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Endocrine Disruptors and Their Effects on Your Hormones

An image of a woman holding her throat while she grimacesAn unfortunate fact of life is our daily exposure to harmful chemicals in the air, in our food, and in the water we drink. One classification of these chemicals, called endocrine disruptors, can wreak havoc on our hormones and endanger our health.

Scientists and researchers report even small amounts of these endocrine disruptors can cause very significant problems in development and in essential biological functions. Even low amounts of these chemicals can be unsafe and can lead to disruptions of the sensitive systems in your body.

Dangerous Decline in Testosterone

Research shows one type of endocrine disruptors, phthalates, significantly reduce the level of testosterone in males. Testosterone, the main sex hormone in men, also works in a variety of other areas. For example, it contributes to bone density, cardiovascular health, growth and development, and brain function.

Related research shows that age-related testosterone decline in men is worse today than it was for previous generations. Compared to 50-year-old men fifteen years ago, 50-year-old men today have an average of 45% lower testosterone levels.

The health implications of this decline include a negative impact on reproductive development in young boys, impaired energy, impaired libido, impaired sexual function, and impaired bone health in both males and females.

What Are Endocrine Disruptors?

The endocrine system consists of glands that release hormones. These hormones influence or control numerous bodily systems. The hormones they release act as chemical messengers. Going around the body, they bind to receptors on cells and lead to changes in those cells. These changes can be predicted.

Endocrine disruptors consist of chemicals that can mimic hormones. They can bind to the receptors normally used by hormones. Doing this, they can bring about a more powerful response than hormones, a less powerful response than hormones, or a totally different response than hormones.

Also, these chemicals may block the action of hormones. Likewise, they can change the message carried by hormones.

In addition, these disruptors can lead to changes in the creation of hormones, in the transport of hormones, in the binding of hormones, and in the breakdown of hormones. And it only takes very small amounts of endocrine disruptors to bring on these changes.

These disruptors also do not break down easily. Because of this, manufacturers use them in many products. Unfortunately, it also means they stay in the water, air, food, and your body for a long time.

Most of the endocrine disruptors act like estrogens that naturally occur in the body. Some of them also act like testosterone in the body.

The Most Common Endocrine Disruptors

Several hundred of these chemicals have already been identified. However, over 3,000 chemicals are produced every year in the U.S. Many, if not most, of these chemicals do not have safety data available. Thus, no one knows how many of them may become classified as endocrine disruptors.

Currently, the most common of these chemicals include:

PCBs and Dioxins

An image of the elemental structure of dioxins written in green markerThese chemicals typically occur in pesticides. Some come from by-products of combustion. Even though banned from use in the U.S., these chemicals tend to linger in the food chain and the environment. You will find them in meat products as well.

They resemble thyroid hormones and interfere with the transport and metabolism of thyroid hormones. They can compromise neurodevelopment and decrease male sexual behavior.

People continue to use pesticides on lawns and gardens. Some of these may contain chemicals like PCBs or dioxin. Thus, exposure to this type of chemical can still occur. In addition, although DDT became unlawful to use in the U.S., it still finds uses in other countries. Therefore, you still may get exposed to it through imported foods.

Flame Retardants

These chemicals find use in plastics, electronics, furniture, and foods. They help make these products flame resistant. With a structure similar to thyroid hormones, they can disrupt thyroid hormone functions. They can change estrogen and testosterone signaling and may accumulate in your body. You most likely will find these chemicals in meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products.

Phytoestrogens

Often found in soy and other food products. Up t0 90% of soy products are genetically modified. Highly processed foods also increase phytoestrogens. These compounds connect to and stimulate estrogen receptors. Lower levels of intake of phytoestrogens don’t seem to affect testosterone levels in men.

Perfluorinated Chemicals

These endocrine disruptors typically appear in food packaging and some non-stick cookware. They interfere with thyroid metabolism.

Phthalates

Products that contain fragrances or ‘perfume’ likely have these chemicals in them. Cleaning agents, plastics, cosmetics, and food packaging may contain these chemicals. Your drinking water likely contains phthalates also because water treatment facilities do not do a good job of removing them. These chemicals bring the worst effects on testosterone and semen quality. Also, they may increase fat cell growth due to their ability to bind to receptors.

Bisphenol A (BPA)

Several plastics, food containers, and the lining of canned foods contain these endocrine disruptors. When used in food packaging, they leach into the foods themselves. You will also find them in your water supply.

BPA increases estrogen in your body. Conditions brought on by exposure to BPA include altered immune function, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sperm anomalies, and reproductive system problems.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

Although banned in the U.S. for over forty years, PCBs continue to be released into the environment through poorly maintained city waste dumps and burning of hazardous wastes, leaks from electrical transformers, illegal or improper disposal of hydraulic fluids, and coolants.

Stress, Adrenal Fatigue, NEM, and Hormone Systems

An image of a stressed out girl holding her face in her handsStress, which can lead to Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) and NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response dysregulation, has a big effect on how vulnerable your body is to the effects of endocrine disruptors.

Whenever stress of any kind affects your body, your adrenal glands become the first responders activated to deal with its effects. The adrenal glands release cortisol, the stress-fighting hormone, to deal with stress. When stress becomes chronic and severe, your adrenal glands can become fatigued due to the demand placed on them for cortisol. The more stress, the greater the demand for cortisol. Once this occurs, adrenal fatigue symptoms begin. Initially, they may appear vague, but with time they become very severe.

