Endocrine Disruption

Key Takeaways 

  • Endocrine disruptors are chemicals known to interfere with our endocrine system and have been linked to the development of learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, cognitive problems, and even hormonal changes. 
  • BPA was used for years to harden plastics, is a known endocrine disruptor but there are others to be concerned about such as phthalates, PBDE’s, PFC’s, PFOA’s - many of which are known carcinogens. 
  • There is a way to clean up the mess these chemicals have created. 
People have been told a lot of information (and misinformation) about plastic and it’s potential harmfulness. When it comes to avoiding plastic in bottles and can liners, most consumers couldn’t tell you that phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA) are endocrine disruptors. And they probably don’t know that the PET (recycling #1) designation on a bottle (chemically called polyethylene terephthalate) contains no phthalates. They most likely couldn’t tell you what an endocrine disruptor is. They just know those things are considered bad.  Phthalates are released into the environment, but do not usually hang around because of rapid degradation by light and anaerobic microörganism activity. However, phthalates with low molecular weight get absorbed through the skin because they are not tightly bonded to the substrates they attempt to soften (Hopf, 2014) (Janjua, 2008). Sometimes these chemicals appear in medicines, where they’re used as enteric coatings.  Omeprazole (generic for Prilosec), mesalamine (used to treat IBD) and theophylline (for COPD) are examples. 

What Exactly is BPA?

So why do we even have BPA? you might be wondering. For decades, BPA has been used to harden plastics. Dental sealers, water bottles, CDs (remember those?), medical devices, and yes, can liners are among the items that use BPA. Most adults have BPA in their bodies at this minute, most likely from foods that were packaged in containers made with it. But BPA also comes from dust, air and water. The good news? Many manufacturers of baby supplies, including foods and bottles, have stopped using it. Its use has coined a new descriptive term—obesogen—because it can foster obesity as an endocrine disruptor, which by now we know is a chemical that interferes with the function of the endocrine system. This has also been shown to have ties to the development of learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, cognitive problems and sexual development irregularities, including the feminizing of males and the masculinizing of females (De-Kun, 2013) (Gore, 2015).  Surprisingly, BPA has been seen in fast food and white bread besides the typical canned food liners, the highest of which appear in tuna fish, canned corn, soups and baked beans…and even some baby foods, where the source is PVC gaskets on the lids (Cao, 2011).  While most water and soda bottles are free of BPA, polycarbonate bottles, reusable #7, are not. One of the most shocking sources is cash register tape, the carbonless kind used in supermarkets and gas stations. Though minimal, skin absorption of this chemical is a reality—even though it may be minor, it’s still there. The blood BPA levels of cashiers are found to be as much as twenty-five percent higher than of those who eat canned vegetable servings every day (Braun, 2011)  Much of the data on endocrine disruptors comes from the study of aquatic organisms, river water acting as the sink into which most ground water drains. Fish appear to be affected more so than amphibians, vertebrate species suffer the vagaries of BPA pollution, where teratogenic effects are seen at relatively high levels and pleiotropic effects at lower levels (Flint, 2012). Landfill leachates and pulp mill effluent account for a good deal of the problem. 

Other Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals 

But wait—there’s more. Phthalates and PBA are not the only endocrine disruptors to which we may be exposed to. Dioxins that form from the incineration of chlorine and/or bromine in the presence of carbon and oxygen have long-lasting effects that can accumulate in the body…and the food chain. These teratogenic hydrocarbons can affect sperm quality and count. Atrazine is an herbicide that turns male frogs into female frogs, complete with viable eggs. Used in agriculture, notably the cornbelt, it lands in drinking water, where its uptake is linked to breast tumors, delayed puberty and prostate diseases. A rocket fuel, perchlorate, appears in milk. Rocket exhausts are carried by rainwater to the grasslands occupied by dairy cattle. Once ingested, it competes with iodine to upset hormone balance in the thyroid.  Fire retardants around the globe known as Polybrominated diphenyl esters (PBDE’s) can also disrupt thyroid hormones, occasionally leading to a lowered IQ. Carpet padding and upholstery foam are sources as well. PFC’s are perfluorinated chemicals that make non-stick pots and pans. One of these, called PFOA (perfluoroöctanoic acid), is a suspected carcinogen used to manufacture Teflon. This chemical is associated with low birth weight, kidney ailments, elevated cholesterol and aberrant sex hormones.  Historically, organophosphate pesticides were introduced by the Nazis as a chemical warfare agent, targeting the nervous system. In spite of the studies that expose the nefarious character of these agents, they are still used as pesticides today. Organophosphates interfere with testosterone cell signaling, dropping levels. Shrunken testicles result from exposure to glycol ethers, solvents common to paints, cleaning products, brake fluid and cosmetics. Children exposed to the fumes in their newly-painted bedrooms can experience asthma-like signs and exposed painters have also been shown to have low sperm counts. Yes, that is staggering amount of issues that come along for the ride with these chemicals.

