There’s growing concern about chemicals that can interfere with our endocrine system, especially when it comes to child development. A moniker for these chemicals: endocrine disruptors. Children’s exposure to endocrine disruptors begins in utero and continues throughout their lifetime. What does this mean for your child? What can you do?
The Endocrine System
Our endocrine system is made up of the glands in our body that produce and release hormones. This includes the ovaries, testes, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenals, pituitary, pineal body, and pancreas. Cells that release hormones are also located in our gastrointestinal tract, heart, kidneys, and the placenta.
Hormones are responsible for a variety of essential functions in our bodies. They affect our metabolism, growth, development, sexual and reproductive functions, as well as sleep, even our mood. Endocrine disruptors can imitate or block the actions of some hormones. They have the potential to negatively affect all those systems in our body affected by hormones. Some of the possible effects of endocrine disruptors include infertility, low birth weight, sexual dysfunction, early puberty, delayed puberty, obesity, heart disease and cancer.
The Endocrine Disruptors Child Development Link
Endocrine disruptors can be both natural or man-made. They’re virtually impossible to avoid because they’re in the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. They can be found in pharmaceuticals, pesticides, cosmetics and plastic products.
Exposure to endocrine disruptors for a child is particularly concerning because they consume more food, drinks, and air per body weight than adults do. A child’s accelerated development also makes them more vulnerable to endocrine disruptors.
A child’s exposure begins in utero via the placenta. It continues after birth through breast milk or formula. It will continue throughout a child’s lifetime. Preventing all exposure to harmful endocrine disruptors is impossible. To minimize exposure, parents need to be aware of the possible sources.
Where Endocrine Disruptors Are Found
Food can contain endocrine disruptors through pesticides and preservatives, such as BHA and BHT — Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and Butylated hydroxytoluene, respectively, are chemicals used by the food industry as preservatives. The lining of cans, food containers and wrappers usually contains BPA, also known as Bisphenol A.
Animal-based foods such as meat, fish, and dairy products may be contaminated with Dioxins. Fish contains mercury. Eating more organic foods and plant-based foods and fewer animal products can help decrease exposure. Soy is a phytoestrogen (mimics estrogen) and should be limited. Using a reverse osmosis filter or drinking bottled water can reduce perchlorate in drinking water.
Parents can help their children avoid exposure to endocrine disruptors by using mineral-based instead of chemical sunscreens. Limit the use of plastics, and use BPA-free plastics whenever possible and don’t allow children to use non-organic cosmetics.
Ashley Beckman, Doctor of Oriental Medicine, warns against the use of traditional makeup because of their endocrine-disrupting potential. She tells Parentology, “There are plenty of companies that make “clean,” non-toxic products.”
Naturopathic doctor, Alissia Zenhausern, NMD from NMD Wellness of Scottsdale, agrees. “Most makeup contains a variety of harsh chemicals, some of which have been known to disrupt our hormones and have even been suspected to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing). I recommend parents not let their children use makeup at a young age to prevent any hormonal effects these harsh chemicals can cause to your child’s developing body.”
Flame retardants also contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals, something often found in children’s pajamas. Parents looking for an alternative should make sure sleepwear is close-fitting.
Other recommendations to limit exposure to these chemicals include not using non-stick cook-wear and using natural cleaning products like vinegar and using personal-care products that do not contain Triclosan.
Yes, we’re all exposed to chemicals during our daily lives. A good way for parents to be proactive: limit exposure.
Endocrine Disruptors Child Development — Sources
World Health Organization: Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
Precision Nutrition: All About Endocrine Disruptors
National Resources Defense Council: 9 Ways to Avoid Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals
NMD Wellness of Scottsdale