Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are similar in structure to natural hormones such as the female sex hormone estrogen, the male sex hormone androgen and thyroid hormones, which allow them to interfere with development,1 reproduction, neurological functioning, metabolism, satiety and your immune system function, and much more.2
For example, they may block certain hormonal signals, alter your hormone levels, or change the way your natural hormones travel through your body. As noted in a World Health Organization (WHO) report published in 2012,3,4 the effects of EDCs on your hormonal systems “can lead to obesity, infertility or reduced fertility, learning and memory difficulties, Type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease, as well as a variety of other diseases."
What’s more, since hormones operate at parts per million and parts per billion concentrations, the Endocrine Society warns there may be no safe level of exposure for many EDCs,5 and that the health effects are so great everyone needs to take proactive steps to avoid them — especially those seeking to get pregnant, pregnant women and young children.6
Strong Evidence Supports Warnings to Avoid EDCs
“The evidence for adverse reproductive outcomes (infertility, cancers, malformations) from exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals is strong, and there is mounting evidence for effects on other endocrine systems, including thyroid, neuroendocrine, obesity and metabolism, and insulin and glucose homeostasis ...
Effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals may be transmitted to further generations through germline epigenetic modifications or from continued exposure of offspring to the environmental insult.”
At the end of 2015, the Endocrine Society issued its second scientific statement10 on EDCs, noting that in the years gone by, “a substantially larger body of literature has solidified our understanding of plausible mechanisms underlying EDC actions and how exposures in animals and humans — especially during development — may lay the foundation for disease later in life.”
In short, the evidence is only getting stronger, showing that exposure to EDCs in the environment can have significant health effects for both children and adults, and that these effects can be further transmitted to future generations. The report also points out that causal links between exposure and manifestation of disease have been substantiated, as have low-dose effects. The strongest evidence, the report found, is for the link between EDC exposure and:
Hormone-sensitive cancers in women
Prostate problems in men
Neurodevelopment and neuroendocrine system effects
Another report11 published in 2015 estimated the financial burden of EDC exposure in the European Union, producing a median cost of 157 billion euros or $209 billion annually for health care expenses related to IQ loss, intellectual disability, autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, obesity, diabetes, cryptorchidism, infertility and mortality associated with reduced testosterone levels.
The 12 Worst Hormone Disrupting Chemicals
While the list of known EDCs is extensive, and the list of possible EDCs even more so, a dozen of the worst and most widely used ones, identified by the Environmental Working Group in 2013, include:12
Fire retardants (polybrominated diethyl ethers or PBDEs)
Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)