Common Exposures: Hormones

Current Issues

There is increasing evidence that synthetic chemicals in the environment may be interfering with our bodies' fragile endocrine system, even at the lowest levels of exposure. The endocrine system consists of glands that produce hormones that act together to guide development, growth, reproduction, immunity, normal organ function and behavior.

Chemicals can disrupt this complicated and vital system in several ways. They can mimic or block chemicals naturally found in our bodies, alter our hormone levels, interfere with the body's ability to produce hormones and cause long-term effects in offspring born to mothers who are exposed during pregnancy. A well-known drug and endocrine disruptor, DES, was given to pregnant women in an effort to prevent miscarriages during the 1950's and 1960's. Not only was it ineffective in preventing miscarriages, but children of these women developed unusual cancers of the reproductive tract and birth defects of the uterus and ovaries.

Suspected endocrine-disrupting chemicals are found in pesticides, cleaning products, detergents, personal care products and chemicals used in the manufacture of plastics. Most of them are fat-soluble, meaning that they do not move through the body but are stored in body fat. These chemicals are passed from mother to child through the placenta and in breast milk.

Because so many of the suspected chemicals are used extensively in industry, and thus play an important role in our economy, linking them to serious environmental or human health problems is creating much controversy. As with all potentially harmful chemicals found in consumer products, taking precautions to reduce exposure is best.

Web Resources
Across Generations: The industrial chemical pollution mothers and daughters share and inherit - The Environmental Working Group published this detailed study documenting key environmental contaminants and the genetic mother-daughter link through which these chemicals pass. This study provides findings from tests of four mothers and their daughters, each showing an average of 35 consumer product pollutants.

Ourstolenfuture.org tracks the most recent developments in how common contaminants can interfere with fetus development. The site continues the world-renowned research begun in the book Our Stolen Future, which discusses how man-made chemical contaminants can affect hormones in humans and wildlife.

Pesticides as Endocrine Disruptors - Pest Management at the Crossroads, a Benbrook Consulting Services site, provides several links to articles on how chemicals in the environment act as hormone disrupters.

Publications
Our Stolen Future: How We Are Threatening Our Own Fertility, Intelligence, and Survival by Theo Colborn, Dianne Dumanoski and John Peterson Myers (Penguin Books USA, 1997)

Hormonal Chaos: The Scientific and Social Origins of the Environmental Endocrine Hypothesis by Sheldon Krimsky (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000)

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