Many times in our history we’ve brought products into our home only to find out they hurt our health years later. The best known are things like tobacco, lead paint, and asbestos, but there have been many others over the years.
History may be repeating today. Scientists believe there’s something else, like asbestos, that’s in our homes and bodies right now. They’re especially toxic to children. Scientists call them “endocrine disrupting chemicals”, and they believe they’re tied to a number of serious health problems.
An endocrine disrupting chemical is any chemical that messes with our body’s natural balance of hormones. Our hormones are very important: they control our mood, metabolism, reproductive system, and the development of children.
There’s a shocking number of these chemicals in modern consumer products, and scientists are growing very worried. Pediatricians, Gynecologists, Scientists, Doctors, and people who study hormonal health have been sounding the alarm.
In kids, exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals have been tied to weight gain, ADHD, emotional problems, lower IQ, and even small, abnormal genitals in boys.
In adults, exposure has been tied to weight gain and infertility, especially lower sperm counts. In fact, sperm counts have been sharply dropping in the Western world since the 70s. In the developing world, it took longer for the drop to happen but when it did it was bigger.
The scariest thing is that when scientists exposed mice to these chemicals, they found that their children and grandchildren inherited health problems. Future generations of mice grew fat, and their sperm counts dropped so low they struggled to have children at all. We don’t know if we’re like mice yet, but we don’t want to find out the hard way.
There are 5 chemicals that you should know about. They’re tied to health problems, and they’re probably in your home right now. We can tell you what they are, what they do, and where you can find them so you know what to avoid.
The Five Most Important Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals
1. BPA (Bisphenol A)
In fact, BPA’s links to weight gain are so strong it’s the main suspect for something shocking that scientists discovered in the last few years: it’s harder to lose weight than it used to be, even after controlling for diet and exercise. Put another way, people weigh more in modern times, even if they eat the exact same diet and exercise the same amount as someone from the 80s. We're suffering from "calorie inflation". Why? Probably because we have more BPA in our blood.
Where you can find BPA in your home: nearly all BPA exposure comes from contaminated food. Companies use BPA to make hard and clear plastics, like food storage containers. BPA is also used to line the inside of tin cans.
Sometimes products market themselves as “BPA free”. However, you have to look carefully, because they might just have BPS or BPF instead. There’s some evidence that those harmful substitutes could be even worse.
How you can keep BPA away from you:
- Don't microwave plastic, even "microwave safe" plastic. Glass & ceramic are both clean.
- Limit how much canned food you eat. Frozen and dried are better. If you do eat canned food, try to get the "BPA free" version from trusted brands.
- Limit how much you drink or eat of plastic. Stainless steel and ceramic are both pure and safe.
- Some good news! BPA will flush out of your body in 48 hours once you stop exposure.
2. Phthalates. (pronounced "thal-ate")
What Phthalates do to you: phthalates are ‘anti-androgenic’, meaning they lower testosterone. This makes them very bad for males.
Heavy exposure in men can lead to erectile dysfunction and lower sex drive. However, the most significant health impact is they seriously harm the quality and quantity of sperm, even in lower amounts. Many scientists believe phthalates are to blame for the worldwide sperm count drop.
Lower sperm quality also leads to a higher risk of miscarriages and worse pregnancy outcomes. The good news is that sperm will recover in six months if exposure stops.
What Phthalates do to your kids: Phthalates have strong links to lowered IQ in children. There’s also some evidence that phthalate exposure leads to weight gain and behavioral problems, just like BPA. However, phthalates do significant extra damage to boys.
Phthalate exposure is linked to genital deformities in baby boys like cryptorchidism and hypospadias, and it also leads to smaller penises. When exposed boys grow up, they have lower sperm counts and higher rates of testicular cancer.
Where you can find Phthalates in your home: phthalates are the most widespread of the endocrine disrupting chemicals. Many people call them “everywhere chemicals” because they’re in so many different things.
The two most common places you can find phthalates are in soft and bendy plastic, along with bathroom products that have an artificial fragrance. They’re also in many other things like toys, medical tubing, and garden supplies. However, scientists have found that exposure comes almost entirely from the kitchen or the bathroom - from either kitchen plastics or toiletries with artificial fragrances.
How you can keep Phthalates away from you:
- Check your cosmetics. Companies don't have to list phthalates on the bottle, it can be hidden in "fragrance." Artificial fragrances are not trustworthy.
- Look for "phthalate free" labeling. Unlike "BPA free" this is typically honest.
- Don't microwave plastic.
- Limit how much fast-food and takeout you eat.
- Some good news! Phthalates will flush out of your body in 48 hours after you stop exposure.
3. PFAS aka PFCs, PFOA, & PFTE
The health risks of PFAS: this chemical is the nastiest of the bunch. It’s a “forever chemical”, which means it sticks around for a very long time once it’s an environment. Like everything else on the list, it’s an endocrine disruptor. It's been linked to liver damage, decreased fertility, and increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease. Unlike the other chemicals on this list, it also has strong links to cancer. This stuff is so bad there’s a growing movement to get it completely banned nationwide, but they haven’t succeeded yet.
Where you can find PFAS in your home: You can find PFAS in non-stick pans and waxy, water repellant takeout wrappers, stain resistant carpets, and waterproof makeup. Most people are exposed through scratched non-stick cookware and eating lots of takeout and fast food.
How you can keep PFAS away from you:
- Toss out scratched non-stick pans. We know this might hurt but if the seal is broken they're leaking PFAS into your food. Stainless steel and cast iron are both 100% clean.
- Limit how much takeout you eat. Waxy, grease resistant wrappers and boxes can have it.
- Ask your neighbors on Nextdoor if they've had their tap water tested for it.
4. PBDEs / Brominated Flame Retardants.
What they do to your kids: In children, PBDEs have been linked to many health problems like thyroid disruption, memory and learning problems, delayed mental and physical development, lower IQ, premature puberty, and lowered fertility.
The most frustrating thing about them is that they’re not even that good at stopping fires. At least asbestos was good at that.
Where you can find Brominated Flame Retardants in your home: they’re added to things like furniture, electronics, rugs, and many children’s products. Children often have much higher levels of these chemicals in their blood and they’re the ones most affected by them.
They get into your body through household dust, because furniture treated with this stuff sheds.
How to keep Brominated Flame Retardants away from you:
- Vacuum with a HEPA filter, preferably once a week.
- Get an air purifier. Useful if you can't vacuum that much.
- Mop your floors
Pesticides have been linked to health problems over and over. As it turns out, what kills bugs isn’t very good for us either. The key thing here is to buy organic for any fruits or vegetables on the list of “dirty dozen” most contaminated produce. Strawberries keep topping the list. If you can’t do that, then just make sure to carefully wash your fruits and vegetables.
How Could this Happen?
Maybe you’re wondering how this could happen. If you’re trusting, you might believe there’s no way that so many common products could cause us serious health problems. There’d be some government agency to stop it!
However, no one tests new products for safety before they’re shipped at the door. The government assumes a product is safe until we know that it’s not. If scientists find evidence a product is dangerous, the companies that sell the product fight that evidence every step of the way. Usually the government is very sympathetic to the companies. That’s how we end up with things like asbestos, lead paint, tobacco, and endocrine disrupting chemicals in our home.
This subject is personal for me. My wife and I had a baby boy after years of trying. He’s healthy and wonderful today, but his birth was hard, and I suspect we were poisoned by endocrine disrupting chemicals.
I had no idea what they were back then. We were still doing crazy things like microwaving plastic while he was in the womb. I wish I had known, and I want everyone to get that chance. So I hope I’ve helped you with this article.