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Monday, November 27, 2006

Environmental influences on women's health: how to avoid endocrine disrupting compounds

Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients, July, 2004 by Marianne Marchese

Over the years there has been a steady rise in women's health conditions such as breast cancer, fibroids, endometriosis, miscarriage, and infertility. There also has been a rise in conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and hypothyroidism, which mostly affect women. Studies show that human exposure to chemicals in our environment such as pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, and manufacturing byproducts, can cause these endocrine disrupting conditions.

An endocrine disruptor is any substance that alters normal hormone levels or activity in the body. Synthetic chemicals can disturb the normal activity of estrogens, androgens, thyroid and other hormones. (1) They do so by binding directly to hormone receptors, activating it and causing the chain of events as if the hormone itself were binding to the receptor. (1-3) The toxic chemical may also bind and occupy the receptor, blocking normal hormonal activity, or it may interfere with proteins that regulate the activity of hormones. (1-5) These effects may be associated with the development of illness and disease.
We are exposed to endocrine-disrupting compounds in our everyday life, often without knowing we are being exposed. Pesticide residues can be found on fruits and vegetables sitting in the store to be sold. (9) Animal products are tainted with dioxins and dioxin-like compounds and often have hormones and antibiotics added to them. (9) Certain fish have high levels of mercury and pesticides. (9,14) Chemicals used as plasticizers in flexible polyvinyl chloride products can harm the female reproductive system. Polyvinyl chloride products include tablecloths, shower curtains, soft-squeeze children's toys, plastic medical equipment and plastic food wrappings. The plastic containers that food and condiments are stored in can leach out harmful chemicals. (10,26) Hormone disrupting compounds can be found in both well water and city water providing yet another means of exposure. (9) Toxic compounds are also inhaled or absorbed through the skin by contact with most household cleaning products, cosmetics, perfumes, dry cleaning, carpet, vinyl floors, copy machines, furniture glues, air fresheners, mattresses, shampoos, and the list goes on. (11,12)
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