The 5Ws of endocrine disrupting chemicals



Like all other girls of her age, Guddi loves to meddle with her mum’s cosmetic box. Whenever she lays her hands on it, she starts off painting her nails. Each color draws her more and more into it. And soon, her nails glow in a rainbow of colors.

Most girls like Guddi, love make-ups. They secretly long for mum’s make up box. As they grow up, they tend to develop an affinity towards their personal hygiene products. From likes for nail polish, the list gets added with shampoos and conditioners, lotions and sunscreens, deodorants, and other make-up kits and cosmetics.

To paint you a clearer picture, my dear reader, Guddi is 7 year old. She is a very active kid. Loves to run around the house. Eats whatever her mum serves her. As a family, they follow good health habits.

-“Do my nails look beautiful, mumma? Can I use that for my pinkie also?” Guddi comes running to her mother. “Guddi, come here! What’s that stain on your dress?” Within next few hours, the family was seated at a renowned hospital. They were suggested to consult a pediatric endocrinologist. The doctor mentioned even though menarche (first period) is not a word in a seven-year-old’s vocabulary, such cases are not rare at the hospital. And that today, more than 15% American girls start puberty at age seven. The number climbs to more than 28% by age eight. In India, the definite numbers are not there yet. But parents do bring in kids for consultation when they find early development of chest, hair growth, etc. And when such things, or period in girls happen before the age 8 in girls and before age 9 in boys, it is considered precocious puberty. As the doctor gets busy with the prescription pad, Guddi’s mum feels shattered. Her kid is still busy in the world of her dolls and toys!

The doctor explains again that the cause of precocious puberty often can’t be found. Rarely, certain conditions, such as infections, hormone disorders, tumors, brain abnormalities or injuries, may cause precocious puberty. She also mentions of environmental chemicals, and particularly estrogen-mimicking ones!

For people like Guddi’s mum, who leave no stone unturned to safeguard  the health of their kids, here is some information about the so called Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). EDCs are environmental chemical, or mixture of chemicals, that interfere with any aspect of hormone action. Here are the 5Ws of EDCs that parents need to be aware of:

1. What Are EDCs?

– EDCs are substances found in the environment. They are found in food, water, cosmetics, and other manufactured items. They interfere with hormone levels in the body. Although EDCs are thought to pose a threat to adults as well, children’s bodies are more sensitive to exposure to these exogenous hormones.

2. Why should one need to be  concerned about EDCs?

EDCs are found in everyday household products. As of October 2013, there are nearly 1,000 chemicals on The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) list: Few examples:

– Bisphenol A (BPA): Found in polycarbonate plastics, including food and beverage containers, linings of tins and jar lids. BPA is more likely to leach from containers into food and beverages if the containers are heated or the contents are acidic, while harsh detergents can break down the plastics causing BPA to be released. [While it’s difficult to know whether BPA is in tin or jar linings, one can avoid polycarbonate plastics used in water bottles and other food containers (a number “7” in the recycling triangle means the plastic is polycarbonate or “other”, and a sign it may contain BPA)].

– Phthalates: Common chemicals primarily used as plasticisers in manufacturing flexible vinyl plastic found in flooring, food wrap and medical devices. They are also found in cosmetics and personal-care products, such as fragrances, lotions and nail polish. [One can avoid perfumed personal care and household products].

– Parabens: Preservatives used in many cosmetic and personal care products. [Check the ingredients list for propyl-, isopropyl-, butyl- and isobutyl-parabens. Children below 3 years might be especially vulnerable to endocrine effects. This is of particular concern if products are used on broken skin, such as nappy rash.]

– Triclosan: It is an antibacterial compound found in soap, hand wash and toothpaste, as well as other consumer products such as cleaning cloths and cutting boards. [According to the precautionary principle, it may be better to check the labels and avoid it.]

Other than the above, greatest exposures come from eating fatty foods and fish from contaminated water.

3. Where do EDCs Impact our Body?

– When ingested, absorbed or inhaled into the body, EDCs interfere with the production, action and/or elimination of our naturally present hormones. They can thus affect our ability to respond to stress, metabolism, functions of the reproductive system, and the growth and development of our body.

4. When Do These Effects Take Shape?

-EDCs can affect people at many stages of development. Some EDCs interfere with fetal growth and development. They affect babies that are still in the womb when the mother comes in contact with the chemicals. In adolescents, EDCs can affect sexual development and adults can experience fertility issues and reproductive system disease. Too much exposure is linked to an increased risk of diabetes, cancers and obesity. However, the effects of low-level EDC exposure has not yet been fully studied.

5. Who Regulates EDCs?

– There are only few guidelines or restrictions on EDCs available till date.

IN USA, The Federal government has taken some measures to regulate the use of EDCs, starting with the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976. In 1996 Congress added to these regulations with the Food Quality Protection Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) supported the risk assessment of EDCs in 2013. A memorandum was passed in 2014  by Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety (SCCS). In Asia, there are few publications on EDCs and their harmful effects. However, no regulations are found till date based on literature search.

Guddi was prescribed medicines. The idea is to arrest the progression of puberty until she attains certain age.


One thought on “The 5Ws of endocrine disrupting chemicals

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar