With the latest round of stimulus checks hitting American bank accounts, many people are still struggling to rebound from the financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some clamor for a third stimulus check, while others think more government bailouts will only deepen the deficit. As of December 2020, the percentage of unemployed Americans sat at 6.7% and has improved steadily since topping out at 14.8% in April 2020, but has not yet been restored to the pre-COVID rate of 3.5%, the lowest it had been since 1969.
With so much financial uncertainty, many Americans are looking for ways to stretch each dollar and cut costs wherever possible, but perhaps there are some areas they shouldn’t. One such area is swapping a “clean” food or product for a “dirty” one that may contain harmful chemicals known as endocrine disruptors.
- Endocrine disrupting chemicals are in our air, food and water supply, lotions and cosmetics, and countless other everyday consumer products, yet most Americans have no clue the damage they cause to overall health and well-being.
- Endocrine disrupting chemicals contribute to an array of diseases and disorders, like metabolic syndrome, ADHD, premature and abnormal breast development in teens, impaired thyroid function and many others.
- It’s nearly impossible to avoid all EDCs, but knowing what to look out for and eliminating as many as you can could play an important role in helping you improve your family’s and your own overall health.
WHAT ARE ENDOCRINE DISRUPTING CHEMICALS?
Endocrine disruptors, or Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) are non-natural chemicals found in everyday consumer products that mimic, block, or interfere with hormones in the body’s endocrine system, and are associated with many health related issues ranging from neurological and behavioral disorders, metabolic dysfunction and even some cancers, to many other potentially preventable diseases and disorders like diabetes and ADHD.
A little over a decade ago, as health related concerns surrounding endocrine disrupting chemicals began to emerge, various experts and agencies started to take action. According to the Endocrine Society -the world’s largest and most active organization made up of scientists and physicians devoted to research on endocrinology and EDCs – the American Medical Association adopted a policy in November of 2009 (D-135.982, Regulation of Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals) that called for improved regulatory oversight of EDCs, based on “comprehensive data covering both low-level and high-level exposures.”
That same year, the American Public Health Association called for, “a precautionary approach to reducing American exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals.” The American Chemical Society then issued a 2012-2015 policy statement on testing for endocrine disruption, recommending expanded education and research, updated testing protocols, and the development of safer alternatives to EDCs.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?
With research and awareness of endocrine disrupting chemicals and their impact in its infancy, this means that for generations, we have been unknowingly consuming thousands of EDCs in varying degrees that are wreaking havoc on our overall health and well-being. You could be treating various conditions like metabolic syndrome, obesity or diabetes while still contributing to one of their main potential causes by ingesting endocrine disruptors via the food you eat or the cosmetics you use-it’s like washing your clothes with dirty or contaminated water and expecting them to get clean, which you would never do knowingly if you could help it.
The good news is once you know the water is dirty, you can begin to seek out cleaner, less harmful sources.
By identifying the products you use and foods you consume that contain known EDCs, you can begin to eliminate them from your life which will address an underlying root cause to your health conditions, and work to heal your body vs just treating your symptoms.
WHERE ARE ENDOCRINE DISRUPTING CHEMICALS FOUND?
According to the peer reviewed article Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals: Effects on Endocrine Glands “EDCs can be grouped as follows: Industrial [i.e., dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and alkylphenols], Agricultural (i.e., pesticides, insecticide, herbicides, phytoestrogens, fungicides), Residential (phthalates, polybrominated biphenyls, bisphenol A), Pharmaceutical (parabens) (5, 7, 13). Even heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, mercury, and arsenic may be included in the long list of EDCs (5, 14).”
Most commonly, you will find them in plastic bottles and containers (remember just a few years ago when BPA Free became a big deal? Sadly, BPA free alternatives may not be as safe as you think.), liners of metal food cans, laundry detergents, flame retardants (yep, they can even be found in the clothes you wear), toys you give your children, cosmetics and lotions you put on your body, pesticides that have for years contaminated our food and water supply, and in the meals you feed your family.
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), common endocrine disrupting chemicals are:
Bisphenol A (BPA) — used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins, which are found in many plastic products including food storage containers.
Dioxins — produced as a byproduct in herbicide production and paper bleaching, they are also released into the environment during waste burning and wildfires.
Perchlorate — a byproduct of aerospace, weapon, and pharmaceutical industries found in drinking water and fireworks.
Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) — used widely in industrial applications, such as firefighting foams and non-stick pans, paper, and textile coatings.
