Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are things like BPA, phthalates, and PFAS. They're found everywhere in our modern lives. From bottled water to toothpaste, these nasty chemicals lurk in many common household products and enter your body when you use them. Once inside your body, endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) wreak havoc with your endocrine system.
This is bad news for your health because the endocrine system is essential, regulating all the key hormones in your body. When EDCs mess up the endocrine system, they put you at risk of developing conditions like infertility, obesity, cancer, and even an early death.
If you’re struggling to get pregnant, you are not alone. 1 in every 6 couples in America struggle with their fertility. More and more people are waiting until their mid-to-late 30s before they start trying for a baby. For many years scientists thought that delaying parenthood was the sole reason for the recent rise in infertility rates. However, new evidence shows that endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can hurt your fertility and get in the way of starting a family.
Infertility in Men
We are facing a male fertility crisis. Over the past 40 years, average sperm counts have almost halved across the globe. Evidence suggests that environmental chemicals are the main culprit behind these plummeting sperm numbers, and the effect that EDCs have on our fertility is only predicted to get worse in the years to come.
Testosterone is an essential hormone for male fertility, supporting sperm production and promoting male sexual desire. Some EDCs lower the amount of testosterone your body can make. As a result, exposure to these chemicals can cause erectile dysfunction, reduce your libido, and decrease the number of sperm you’re able to produce. Men with low sperm counts can struggle to get their partners pregnant and may even have to go to a fertility clinic for help to conceive.
It's not just the number of sperm that EDCs can impact, but their quality too. These chemicals interfere with sperm-egg interactions and reduce the chance of successful fertilization. EDCs also damage the DNA inside of your sperm, leading to an increased risk of miscarriage.
Overall, EDCs are bad news for male fertility. Thankfully, men are constantly producing sperm. That means that if you take steps to reduce your EDC exposure, you might be able to improve your sperm count and quality in as little as 3 months. It’s important to note, however, that you should speak with a fertility expert if you’ve been trying to conceive for 12 months or more without success. These experts will be able to identify any underlying fertility issues you may have and support you on your journey to becoming a parent.
Infertility in Women
Would it surprise you to learn that your brain plays an important role in controlling your fertility? Your brain speaks to your ovaries through complex signals, telling them to grow an egg each month and letting them know when it’s time to ovulate.
Unfortunately, EDCs can interfere with these signals, scrambling the messages that your brain is trying to send to your ovaries. In a normal menstrual cycle, you’ll ovulate roughly 2 weeks after the start of your last period. EDCs can mess with these timings and cause irregular or absent ovulation. This can make it difficult to predict when you’ll be fertile each month and limit your chances of becoming pregnant.
EDCs can also boost the number of androgens (male hormones) in your body, increasing your risk of developing polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is a hormonal disorder that stops the eggs from developing properly in your ovaries, making it more difficult to become pregnant. If you have PCOS, working with a doctor can help regulate your hormones and improve your chances of having a baby.
Obesity is a growing problem across the globe. In the US alone, over 35% of adults are now considered obese. Obesity has been linked to a host of negative health outcomes including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Obesity can therefore limit your life expectancy and quality of life.
So, why are we all gaining weight? Of course, eating a bad diet and exercising infrequently will make you more likely to pack on the pounds. However, recent research suggests that our lifestyle choices may not be completely to blame. Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) that you’re exposed to everyday could be increasing your risk of obesity by messing with your metabolism.
Your metabolism is a combination of chemical processes in your body that turn the food you eat into energy. The speed at which your metabolism does this will determine the number of calories you need to eat to maintain your weight. If you have a slow metabolism, you’ll burn fewer calories during the day than someone with a faster metabolism. This means you are more prone to gaining weight.
Because your metabolism is controlled by your endocrine system, it’s negatively affected when EDCs enter your body. Some EDCs slow your metabolism down and make you more likely to become obese. EDCs can also make it harder to control your appetite and make you more likely to store the food you eat as fat on your body. Research has shown that because of our EDC exposure, even if you eat and exercise the same as someone from the 1970s, you’re still likely to weigh more than them. How unfair is that?
An EDC that you should be particularly worried about when it comes to weight gain is BPA. This chemical can be found in all types of common household products like bottled water, plastic Tupperware, canned foods and drinks, and even some toys. BPA is an estrogen mimic. This means it tricks the body into thinking there’s more estrogen around than there actually is. Because the balance of estrogen and testosterone in the body is key for maintaining a healthy size, exposure to BPA puts you at a higher risk of being overweight. BPA has been shown to affect people of all ages, contributing to obesity in children, teenagers, pregnant moms, and even elderly people.
Although EDCs may make losing weight more difficult, please don’t think we’re saying that a balanced diet and regular exercise are pointless. Both are essential for keeping you as healthy as possible. Looking at ways you can reduce your EDC exposure will help you on your path to a healthier lifestyle and may aid you in weight loss, if that is your aim.
Nowadays 10 times more people get diagnosed with diabetes every year in the US compared to the 1960s. While poor lifestyle choices likely contributed to many of these cases, emerging research has highlighted the role that EDCs may play in causing diabetes.
Some EDCs have been identified as ‘diabetogens’, meaning they stop the body from being able to process sugars properly. This makes you more likely to develop diabetes. If you are pregnant or have young children, be mindful of their EDC exposure as coming into contact with these chemicals during these key life stages can increase their risk of developing diabetes as adults.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one killer in America today, accounting for 25% of all deaths in our country. Risk factors for developing this condition include obesity, smoking, and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). Research has shown that EDCs can increase your risk of developing CVD both directly and indirectly. People exposed to higher levels of these nasty chemicals are more likely to develop angina (pain in the chest), heart attacks, and diseases of the arteries, than people exposed to lower levels. EDCs also increase your likelihood of developing risk factors for CVD such as obesity, raised blood pressure, and atherosclerosis (cholesterol and fat buildup in your arteries). The research linking EDCs and CVD is relatively recent, so keep an eye out for more news on this emerging topic.
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland location in your neck that produces hormones that help your cells to function normally. Certain EDCs stop the thyroid from producing these hormones as effectively, making thyroid diseases like hypothyroidism more likely. Research has also shown that exposure to EDCs increases your risk of developing thyroid cancers.
Some cancers are ‘hormone sensitive’ meaning they’re more likely to develop in people whose hormones are out of balance. Some EDCs can act as estrogen mimics, tricking the body into thinking there’s more of this hormone around than there actually is. When there are high levels of estrogen in the body, certain cancers (especially cancers of the reproductive system) are more likely to occur. Estrogen-mimicking EDCs have been shown to increase your risk of developing breast, uterine, prostate, and testicular cancer.
Reduced Life Expectancy
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can have a negative impact on the quality and length of your life by increasing your risk of developing disorders like cancer, CVD, and diabetes. In fact, a recent report found that people exposed to the highest levels of EDCs have a 45% increased likelihood of death compared to people exposed to lower concentrations. Reports like this go to show the devastating effects that EDCs are having on our health and how important it is to be mindful of the chemicals we’re interacting with every day.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are truly awful for your health. They leave you more susceptible to life-threatening conditions like cardiovascular disease and cancer. EDCs also throw your reproductive system into turmoil, making it a lot more difficult for you to start the family you’ve always dreamt of. If you’re sick of EDCs and want to kick them out of your life for good, check out our handy hints for reducing your EDC exposure and keeping you and your family safe.