Your adrenals are part of the NEM stress response, your body's global response to stress. Consisting of six circuits that contain three organs or organ systems, this NEM response triggers when stress becomes great and the adrenals can’t keep up with demand. Each of the six circuits overlaps to a degree, and what affects one will affect others, including dysfunction associated with stress. The NEM model describes how you can track symptoms of dysfunction across these different organ systems.

Effects of Endocrine Disruptors on Your Hormones

Endocrine disruptors appear to exert their strongest effects on the Hormone circuit of the NEM. This circuit consists of the adrenal glands, thyroid gland, and reproductive organs. These systems work in conjunction with one another in such a way that what happens to one affects the others.

Thus, in a stressful situation, when the adrenals become fatigued due to overload, the resultant loss of hormones affects the thyroid and reproductive organs. For example, when the adrenal glands weaken, this leads to corresponding thyroid issues and reproductive issues, such as irregular menses in women and decreased testosterone in men. In the same way, an underactive thyroid worsens adrenal fatigue symptoms. Also, hormone imbalance symptoms such as estrogen dominance lead to an exacerbation of any sub-clinical hypothyroid symptoms.

Estrogen Dominance

Because endocrine disruptors interfere with thyroid functions and can lead to estrogen dominance, it becomes easy to see how they negatively affect people who suffer from AFS. Many endocrine disruptors act as xenoestrogens, compounds that look like estrogens and actually sit on estrogen receptors in your body, leading to worsened estrogen dominance symptoms.

Estrogen dominance can increase proteins in the bloodstream that bind to thyroid hormones. In such a case, blood tests may show normal results but the level of thyroid hormones in tissues declines. This results in sub-clinical hypothyroidism.

Likewise, when estrogen is too high as in estrogen dominance, the adrenal glands do not respond to signals from the brain. This results in lower levels of cortisol being released. In addition to cortisol, lower levels of androgens such as testosterone result when estrogen is too high. These low androgen levels affect thyroid function and your adrenal glands.

Thyroid Dysfunction

A diagram of the thyroid with words around itThyroid dysfunction affects the reproductive system in a like manner. Through its effects on regulating metabolism, the thyroid affects the production of sex hormone-binding globulin (SBHG), gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GRH), and prolactin. All of these, in turn, affect the menstrual cycle and the ability to become pregnant in women.

In the same way, the thyroid works in close conjunction with the adrenals. When the adrenals become exhausted, normal bodily functions and energy usage change. The body slows down and conserves as much energy as possible. This affects metabolism, greatly influenced by the thyroid. The body gears itself to a survival mode in the face of adrenal fatigue due to stress.

Thus you can see how endocrine disruptors can wreak havoc on people suffering from AFS. Below are some ideas on how to limit exposure to these chemicals.

How to Limit Endocrine Disruptor Exposure

Here are some things you can do to help avoid endocrine disruptors and keep them from having serious effects on your body.

The most important thing to do is lower your exposure to these chemicals. In order to do this, follow these suggestions:

  • Invest in a good water filter with charcoal. A reverse osmosis filter with charcoal will do the job.
  • Lose weight. Endocrine disruptors are often stored in fat in your body.
  • Eat only organic vegetables and grass-fed beef and chicken.
  • If you use milk, use almond or cashew milk.
  • Use only metal or glass water bottles, never plastic.
  • Store food in glass or other non-plastic containers.
  • Use only natural detergents, soaps, and shampoos.
  • Don’t use commercially canned food, K-cups, air fresheners, or perfumes.
  • Optimize your detoxification system.

Whatever you decide to do, always consult with your healthcare professional before starting any effort to deal with the effects of endocrine disruptors. Make sure your healthcare professional understands what supplements you are considering and can advise you on the correct amounts to take.

Conclusions

Endocrine disruptors come from sources all around you. These chemicals exert strong effects on your hormonal system. This system affects nearly every aspect of your health. Any of the glands in your body that release hormones may suffer from the effects of these chemicals.

They can block normal hormones completely. They can produce a stronger response than normal hormones, a weaker response, or a completely different response. Likewise, they can change how normal hormones are made, how they are transported, whether they bind to the appropriate receptors, and how they are degraded.

In addition, these disruptor chemicals are very stable and stick around for a very long time in water, soil, foods, and your body. That is one reason manufacturers use them so much. They stay in products like plastics and fabrics for a long time as well.

Endocrine disruptors exist in many common products. Some of these include pesticides, plastics, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, and food containers.

Considering how even a small amount of these disruptors can lead to significant health effects, it becomes important to limit your exposure. However, that can be difficult to do given their presence nearly everywhere.

An image of an older woman having her thyroid examined by her doctorExposure to endocrine disruptors carries a significant threat to both women and men. These chemicals work to decrease levels of testosterone tremendously. And exposure to only small amounts can bring about a condition called estrogen dominance. This condition affects not only men’s and women’s reproductive systems but also affects thyroid function and your adrenal glands.

Make sure to talk to your doctor about any new supplements you plan to take to decrease your exposure, especially if you have AFS and your body is very sensitive.

If you would like to know more about or need assistance with endocrine disruptors, the team at Dr. Lam Coaching can help. We offer a free** no-obligation phone consultation at +1-626-571-1234 where we will privately discuss your symptoms and various options. You can also send us a question through our Ask The Doctor system by clicking here.

© Copyright 2021 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam's Key Question

No. Endocrine disruptors also affect multiple hormones in men and women. In essence, they can affect any and all of the glands in the body that release hormones. Many of them lead a condition called estrogen dominance that affects both males and females in unhealthy ways.

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