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Endocrine-disrupting chemicals pose a threat at home

Many people go to great lengths to make their homes as healthy as possible for themselves and their families. But even those men and women who have long since abandoned chemical-laden household cleaners might not be out of the woods thanks to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which can put men, women and children at greater risk for a host of ailments.

Research into endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs, is ongoing, but studies have already begun to indicate that exposure to EDCs can threaten hormonal systems in the brain and thyroid, while a recent study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism linked such exposure to a 13 percent lower testosterone level in men between the ages of 40 and 60. To better understand EDCs and what you can do to reduce your exposure to these potentially harmful chemicals, it first helps to understand the endocrine system.

What is the endocrine system?

Also referred to as hormone systems, endocrine systems are made up of glands located throughout the body. These glands produce hormones that are released into the bloodstream or the fluid surrounding cells, serving as chemical messengers. The endocrine system is vital to human health, as it regulates all biological processes in the body, including the development of the brain and nervous system and the growth and function of the reproductive system.

How is the endocrine system disrupted?

The endocrine system can be disrupted in various ways. Certain chemicals may mimic a natural hormone, which can trick the body into over-responding to the stimulus, or the body may be fooled into responding to a stimulus at the wrong time. In the latter instance, the body may be tricked into producing excessive insulin. Other chemicals may directly inhibit or stimulate the endocrine system, resulting in the underproduction or overproduction of hormones.

How can EDC exposure be limited?

Researchers note that EDC exposure is not necessarily something to fret about, as many chemicals men and women encounter every day have yet to be studied to determine if they disrupt the endocrine system. But men and women who want to limit their exposure to EDCs can do so in various ways.

• Go back to using traditional bar soap. Body washes and antibacterial hand soaps have grown in popularity over the last decade, but such products may contain triclosan or triclocarban. Triclosan can mimic a thyroid hormone and adversely affect metabolism, while triclocarban can interfere with testosterone. Traditional bar soaps do not typically contain either chemical.

• Refurnish with fire-retardant-free foam. The furniture with foam in your living room was likely treated with brominated fire retardants, some of which can impair thyroid function and brain development. Fire-retardant-free foams pose no such risk, and furniture that contains these foams is still comfortable.

• Abandon plastic food containers. Plastic food containers might be convenient, but researchers note that EDCs are more likely to migrate to foods the longer that plastic is in contact with food, and microwaving foods in plastic containers speeds up that migration even further. Glass or ceramic storage containers provide no such avenue for EDCs, while offering similar convenience as plastic containers.

More information about EDCs is available at www.epa.gov.