What is an endocrine disruptor? According to the definition provided by the World Health Organization and the International Programme on Chemical Safety, an endocrine disruptor is “an exogenous substance substance or mixture that alters function(s) of the endocrine system and consequently causes adverse health effects in an intact organism, or its progeny, or (sub)populations” (1). Exogenous substances refers to all substances that are not naturally found within an organism (2).
What are the functions of the endocrine system? The endocrine system is also known as the hormonal system. It is made up of hormones, organs and glands. These control key functions such as body growth, brain and nervous system (3), in particularly, the growth of the skeleton, muscles, digestion and metabolism, control of body temperature and brain, including mood and alertness (1). Our hormones regulate sexual and reproductive development, production of insulin, blood pressure, sleep patterns and weight (3). The endocrine system has a continual dialogue with two communication systems, the nervous system and the immune system, to the extent that any disruption of the endocrine system can also affect these two systems (1).
How do endocrine disruptors work in our endocrine system? Hormones are present in body fluids and act at very low concentrations. Certain natural and chemical substances can disrupt the function of the endocrine system and consequently cause adverse events. These substances are called endocrine disruptors and they can interfere in different ways. Some alter the number of hormones in our blood; others modify our sensitivity to hormones; other endocrine disruptors prevent hormones from doing their job; and others even mimic the body’s natural hormones (3).
What effects do endocrine disruptors have in our bodies? Consequences include congenital malformations, altered neurodevelopment and loss of intellectual quotient, metabolic disorders (type-2 diabetes, obesity), breast cancer and prostate cancer. In adulthood, exposure to these chemical substances has been associated with reduced fecundity, erectile dysfunction and thyroid disorders (1).
What are the most common endocrine disruptors? The most common endocrine disruptors are Bisphenol, seen in food not exceeding 0.05mg/kg and in certain cooking utensils for children; Parabens, found in food and cosmetics; Phthalates, found in many products such as toys, shoes, catheters, blood/saline bags, pharmaceuticals, perfumes, personal care products, paints, printing inks, adhesives, building materials, automobile parts, food packaging, detergents, etc.; Benzophenone-3, found in sunscreens, lip balm, make-up, perfumes, shampoos and plastics to protect the packaging; Triclosan (TCS), found in soaps, toothpastes, hand sanitizers and mouthwash; and lastly, Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs), found in pizza boxes, pre-prepared bags for popcorn and certain foods, etc. (1).
Even though we are exposed to these chemical substances present in many of the products we use in our daily lives, they do not pose a major threat to our health. Nevertheless, these synthetic substances are regulated in Europe by the 7th Environment Action Programme and 2018 EU Framework, aiming at minimising the overall exposure to endocrine disruptors and ensuring a high level of protection of both human and animal health and the environment to reduce harm and consequences (4).
- Endocrine Disruptors from Scientific Evidence to Human Health Protection.
- Hernández Loriga W, Salgado Rodríguez CA, Padrón Álvarez JE, Dorta Correa Y, Duardo Quintana ÁM, Larrionda Valdés N, et al. Intoxicaciones agudas exógenas en niños y adolescentes ingresados en cuidados intensivos pediátricos. Rev Cuba Pediatría [Internet]. June 2020 [cited 28 August 2023];92(2). Available at: http://scielo.sld.cu/scielo.php?script=sci_abstract&pid=S0034-75312020000200006&lng=es&nrm=iso&tlng=es
- CHEM Trust [Internet]. [cited 28 August 2023]. The endocrine system and endocrine disruptors. Available at: https://chemtrust.org/endocrine-system/
- European Chemical Agency (ECHA) and European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) with the technical support of the Joint Research Centre (JRC), Andersson N, Arena M, Auteri D, Barmaz S, Grignard E, et al. Guidance for the identification of endocrine disruptors in the context of Regulations (EU) No 528/2012 and (EC) No 1107/2009. EFSA J [Internet]. June 2018 [cited 30 August 2023];16(6). Available at: https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2903/j.efsa.2018.5311
Mónica Miriam García Cuéllar
Master’s Degree in Public Health and Health Promotion
OSMAN Scientific Editor