Over the last few weeks I’ve noticed a number of articles about “hormone disruptors” in the French language newspapers. I’ve not noticed this issue getting much coverage in English language media so I thought I’d share some of it here with you today.
“Hormone disruptors” are chemicals which have the power to affect the “endocrine system” in human beings. The endocrine system is the network of glands and communication channels in the body which produce natural chemicals called “hormones”. Hormones are the key to the regulation of a lot that goes on in the human body. As well as having specific effects on certain tissues, the whole endocrine system is intricately connected to both the nervous system and the immune system. There are even fields of study known as “psychoneuroendocrinology” and “psychoneuroimmunology” to research the connections between these whole body systems.
The first article which caught my eye was the report of a study published in Nature where the researchers had shown that two chemicals in the environment, neither of which had much of a biological effect on human cells, could combine to have a dramatic effect. Figaro described this as the situation where one plus one didn’t equal two, but maybe fifty.
Humans are chronically exposed to multiple exogenous substances, including environmental pollutants, drugs and dietary components. Many of these compounds are suspected to impact human health, and their combination in complex mixtures could exacerbate their harmful effects. Here we demonstrate that a pharmaceutical oestrogen and a persistent organochlorine pesticide, both exhibiting low efficacy when studied separately, cooperatively bind to the pregnane X receptor, leading to synergistic activation. Biophysical analysis shows that each ligand enhances the binding affinity of the other, so the binary mixture induces a substantial biological response at doses at which each chemical individually is inactive.
There are an estimated 150,000 chemicals in the world which are all licensed as safe but have been tested only singly, and not in combination with the others which are found in our environment, and indeed, in our bodies.
At the beginning of October, the International Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (FIGO) published a warning about the effects of all these chemicals which are now routinely found in mothers’ bodies during pregnancy. They said –
Exposure to toxic environmental chemicals during pregnancy and breastfeeding is ubiquitous and is a threat to healthy human reproduction.’’ It cites research showing that virtually all pregnant women bear a chemical burden and that babies are born “pre-polluted”
What problems were these doctors concerned about?
« Miscarriage and fetal loss, impaired fetal growth, congenital malformations, impaired or reduced neurodevelopment and cognitive function, and an increase in cancer, attention problems, ADHD behaviors, and hyperactivity ».
In addition, they referred to other problems which have a hormonal element – obesity, diabetes, infertility, endometriosis and polycystitic ovarian disorder.
Where are all these chemicals coming from?
Hormone (or endocrine) disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are found in food packaging, pesticides, cosmetics and chemical coatings on household products.
Then, this week, in Le Monde, I read an article about the hormone disrupting potential of the chemicals used as fire retardants. A group of researchers at “L’Anses” concluded that
il est plausible que les retardateurs de flamme n’aient eu, en près de quarante ans d’utilisation, qu’une utilité marginale, voire nulle. Les risques, eux, sont bien réels : certains de ces composés sont cancérogènes, perturbateurs endocriniens, toxiques pour la reproduction, persistants ou neurotoxiques. Ou tout cela à la fois.
….in other words there is little evidence that they’ve done much to prevent serious problems from fires, but plenty of evidence to show that the health risks are significant – cancerogenic, hormone disruptors, fertility suppressing and neurotoxic.
Hormones are a key component in the maintenance of human health. As the obstetricians and gynaecologists pointed out disruption of the endocrine system may well be playing a significant role in our modern epidemics. If that’s true then we won’t achieve population health by just trying to persuade individuals to eat less carbohydrates!