Endocrine disruptors are defined as any chemicals that can cause disturbances in our hormones like testosterone, estrogen, insulin, thyroid hormones, etc. They are most often found in chemically manufactured products like pesticides, plastics, fungicides, and metals to name a few, and in turn we can end up consuming them whether they leach into our soils or water through a variety of mechanisms. Commonly seen products that can have endocrine disruptors include plastic bottles, metal cans, toys, produce (due to soil and pesticides/fungicides), cosmetics, and detergent.
Endocrine disruptors interfere with our hormones by competing with binding sites in order to promote growth and development. There are a number of common endocrine disruptors that we can avoid, but research shows us that prenatal and early postnatal periods are the highest risk times because our neural systems are forming and still developing.1
Probably the most common endocrine disruptors you have heard of include BPA, phthalates, and perchlorate. All of these have varying effects on our endocrine system and hormones and while research is still ongoing, there are actions we can take in order to promote a healthier lifestyle.
First, be picky about your plastic when you can. Certain types of plastics are worse than others so look to avoid No.3, No. 6, and No. 7 for those that are holding your food or are in your child’s toys.2 Also, if you have to wash your plastic containers, do it by hand rather than in a dishwasher because the heat can degrade the plastic and further leach hazardous chemicals. Additionally, if your plastic containers have any scratches on them, swap them for a newer version or a glass version.
Next, choose BPA-free products when you can. This is commonly seen in metal cans, but if you can avoid the metal cans, choose the alternative. Research has shown that even BPA-free products may not be much safer.2
Lastly, never microwave or pour hot contents into plastic containers. Heat and plastic do not mix and will cause degradation and increase your risk of consuming these endocrine disrupting chemicals. That also means do not use plastic wrap on top of the glass containers, instead opt for a paper towel or nothing at all.2
- Yilmaz B, Terekeci H, Sandal S, Kelestimur F. Endocrine disrupting chemicals: exposure, effects on human health, mechanism of action, models for testing and strategies for prevention. Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 2020;21(1):127-147. doi:10.1007/s11154-019-09521-z
- Schardt, D. Kicking the can: When food containers become part of your meal. Nutrition Action Healthletter. November 2017: 8 – 11.