The Royal Gazette Opinion Article by Dr. Annabel Fountain
Endocrine disrupting chemicals, also known as hormonally active agents, are chemicals found in our environment that can interfere with the normal function of our body’s endocrine system. These chemicals can be found in almost every type of product we buy, particularly plastics, weedkillers, pesticides and, often, our foods.
The endocrine system controls and adjusts our hormones to maintain our growth, healing, metabolism, fertility, bones and our mood. It is also involved in appetite control, thirst and stress responses. Hormones have different effects in every single cell in our bodies. EDCs can affect the way our hormones are made, how they are transported in our blood stream and around our body, and how our body eliminates them. Therefore, as an endocrinologist, EDCs are extremely concerning.
A well-known example of an EDC is bisphenol A, or BPA, which is an industrial chemical that has been used to make certain plastics and resins since the 1950s. You will now see plastic bottles labelled “BPA-free”. This is very important because BPA has been associated with health effects on the brain and prostate gland of foetuses, infants and children. It can also affect children’s behaviour. Other research suggests a possible link between BPA and type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Although we don’t test individuals for levels of these chemicals, there is certainly increased prevalence of endocrine disorders and therefore many of the patients that I see may have been affected by these EDCs. This includes patients suffering from conditions such as infertility, thyroid cancer, breast cancer, osteoporosis, sleep disorders, obesity and diabetes. Sperm counts in the Western world have fallen by 50 per cent in the past 40 years. There is also a reduction in sperm quality as well as higher incidences of erectile dysfunction and miscarriage.
Apart from damaging our health in the longer term, EDCs can also affect our development. They are associated with early puberty, birth defects and behavioural problems in children. There has been a huge increase in diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, for example. There is research showing that this increase is associated with the endocrine disrupters that are found in common plastics.
How do we know this? EDCs have been circulating in our environment, and therefore our bodies, for the past 50 years. These chemicals get stored in our fat cells. Once something is in our fat cells, we pretty much never get rid of them, so, if you were exposed to EDCs as a child, then as an adult they can also affect your offspring. Microplastics have been found in the ocean, fish, our lungs and brains and, most recently, in breast milk.