“Endocrine disruptor” might not be part of your daily vocabulary, but it is most certainly a part of your daily life – whether you know it or not. And in this case, what you don’t know could hurt you. Awareness about these compounds, found in all kinds of common products and environments, may help you avoid negative implications for your health and the health of your children.

We believe wholeheartedly that knowledge is powerful when it comes to living a nourishing lifestyle – and a flourishing life is what we want most of all for you. So in this two-part series, we would like to help acquaint you with two of the most prevalent sources of endocrine disrupting chemicals that you probably encounter every day: non-glass packaging materials and pesticides.

Let’s start at the very beginning…

What are endocrine disruptors?

“Endocrine disruptor” is a classification for compounds that interfere with our body’s hormones in some way. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, they are known to “produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.” Most often endocrine disruptors cause harm by competing with our hormones for receptor sites, interrupting the normal signaling of our endocrine system. Here are other ways they interfere:

  • reduce the production of hormones in endocrine glands
  • affect the release of hormones from endocrine glands
  • copy or counteract the action of hormones in certain tissues
  • speed up the metabolism of hormones and so reduce their action

You can imagine the confusion that can result for our bodies! It can be confusing for us as consumers and eaters as well. So let’s take a look at where we might run into these nasty little things…

Hormone Disruptors in Non-Glass Packaging

Even if you have never heard of bisphenol-A, you most likely have it in your body. A study by the Center for Disease Control & Prevention found that 90% of people have BPA traces in their system (source). BPA is a synthetic compound used primarily in plastics and the lining of metal cans. Take a quick mental checklist of all the times in the last few days that you’ve had something to eat or drink from a plastic or metal container. Think you encountered any BPA? We’d wager so.
BPA is probably the most infamous hormone disruptor. In fact, scientists have known since 1937 that it mimics estrogen in our bodies and thus can interfere with the normal production and signaling of our own natural hormones. BPA has caused such a stir for its harmful effects, especially in recent years (you can read more about the history here), that it has been banned for use in baby bottles and sippy cups. But it can still be found in numerous sources and dozens of studies have linked it to “prostate cancer, infertility, heart disease, and a number of neurodevelopmental disorders” (source). Think you can avoid BPA just by limiting plastics in your life? Not quite. One study found that subjects who drank soy milk from a can evidenced “dramatically” elevated BPA levels in their urine after just two hours. Turns out their blood pressure rose as well. When they drank the milk from the glass bottles, however, there was “no significant change in their BPA levels or blood pressure.”

“But wait!” you say. “Aren’t there ‘BPA-Free’ plastics? I have a sticker that says that on my water bottle!” Yes, true, there are dozens of non-BPA alternatives. In fact, there’s a veritable alphabet of bisphenols that aren’t of the “A” variety. But just because a product is BPA-free doesn’t mean it is free from estrogen-mimicking effects. In 2014 an independent lab tested BPA-Free products and found varying levels of estrogenic compounds in nearly all of them (you can see the list here). And according to a Washington Post piece, laboratory tests reveal that 95% of “hundreds of ordinary plastic products” leached estrogenic chemicals when put through “real world conditions” like microwaving and dishwashing.

Bisphenol-S is one of the most common alternatives to BPA. Recent evidence is revealing that it “might itself be more harmful than BPA” (source). Yikes! Studies on zebra fish, which share 80% of their genes with humans, showed that both BPA and BPS negatively affected the estrogen and thyroid systems as well as brain development, most specifically hyperactivity (read more here and here). According to one of these studies, “the brain cells that control reproduction in the embryos and the genes that control reproduction later in life were significantly affected.” How far can we extrapolate from the zebra fish results to potential implications for humans? No one is quite sure. But to ignore the possibility seems not only unwise but potentially even tragic.

What is the solution?

BPA-free Glass BottlesYou can fiddle around with BPA-free alternatives all day, but the truth of the matter is that virtually all plastics will put hormone disrupting chemicals into your body. Food stored in metal cans is no safer, since BPA is still used liberally in lining these cans.

So, if you want to safeguard your hormones and those of your children, ditch plastics and metal cans altogether! Go with glass when you purchase food or drinks and use glass or stainless steel for your food storage at home, as much as possible. Both glass and stainless steel do not contain any known endocrine disruptors and do not leach any toxins into their contents. Here is a good list of alternatives for your home and kitchen if you are trying to avoid plastics.

This article is part of a two-part series on common endocrine disruptors. Watch next week to learn about pesticides and how they can disrupt hormones!