Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are man-made chemicals that can hurt your kid’s health in many ways. There are three types of endocrine disrupting chemicals found in nearly all modern homes: BPA, phthalates, and PFAS. They all mess with the bodies’ natural balance of hormones, which is bad for adults, but worse for kids.
They’re in hundreds of common products we use everyday, from microwave meals, takeout boxes, non-stick pans, plastic water bottles, perfume, shampoo, hand soap, and lots more. Virtually all Americans have measurable amounts of endocrine disrupting chemicals in their home and bloodstream. Unfortunately, that probably includes your kids.
Children are more vulnerable to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) for two reasons. The first is they are still developing. The wrong hormones or the wrong amount at a key stage in their life can derail their development, possibly for life. Second, because children are smaller and their kidneys and liver are still fragile they're more vulnerable to any type of poison, EDCs included.
We believe they’re the modern version of asbestos, lead paint, or tobacco smoke. They’ve been linked to disturbing things like weight gain, IQ loss, infertility, and serious behavior problems.
Read on to find out more about what endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) do to babies in the womb, young children, teenagers, and adults, as well as what you can do to keep your kids safe.
In the Womb
When babies are in the womb, we often think that they’re in their own little bubble, protected from harm until the day they’re born. Unfortunately, babies aren’t always safe from the dangers of the outside world. We’ve all heard that smoking and drinking alcohol are bad for a baby’s health during pregnancy, but did you know that EDCs are too? EDCs that the mother comes into contact with can cross the placenta and go into the womb. Once there, these chemicals mess with your baby’s hormones which can have devastating effects on their development in 7 key ways.
- Lower IQ. As your baby grows in the womb, their brain develops and makes connections that will shape who they are as a person. This process is very sensitive, and any disruptions can change how your kid’s brain works after they’re born. Research shows that kids who were exposed to high levels of EDCs in the womb had lower IQs and poorer working memories than children with less exposure.
- Behavioral Problems. In addition to lower IQ, children exposed to high levels of EDCs in the womb are more likely to suffer from behavioral problems like ADHD, aggression, and social impairment than children who weren’t.
- Asthma. Exposure to EDCs in the womb leaves kids at a higher risk of developing breathing problems like asthma. Some studies suggest that exposure to high levels of these chemicals could increase your kid’s risk of developing asthma by 70%.
- Allergies. Whether a mild inconvenience or life threatening, allergies are a thing we all wish we could live without. Unfortunately, exposure to EDCs before birth could make your kids more likely to have allergies.
- Male Development. Most EDCs in consumer products are estrogenic, which means they reduce testosterone levels and are especially toxic to males. The impact is especially severe when boys are developing in the womb. Boys exposed to high levels of EDCs in the womb have smaller penises and are more likely to have genital defects than boys who weren’t. Some of these defects can be fixed through surgery, but many of them will remain with the baby for life. It may surprise you to learn that being exposed to EDCs in the womb can even impact a boy’s fertility as an adult. Men who were exposed with high levels of EDCs in the womb have worse sperm quality than men who weren’t, making it more difficult for them to have kids of their own.
- Increased Cancer Risk. Research has shown that being exposed to some EDCs in the womb increases the risk of getting some cancers, like breast and cervical cancer, later in life.
- Birth Complications. Children with high levels of EDCs in the womb are more likely to be born prematurely and have a low birth weight. These conditions can have lifelong implications for a child’s health, such as problems with their heart, lungs, and kidneys. People born prematurely and / or with a low birth weight are also more susceptible to high blood pressure and diabetes, both of which can cause real damage if not controlled properly.
Young children are constantly being exposed to EDCs. These chemicals are hiding in the kitchen, the bathroom, and even in their classroom. EDCs are found in lots of things kids come into contact with every day like toys, bottled water, and microwave dinners. If you’re currently breastfeeding or planning to soon, watch your EDC interactions too as they can even pass through breast milk into your kids. EDCs can increase the risk of your children being overweight and even negatively affect their school grades.
- Obesity and Diabetes. Because the endocrine system regulates metabolism, any disruption can lead to weight gain. EDCs interfere with the endocrine system, and over the past few years, a lot of research has found that being exposed to EDCs leads to obesity and diabetes in kids.
- Poorer Performance at School. Young children that have been exposed to high levels of EDCs do less well at school than their classmates. Lower IQs, poorer memories, reduced motor skills and behavioral issues have all been reported as side-effects of EDC exposure in childhood.
- Breathing Problems. Some of the places that EDCs hide may shock you. Lots of floorings, furniture and even children’s toys contain EDCs. Children that go to school in classrooms with high levels of EDCs are significantly more likely to suffer from breathing issues like asthma than kids whose classrooms have low EDC levels.