Endocrine Support Supplements 

So, how can we combat these concerns? Dietary interventions that include the true phospholipid phosphatidylcholine, like the one made by BodyBio, is a way to start. It contains a bonus complex of phosphatidylethanolamine and phosphatidylinositol, two signaling entities that promote nootropic and recollective function, as well as architectural support to cell membranes*. The follicle, creator of the menstrual cycle and, thus, pregnancy, is disrupted in the endocrine cascade of events.  These reside in ovaries and a few get bigger at the start of the cycle. They each contain and nurture a potential egg, but one outgrows the others and releases the egg during ovulation. Changes in hormones cause this to happen during every cycle. When a female fetus is six to nine months along in the womb, primitive follicles grow. These primordial follicles carry oöcytes. Once these follicles are fully developed, their growth is halted, resulting in a finite number of follicles isolated from the bloodstream and hormones. In puberty they awaken to cause menarche—the first menstrual cycle. This activity enlivens a hormone known as gonadotropin releasing hormone from the hypothalamus. That initiates the activation of other hormones: follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), which then release estrogen and progesterone. Now, the physical changes of puberty are set to appear. This, of course, is the way things are supposed to work. Endocrine disruption can upset the whole apple cart.   Not only do phospholipids play a role as rescue molecules, but essential fatty acids do as well.  Where saturated and trans fats decrease insulin concentration and lead to insulin resistance, polyunsaturated fatty acids increase plasma insulin concentrations and decrease insulin resistance (Bhathena, 2006). In humans, Omega-3 fats can even alter levels of opioid peptides in plasma following hormone receptor corrections (Ibid.), at the same time protecting the hippocampus against BPA-induced injury (Hekmat, 2018). It may be surprising, but PUFA’s are precursors for eicosanoids that include prostaglandins, leukotrienes and thromboxanes that are now deemed to have hormone-like activities. 

Endocrine Disruptors and Hormones 

A mother’s nutritional environment during the fetal period has considerable impact on the child’s health far down the road. Fatty acids play an appreciable role in this regard. Changes in fatty acid intake, passing through breast milk and the placenta during this time, may increase risk for obesity and metabolic disorders in later life. These imbalances alter the composition of membrane phospholipids, eventually causing structural and functional problems in cells. This indicates that exogenous actors are not the only source of endocrine disruption.   With the high volume of BPA production in the world, it’s not surprising that its adverse effects are global. Mitochondrial enzymes are so affected that total testosterone and anti-oxidant status suffer insult (El-Beshbishy, 2013). Hypo-methylation of DNA in early development appears, giving substance to the concept that adult diseases have a fetal origin (Dolinoy, 2007). Early stem cells are especially sensitive to BPA interference.  Mitochondrial markers have been shown to improve with the administration of alpha-lipoic acid through an anti-oxidant mechanism that scavenges free radicals (El-Beshbishy, 2013). Not to be outdone by lipoic acid, certain probiotics have the capacity to degrade BPA. A form of Bacillus extracted from kimchi, notably B.pumilus, having strains designated as BP-2CK, BP-21DK, and BP-22DK, has effectively removed BPA from its substrate (Yamanaka, 2007). To support this armamentarium, Bifidobacterium breve and Lactobacillus casei exert a protective effect against exposure to BPA (Oishi, 2008). Where BPA is seen to break down red blood cells, green tea extract has been found to improve hemolysis by a significant margin (Suthar, 2014), and black tea along with quercetin in a concentration-dependent application handles BPA cytotoxicity (Verma, 2009). Moving forward, preventing exposure to endocrine disruptors is the goal. But, in the event a clean-up is needed, there are means to get the job done: PC, PE, Omega-3 fatty acids, and other supporting elements.