If it has been a while since human biology class, the endocrine system may not be as familiar to you as the respiratory system or the circulatory system. The endocrine system is a group of glands that produce and secrete vital hormones that the body uses for different functions. These hormones control growth, metabolism, respiration, reproduction, movement and sexual development — is your memory jogged, yet?
The glands that produce these hormones use the bloodstream to transport them to different tissues throughout the body. They send signals with instructions as to what the hormones are supposed to do in those tissues. When the hormone levels are not produced in the right amount by the glands, diseases can develop that affect different aspects of life.
Unfortunately, there are actually many common household items that house ingredients that can affect the endocrine system (aka hormone disruptors), thus altering hormone production and potentially leading to or causing physical ailments. Here are five of the most common endocrine disruptors that can be found in everyday household items, but worry not! These can be managed or eliminated to help prevent disease and assist the body with healthy hormone creation.
When consumed, BPA imitates the sex hormone, estrogen, in the body. When the synthetic hormone tricks the body into believing it is the real thing, problems start to arise. Diseases like breast cancer, heart disease, obesity and reproductive issues have all been linked to BPA.
Healthy Steps: To avoid BPA, choose fresh foods over canned foods, as cans can be lined with BPA. Avoid plastics with the “PC” or polycarbonate marks, or that may have the recycle #7 symbol. Choose glass over plastic containers for food storage and reheating. Look for stainless steel or cast iron pans as opposed to pans with nonstick coating.
Phthalates, according to the CDC, are considered to be a group of chemicals that are used to make plastics more durable. These can get into foods from packaging and can trigger the “death-inducing instructions” in cells which begins the destruction of the cells. This is a completely normal process in cell development and the cellular cycle — however, issues arise when the phthalates trigger the instruction in testicular cells causing them to die earlier than normal. This can cause hormone imbalances, lower sperm count and slower sperm, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, thyroid issues and diabetes.
Healthy Steps: To avoid phthalates, look out for plastic wrap made of PVC, plastics with the recycle #3 symbols and plastic food containers. Opt for cloth and/or reusable sandwich and snack bags as well as glass containers for reheating and storing foods. Personal care products like deodorants, lotions and body washes can contain phthalates disguised as “fragrance.” Look for personal care items that are fragrance-free and phthalate-free.
While lead is naturally made by the earth, it is extremely toxic and can harm almost every organ in the human body. It has been linked to brain damage, nervous system problems, elevated blood pressure, miscarriage, premature birth, hearing problems and kidney issues. Hormone issues and extra stress bring diabetes, anxiety and depression with lead exposure, and it is especially dangerous for children.
Healthy Steps: To avoid lead, be aware of home maintenance. Lead-based paints have long since been removed from the market, but older homes still may house some risk. Filtering drinking water will also help reduce exposure. Lastly, choosing a healthy diet helps the body, especially in children, reduce rates of lead absorption when exposed.
Mercury is also a natural but toxic metal and one that has been found in oceans and air as a result of burning coal. Mercury binds to a specific hormone in the female reproductive system that controls a woman’s menstrual cycle and ovulation and is known to be hazardous to the neural development of a baby in utero. Mercury has shown to damage pancreatic cells that produce insulin, possibly being a contributor to diabetes.
Healthy Steps: Look for sustainable fatty fishes that are responsibly caught. Wild-caught salmon is a great example.
Organophosphate pesticides are a reproduction of a chemical used in warfare during World War II. The new version uses the pesticide to target the neuro system in insects. The organophosphate can still affect human brain development, behavior and fertility. It also affects testosterone production and alters thyroid hormone levels.
Healthy Steps: Buy organic fruits and vegetables as much as affordably possible. If all organic is not possible, try fruits and vegetables like strawberries, celery, blueberries, kale, peaches, apples, nectarines, potatoes, cherries, imported grapes, spinach and lettuces.
The endocrine system is a very sensitive network of glands that produce hormones and send them through the body via the bloodstream. Environmental factors from where we live, how we store our food, to what we eat all contain toxins that affect the way the endocrine system works. When unchecked and inadequate hormone levels are produced, disease can follow.
Luckily, simple switches and thoughtful purchases can make a great impact. Consider switching plastic storage containers for glass. Opt for stainless steel or cast iron pans, body products without fragrance and get rid of any lead-based paint. Then make a grocery list rich in fresh organic fruits and vegetables and fresh-caught salmon.
Here’s to a healthy, happy endocrine system!