The endocrine system is a network of glands in the body that make hormones that regulate almost all processes and functions in the body. Hormones control functions such as mood, stress, immunity, growth and development, repair, metabolism and reproduction.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are man-made (non-natural) chemicals that when ingested (through food or beverages), breathed in or absorbed, are thought to wreak havoc on the body’s normal hormones and related functions.
EDCs have been linked to many negative health impacts including:
- reduced ability to handle stress
- obesity and type 2 diabetes
- infertility in men and women
- breast cancer
- premature birth or low birth weight
- abnormal growth and developmental delays in children.
The link between EDCs and health impacts isn’t completely understood yet so many regulatory bodies are taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach until more research emerges.
Some research suggests that EDCs can be passed to a developing foetus through the placenta and to an infant through breastmilk. A developing foetus or infant is most vulnerable to the effects of EDCs as hormones strongly influence growth and development at this early stage in life. Although the negative health effects of EDCs on children may not appear until much later in life.
Given the increase in hormone-related health issues in recent years, I think it’s sensible to reduce exposure to EDCs if you’re trying to conceive or if you’re pregnant (your man should take note too!).
It’s overwhelming just how many everyday products contain EDCs. It would be almost impossible to avoid completely but you can reduce exposure to these chemicals by making small changes. Be mindful of exposures from the food you eat, in the air you breathe, makeup and skin care products you apply to our skin, and personal care items or household items you use everyday.
What are common EDCs in everyday items?
It can be difficult to know exactly what chemicals are found in products as they aren’t always stated on product labels. BPA is probably the most well-known EDC. Some countries, including Australia, have banned or voluntarily withdrawn the use of BPA in baby bottles, and have put some restrictions on the use of phthalates in toys and cosmetics.
1. Bisphenols, e.g. BPA, BPS, BPF
- Plastics such as food and beverage containers and bottles
- Lining of tin cans and jar lids
- Heat, sunlight or acidity can increase exposure to bisphenols
Tips to reduce exposure to bisphenols:
- Look for containers and bottles that are free of BPA, BPS or BPF.
- Avoid microwaving food in plastic food containers.
- Avoid washing plastics in the dishwasher.
- Avoid plastic containers and bottles that contain recycling codes #3 (PVC) and #7 (polycarbonate).
- Use glass, porcelain, silicone or stainless steel containers and cookware, especially for hot foods and liquids.
- Avoid canned, packaged and processed foods.
- Food wrapping (e.g. food wrap, foil)
- Makeup, skincare, personal care products and fragrances
Tips to reduce exposure to phthalates:
- Choose personal care and household products that are free of perfumes, fragrance, parabens and phthalates.
- Avoid heating foods by covering with cling wrap or foil.
- Avoid plastics that contain recycling codes #3 (PVC) and #7 (polycarbonate).
- Use a water filter that filters out phthalates.
Found in makeup, skincare and personal care products.
Tips to reduce exposure to parabens:
- Choose makeup, skincare and personal care products (e.g. shampoos, hair dyes and body washes) that are free of parabens.
4. Pesticides and herbicides
- Food production and agriculture
Tips to reduce exposure to pesticides or herbicides:
- Wash fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating or cooking.
- Choose organic and grass-fed produce, meat and dairy.
- Choose ‘green chemicals’ for control pests and weeds in your garden.
5. Triclosan or triclocarban
- Antibacterial soaps, handwash or bodywash
Ways to reduce exposure to triclosan or triclocarban:
- Avoid using products that contain triclosan, triclocarban or are labelled ‘antibacterial’ at home.
6. UV filters
- Makeup and skincare
Tips to reduce exposure to UV filters:
- Choose physical UV filters instead, such as zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.
Making small changes to everyday items
I’ve recently made some changes at home to try to reduce our exposure to EDCs, and will be on the lookout over the next few months to make more changes.
- Replaced plastic food containers with glass containers
- Microwave food covered with a paper towel instead of cling wrap or a plastic lid
- Replaced skincare and makeup with products that are free of parabens, talc, phthalate, synthetic fragrances and triclosan.
Looking for alternate skincare and makeup products was the most time-consuming. The market is saturated by ‘designer’ brands like those sold in Sephora and Mecca. Because I have dermatitis I’ve always been cautious to use products that are specifically for sensitive skin. But even these products can contain parabens and phthalates. So spend the extra time going through ingredient lists and reading product reviews.