Currently, more than 800 chemical substances exhibit proven or suspected endocrine disrupting properties. Present in many everyday objects, endocrine disruptors are raising growing concerns about their impact on health. Do these substances, inherent in the daily environment, really represent a danger?
Definition of endocrine disruptors
Endocrine disruptors, whether of natural or artificial origin, constitute chemical substances foreign to the body capable of altering the proper functioning of the endocrine system . This interference can lead to harmful effects, both for the exposed organism and for its offspring.
Endocrine disruptors encompass a diversity of compounds, many of which persist in the environment for many years. Some of them also have the capacity to migrate from one compartment to another, such as soil, water and air, well after their initial production.
Since the endocrine system responds to extremely low concentrations of hormones, the presence of these disruptors, even at minimal concentrations, can cause malfunctions . This phenomenon is expressed by a non-monotonic dose-response relationship, making it difficult to establish a clear toxicity threshold.
Where are endocrine disruptors generally found?
Endocrine disruptors are present in many everyday elements, available in several substances. They are found in particular in:
- Food : the food itself due to pesticides, but also food containers and kitchen utensils (made from recycled plastic). They are also found in plastic bottles, cans, cling film and even cans.
- Cosmetics and textiles: nail polish, makeup, waterproof textiles, and disposable toilet wipes.
- Cleaning products : detergents, laundry detergents, and disposable wipes.
- Medicines : certain medicines, such as menopausal hormonal treatments, combined oral contraceptives, as well as more common medicines such as paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories may also contain endocrine disruptors.
This list, although not exhaustive, highlights the extent of their presence. Furthermore, certain professional sectors , such as agriculture, the pharmaceutical and chemical industry, are exposed to higher doses of endocrine disruptors compared to the general population.
How do they act on the body?
The endocrine system brings together the organs that secrete hormones : thyroid, pituitary gland, ovaries, testicles, etc. This system orchestrates the release of hormones by acting in close relation with other organs. It diffuses these chemical mediators into the bloodstream to regulate various bodily functions such as growth, metabolism, sexual development, brain development and reproduction.
Endocrine disruptors intervene and disrupt this system directly or indirectly . In a direct approach, they can interact with cellular receptors, mimicking the action of natural hormones like estrogen, or by blocking these receptors, thereby hindering the action of hormones . In an indirect approach, they alter aspects such as the production, storage, transport, diffusion or elimination of natural hormones. By modifying or replacing the production of natural hormones, these substances undoubtedly have repercussions on human health.
The most critical period of exposure is during embryonic life, a period of increased vulnerability for the developing organism, extending from prenatal development to infancy. This reality highlights the importance of particular vigilance among pregnant women in order to minimize risks for the healthy development of the body under construction. It should be noted, however, that the consequences of this exposure may not manifest until adulthood , highlighting a mechanism of programmatically delayed toxicity.
Consequences of endocrine disruptors
The impacts of endocrine disruptors vary depending on the substance concerned. And, although their understanding remains limited, several consequences have been identified, such as:
- Impairment of reproductive functions.
- Malformations of the reproductive organs.
- The development of tumors in hormone-producing or target tissues such as the thyroid, breast, testicles, prostate or uterus.
- A disturbance in the functioning of the thyroid.
- Impaired development of the nervous system and cognitive development.
It is important to emphasize that these effects appear mainly in the following generation and not in the exposed parents, thus characterizing a transgenerational effect. These findings reinforce the importance of early awareness and preventive measures , particularly among pregnant women, to minimize health risks for future generations.
5 tips to limit exposure to endocrine disruptors
Although total avoidance is an unrealistic challenge given the omnipresence of endocrine disruptors in the daily environment, a few simple actions can considerably limit this exposure.
1. Ventilate regularly
Devoting 10 minutes a day to daily ventilation of the living space is an important gesture. In fact, ventilation helps promote air circulation and reduce concentrations of potentially harmful substances.
2. Favor organic food
Opting for foods of organic origin helps limit the ingestion of pesticides . This farming mode guarantees the non-use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, insecticides or chemical fertilizers.
3. Adopt a homemade diet
Favoring fresh foods and reducing the consumption of ultra-processed products is also a solution to reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors. This also avoids consuming products rich in additives.
4. Choose suitable maintenance products
It is better to opt for more natural alternatives like white vinegar, baking soda and black soap. However, the use of these products does not exempt you from respecting the instructions for use. In some cases, non-chemical methods can even replace household products, such as using a plunger instead of unblocking products.
5. Protect yourself
When using potentially hazardous products, it is important to wear appropriate protective equipment such as gloves and masks. Limiting exposure to endocrine disruptors also involves reducing the frequency of use of certain products such as paints, scented candles or dyes, particularly for pregnant women.
In short, endocrine disruptors are a major health, environmental and scientific issue. In recent years, laws and government strategies have multiplied with the aim of reducing the population's exposure to these substances. And, although it is difficult today to escape these disruptors, it is nevertheless possible to take care of your health by limiting your exposure while carrying out regular detoxes .
National Cancer Institute. Endocrine disruptors.
INSERM. (August 11, 2017). Endocrine disruptors – a major research challenge.
Public health France. What are endocrine disruptors?