precautionary actions that include both use and reduced exposure.
The same precautionary actions can be applied to other pesticides that are a necessary evil, so to speak. They save our crops, they help us feed nations, but they also wind up in our body and some of them cause endocrine disruption. Actions to lower the exposure can save us and our environment from multiple potential health problems caused by endocrine disruption – from obesity and diabetes caused by environmental factors to infertility, nerve damage, cancer and thyroid problems.
But let’s go back to lifestyle.
Can we have a good, practical, fashionable, tech-diverse lifestyle, and at the same time be safe from EDs?
Here’s what we can do:
- We can stop buying fast fashion clothes. Not only are these clothes made by women and children who barely make 3$ per day, but also they contain harmful chemicals, such as Nonylphenols, which have estrogen-like activity. After washing the clothes (and hoping they survive the first wash), these chemicals end in our water, where they persist for months. (5)
- We can eat organic food as much as possible. If we think about acidic rains, and the fact that the wind transports particles in various modes through different territories, as well as the fact that particles can remain in the atmosphere for up to several weeks and thus be transported thousands of kilometers from source regions, we can conclude that – even organic food is not as clean as a tear. (6) If we further split hairs (my favorite thing to do about anything and everything), because some pesticides have a systemic action, their residues are contained within the entire produce (fruit, veggie, whatever) and not just on the surface. Therefore, peeling and washing the produce is often not enough to prevent exposure to pesticides. (7)
- We can limit the usage of plastic. Plastic bottles, plastic utensils, plastic straws, plastic bags when we go shopping, plastic food containers, plastic coffee cups… All of these things can be replaced with a reusable version. Remember, plastic is one of the biggest sources of BPA. Remember that demon? It loves to screw with your brain. (8) Literally.
- We can limit the usage of cans. You may ask how and why are cans connected to EDs? Well, some cans contain Bisphenol-A (yes, BPA again)! It slowly migrates from the inside walls of the cans into the food. Interestingly, this intensifies with the increase of glucose, NaCl and the expiration date. (9) Although, canned food is generally safe, and all the nutrients of the foods are preserved (more or less), if there is a possibility to buy foods preserved in a glass container, it certainly is a better choice.
- We can use water filters. Heavy metals and certain EDs can be found in our water system. Buying a simple water filter is a small change, but one that can make a huge difference in the quality of our life.
- We can be aware of what cosmetic products we use. This goes especially for shampoos and hair products, but also extends to all cosmetic goods in general. Avoid substances like: bisphenol-A, 4-t-octylphenol, 4-n-octylphenol, and 4-n-nonylphenol. These compounds are toxic and a study has shown that they have ED – properties. (10) More studies have been conducted on these compounds: benzophenone-1 (BP-1); benzophenone-2 (BP-2); 4,4′-dihydroxybenzophenone (4,4′-DHBP); 4-benzylphenol (4-BenzPh); homosalate (HO); octocrylene (OC) and 3-benzylidene camphor (3-BC). (11) That’s right – the “everlasting beauty” has a price and the highest one so far is – an in utero exposure to EDs. This is when the baby is exposed to EDs through the mother.
The cosmetic industry slowly becomes more and more responsible about the products it sends to the consumers, but we are all still in the woods. The rise of ethical consumerism in this case helps with this problem, and slowly we all understand that well selected more natural products are better then synthetic ones. BUT THIS DOESN’T MEAN THAT SOME PLANTS DO NOT HAVE ED-PROPERTIES AND THAT ALL SYNTHETIC PRODUCTS HAVE ED – ACTIVITY. This is why the problem of endocrine disruption is so damn complicated. We are surrounded by materials – natural and synthetic and some of them are good and some of them are bad.
How do we know what is what?!
Well, we carefully select what is known to be good and avoid what is known to be bad. We read labels, educate ourselves about substances, follow scientific trends.
Now, I’m not trying to say that we should live in a bubble, isolated from everything. I’m just saying – be aware of the endocrine disruption problem, and live as balanced and as healthy as you can.
There are ways to be frugal and healthy. There are products out there that are brilliant and not that expensive. Relatively speaking, you can never have the best or the worst (despite what certain ads suggest). Generally speaking, organic beats processed any day, but that doesn’t mean that organic products are “virgins”.
Like I said, EDs are EVERYWHERE to some extent, present in different concentrations in different places on the Planet. Polluted cities have them more, but unpolluted cities have them also. The wind carries particles and molecules everywhere. So you’ll find “bad” micro(stuff) right in front of your doorstep no matter where you live. You’ll find good stuff too, so don’t worry about it. Much.
Till next time! Now where’s my paper cup of coffee?!
- Gierthy JF: Testing for Endocrine Disruption: How Much is Enough? Toxicological Sciences. 2002. 68. (1): 1–3.
- Gore AC et al.: Executive Summary to EDC-2: The Endocrine Society’s Second Scientific Statement on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals. Endocrine Reviews. 2015. 36. (6): 593–602.
- McLachlan JA: Environmental Signaling: What Embryos and Evolution Teach Us About Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals. Endocrine Reviews. 2001. 22. (3): 319–341.
- McLachlan JA: Functional Toxicology: A New Approach to Detect Biologically Active Xenobiotics. Environmental Health Perspectives. 1993. 101.(5): 386–387.
- Guenther K, Kleist E & Thiele B: Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry. 2006. 384. (2): 542-546.
- Jasper F, Kok EJ, Parteli R, Michaels TI and Karam DB: The physics of wind-blown sand and dust. 2012. Online source: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1201.4353.pdf. (29.07.2018)
- Pesticides in our Food. Pesticides Action Network UK (PAN UK). Online Source: http://www.pan-uk.org/our-food/ (29.07.2018)
- Negri-Cesi P: Bisphenol A Interaction With Brain Development and Functions. Dose-Response. 2015. 13. (2): 1559325815590394.
- Sungur Ş, Köroğlu M, Özkan A: Determinatıon of bisphenol a migrating from canned food and beverages in markets. Food Chemistry. 2014. 142 (1): 87-91.
- Determination of Phenolic Endocrine Disruptors in Cosmetics by High-Performance Liquid Chromatography Mass Spectrometry. Analytical Letters. 2018. 51. (5): 717-727.
- Lopardo L, Adams D, Cummins A, Kasprzyk-Hordern B: Verifying community-wide exposure to endocrine disruptors in personal care products – In quest for metabolic biomarkers of exposure via in vitro studies and wastewater-based epidemiology. Water Research. 2018. 143 (15): 117-126.