The diseases caused by exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals in our food, environment and household and personal care products cost the U.S. $340 billion a year, says children’s environmental health expert Dr. Leonardo Trasande.
Trasande is the author of “Sicker, Fatter, Poorer,” featured on a recent CBS News segment. The book highlights the potentially harmful effects of thousands of endocrine disruptors, also known as hormone mimickers, which can interfere with the body’s endocrine system and cause adverse developmental, reproductive and neurological effects.
Endocrine disruptors are linked to a string of health problems, including diabetes, brain disorders, fertility issues and cancer. The chemicals can be grouped into four categories:
• Pesticides used in agriculture
• Phthalates used in personal care products and food packaging
• Bisphenol A (BPA) used in aluminum can linings and plastics
• Flame retardants applied to furniture, electronics, mattresses and car seats
"Hormones are molecules that our body uses to signal and communicate, and hormone disrupters are chemicals that scramble those signals and contribute to disease, Trasande told CBS News. “We know now of over 1,000 chemicals that are hormone disrupters," he said.
Hormone mimickers also play a role in weight gain and may be a key factor in America’s growing obesity epidemic, which now affects 78 million adults and 12 million children, according to the National Council of State Legislature.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals that cause weight gain are called obesogens. Studies show that not only do obesogens promote weight gain, but they also cause the body to hang on to other environmental pollutants for longer, which could explain why obesity is an underlying risk factor for so many other diseases, including cancer.
Trasande says these chemicals “scramble hormone signals and shift our diet and how it's transformed in our body into fat as opposed into muscle or other categories.”
The use of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in consumer products is so widespread that the toxins are showing up in the environment, and subsequently, wildlife, too.
A study published in 2018 found phthalates in the urine of bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Florida. Phthalates showed up in 71 percent of dolphins tested in the area over a two-year period. The discovery is alarming as it marks the first time scientists have found endocrine disruptors in the urine of wild marine mammals, which indicates the chemicals remained in their body long enough to process them.
Despite their persistence, there are steps consumers can take to limit their exposure to hormone-mimicking chemicals. Buying organic and locally sourced food can reduce exposure to toxic pesticides. Avoiding canned food and drink can help protect consumers from BPA and BPA alternative chemicals.
Finally, never microwave anything plastic, and try to avoid consuming food or drink that comes from a heated, plastic container.
Click here to learn more about how you can avoid hormone-disrupting chemicals.