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Endocrine Disruptors – The emerging public health concern

By Dr. JK Bhutani

What is an Endocrine Disruptor: A chemical that interferes (or disrupts) with the formation, secretion or functioning of hormones (secreted by endocrine glands) in our body.

Endocrine disruptors, in our environment are a reality and are entering our bodies from the air we breathe, the ambiance we live in, and the food-water-beverages we take. These are far more dangerous than the PM (particulate matter of controversial Delhi’s odd-even fight). Soon it should be the next hot public health concern for the governments as the evidence, from the environment labs regarding their link with various chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, decreased fertility and some cancers, swells.

Many other developmental, reproductive, neural, immune, and other problems noted in laboratory animals may well be true for humans too. The Endocrine Society of US released a statement on ‘Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs)’ recently specifically listing THEIR ROLE in obesity, diabetes, female reproduction, male reproduction, hormone-sensitive cancers in females, prostate cancer in males, thyroid, learning disabilities, attention-deficit-disorder, and some neuro-developmental abnormalities. The epidemic of diabetes and thyroid disorders in India and the role of these chemicals are not well researched but the link may well be more than conjectural.

 

What are the chemicals that make these Endocrine Disruptors

Endocrine disruptors are so ubiquitous! Every daily need from a toothpaste, soap, detergents, body-lotions, perfumes, food additives, potable water, vegetables, milk and stored cereals may contain residues of chemicals, pesticides and other adulterant toxins. The health effects are difficult to assess because of the fact that people are typically exposed to multiple endocrine disruptors simultaneously and the amount and the route of the chemical entering the system is variable.

Food
A wide and varied range of substances are implicated and some have definite proven role like diethylstilbestrol, dioxin, dioxin-like compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), DDT, and some other pesticides. Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in  polycarbonate plastics, epoxy resins and other interior fixtures in homes and Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), used in packaging consumer foods are entering our systems from  our living rooms and kitchens. They are decoy silent invaders and slow killers of our immunity and defence.

Harmful effects

Endocrine Disruptors can interfere with the synthesis, secretion, transport, binding, action, or elimination of natural hormones in the body. The ‘survival and propagation’ and ‘homeostasis’ is built in our system and all the array of hormones from various endocrine glands like pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, pancreas, testes-ovaries and other scattered endocrine tissues are tools of this process.

The ‘Fight-Flight Response’ and all the stress coping mechanisms are possible only with these hormones. The disruption of these vital molecules by the extraneous chemicals is quite logical and the evidence based modern medicine has just to corroborate it. The low dose, the wide multiple effects and the ubiquitous exposure makes endocrine disrupting chemicals difficult to handle.

Prevention

We cannot avoid these in current ‘anything-for-money’ times. The global markets and poor regulatory mechanisms of developing countries and global suppliers only add to the load of toxic exposures on us. A public awareness movement is needed to check the onslaught of harmful chemicals that may act as endocrine disruptors.

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A few useful tips in this regard are:

  • Eat only as much as you need! You will never repent eating less and you shall eat fewer toxins too.
  • Eat fresh and avoid preservative rich processed/packed foods. Grow some vegetables and fruit in your kitchen-garden. Wash the vegetables/fruits well, Wash grains and dry before use, Pool a cow and a farm if possible and Raise a voice for organic farming.
  • Do not use plastics for food cooking or serving. Avoid disposables. Finally, cook well and reject if you find any unpleasant odour.

 

Dr J.K. Bhutani, MD is a protagonist of preventive and promotive health care based on austere biology and facilitating self-healing powers of human organism. Twitter: @drjkbhutani

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