Phthalates — used to make plastics more flexible, they are also found in some food packaging, cosmetics, children’s toys, and medical devices.
Phytoestrogens — naturally occurring substances in plants that have hormone-like activity, such as genistein and daidzein that are in soy products, like tofu or soy milk.
Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) — used to make flame retardants for household products such as furniture foam and carpets.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) — used to make electrical equipment like transformers, and in hydraulic fluids, heat transfer fluids, lubricants, and plasticizers.
Triclosan — may be found in some antimicrobial and personal care products, like liquid body wash.
Purchase a produce wash to help remove pesticides and wax coatings, or make your own. However, a study conducted by the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station found that rinsing while rubbing produce under cold water for at least 30 seconds was nearly as effective as using a produce wash, as both were able to reduce pesticide residues for 9 out of 12 pesticides tested.
Buy organic, but when the budget is tight, consult The Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists for guidance on when to swap organic for less expensive conventional produce. Since 2004, every spring the EWG publishes these lists and attests that some conventionally grown produce, like kale and strawberries, are more susceptible to EDC absorption than others, like avocados and onions, and therefore contain higher levels of harmful pesticides.
Do not let fear of pesticides keep you from eating a variety of fruits and veggies as they are important for a healthy diet, but knowing the foods on these lists may help you make more informed choices when deciding to purchase organic or conventional.
Speak out and share what you now know and continue further research. Hopefully someday soon, the companies that produce and “hide” these harmful chemicals in our products and the governing agencies and policy makers that allow them to be used will stop, thus keeping them from harming our health in the first place.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Economic uncertainty has resulted in many making the switch to less expensive consumer products which often contain more known EDCs compared to their more expensive counterparts, without realizing this decision could be harming their own and their family’s health in the process. This is an obvious problem when you consider the financial crunch many are feeling today, and as a result may choose to forgo organic food purchases for pesticide containing conventional ones, buy canned veggies instead of frozen or fresh, or use an EDC laden “cheaper” shampoo or lotion with hidden parabens and fragrances.
As if that’s not enough to make you reconsider your purchases, due to the pandemic, higher and more frequent usage of cleaning products and hand sanitizer means more absorption of harmful chemicals and products containing EDCs. In pre-COVID times this was a problem, but with people using hand sanitizer and bleach and other chemical laden products at increased levels to combat the virus, it’s more important now than ever to understand what you’re putting on your body’s largest organ.
What if the less expensive products you use today are actually damaging your quality life and health (even in ways you can’t yet see), causing you to spend more money in areas you may not directly relate to the cost of those products, like future healthcare costs, weight loss programs due to metabolic syndrome or therapy for behavioral issues?
Something few tend to consider when working within their monthly budget is the cost of a healthier lifestyle today vs expensive healthcare down the road. Spending a little more to prevent EDC induced diseases and disorders could lead to not only an increased quality of life, but less spent on treatment and future illnesses or diseases most Americans have come to expect as a “natural” aspect of aging.
Read: Civic Engagement: Key to a Prosperous and Peaceful Future
Doesn’t it make you wonder why our government hasn’t done more to prevent these harmful endocrine disrupting chemicals from entering our bodies via these products and our food supply in the first place? Yes, the FDA and others have taken steps toward education, increased research and regulation around EDCs, but what if you didn’t get the memo and aren’t aware that endocrine disrupting chemicals and other harmful chemicals are lurking in nearly everything you consume, and therefore aren’t able to make an informed decision?
Couple that with the fact that cleaner products are often more expensive, it is clear that without further action by not only our governing bodies and regulatory institutes, but by the companies producing these chemicals and products that contain them, Americans will continue to unknowingly use endocrine disrupting chemicals and suffer the detrimental consequences to their overall health and well-being.
Remember, it’s only within the last decade that serious and wide-spread initiatives have been taken to protect and educate the public on harmful chemicals and endocrine disrupting chemicals and their potential detrimental effects, so we have a long way yet to go to get the word out and drastically improve the quality and safety of the products we consume.
Samantha DeTurk is a health and science writer for ThinkCivics. Sam graduated cum laude from BSU with a major in Theatre and a minor in Telecommunications and spent her first 5 years post-grad working in the radio industry before joining corporate America as a business consultant for a Fortune 300 HCM leader. When she’s not writing or cooking delicious WFPB cuisine, Sam loves singing, acting, spending time at the lake with her husband and ornery kitty Jasper, and (badly) learning to play her ukulele, The UkuBaby.