Pre-Teens and Teenagers
When we hit our teenage years, we think we’re adults. We have more freedom than when we were younger, and we start spending more time with our friends than with our family. Although they may be maturing, pre-teens and teenagers are still kids. Their bodies and brains are still developing and important changes in the body, like puberty, start to happen. Any disruptions to the endocrine system at this crucial time can have impacts on a child’s future fertility and health.
- Female Puberty. When girls go through puberty, they develop a more womanly appearance and start their period. One of the main hormones involved with this process is estrogen. Most EDCs can act like estrogen, tricking the body into thinking there is more of this hormone than there actually is. One outcome of this is that girls are starting puberty earlier. In the 1840s, the average age for a girl to start her period was 16.5. Now it’s just 13 years old!
- Male Puberty. Unfortunately, estrogenic EDCs also hurt the reproductive health of boys. Testosterone is essential in the reproductive development of boys, helping the testicles to develop properly and start producing sperm. Any interference with the levels of testosterone during puberty can have massive implications for sperm production and a boy's future fertility. Boys exposed to high levels of EDCs may not go through puberty properly, leaving them with poorer sperm quality and a reduced chance of starting a family in the future.
- Weight Gain. Exposure to high levels of EDCs during preteen years makes kids more susceptible to becoming obese. In fact, preteen girls who are in contact with high amounts of EDCs are more than twice as likely to be overweight than their classmates. Not only can this leave children prone to unkind names in the playground, but it can have lifelong implications for their health too. Obese children are far more likely to be obese adults than kids of a healthy weight. Obesity leads to all sorts of health problems like diabetes, heart trouble, and issues with breathing.
Although the impacts of EDCs are particularly bad in children, don’t think you’re safe from their effects if you’re an adult. Even if you were lucky enough to not be exposed to these chemicals during childhood, being exposed to high levels of EDCs as a grownup can have significant implications for your health.
- Harder to Lose Weight. Research has shown that even if you eat the same diet and exercise the same amount as someone from the 1970s, you’re likely to weigh more. The endocrine system plays an important role in regulating your metabolism and controlling how easy it is for you to gain and lose weight. When EDCs mess with your endocrine system, they throw your metabolism out of whack, making it easier for you to gain weight but harder to lose it.
- Heart Problems. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer in America today, accounting for 25% of deaths. Research suggests that having high concentrations of EDCs in your body can make you more likely to have heart disease, atherosclerosis, a condition where fatty plaque builds up in your arteries, and high blood pressure.
- Male Fertility. EDCs have been shown to drastically affect sperm parameters, reducing the number of sperm men have as well as lowering their genetic quality. You need a good number of high-quality sperm to achieve a pregnancy. EDCs could therefore delay you starting a family or stop your partner from getting pregnant at all. EDCs can also cause men to have erectile dysfunction and lower sex-drives too.
Keeping Your Kids Safe
Unfortunately, EDCs are used so widely it’s very difficult to shield your kids from them completely. However, there are some easy steps you can take to limit the number of EDCs you and your kids come into contact with.
- Ditch the Plastics. A lot of EDCs can be found in plastic like water bottles, tupperware and utensils. Try opting for glass or metal alternatives to limit your kid’s exposure to EDCs while they eat and drink.
- Don’t Microwave Plastic Containers. If you can’t get away from plastic tupperware just yet, make sure you don’t reheat meals in them. When plastics warm up in the microwave, they give off more EDCs than when they’re at cooler temperatures. These enter food and end up in your children’s bodies. Try putting the food in a non-plastic bowl when reheating instead.
Make Home Cooked Meals When You Can. We understand that when you’re a parent, you’re always busy. Whether you’re dropping the kids off at school, tidying the house, or organizing after school clubs, it can be hard to find time to put a home cooked meal on the table every day. However, EDCs are hiding in all types of convenience food. Microwave dinners, canned goods, and pre-prepared snacks can all contain these nasty chemicals. So, when you can, always try to cook from scratch and make ready meals an occasional treat.
Tip: Why not batch cook family meals when you have some free time and keep them in the freezer ready to use on busy days?
- Check Your Toiletries. You may be surprised to hear that EDCs are found in lots of common bathroom products like body wash, soap, shampoo, and toothpaste. The labels of these items might not tell you whether they contain EDCs, but if you come across anything that has a fragrance in it – it probably has EDCs inside. Try looking for ‘phthalate free’ labels next time you go shopping and opt for these products instead.
- Be Mindful During Pregnancy. Pregnancy is a particularly sensitive time for babies and EDCs can have lifelong impacts on their development, school performance and ability to have children of their own one day. If you’re pregnant (or planning to become pregnant soon) be mindful of what you’re putting into and onto your body to try and limit the number of EDCs that you come into contact with.