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Early Menopause: Links to Ubiquitous Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals
Feb23

Early Menopause: Links to Ubiquitous Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals

By Roberta Attanasio There are as many endocrine-disrupting chemicals (also called endocrine disruptors) as there are deleterious health effects caused by them. These chemicals mimic the body’s hormones and confuse our physiological systems — we respond to them with a series of inappropriate changes that, depending on the specific endocrine disruptor, lead to the development of obesity, cancer, malformation of sex organs, and more. They are pervasive in the environment — they’re found in the soil, air and water throughout the world — and many persist for long periods of time. Thus, it’s not surprising that, in 2013, the impact of endocrine disruptors on human health was defined as a “global threat” by a group of experts convened by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Health Organization.   Phthalates are some of the most studied endocrine disruptors. They’re used to make plastic more flexible and cosmetics smoother. Phthalate use in children’s toys was banned in 2008. However, results from a recent study show that high amounts of certain phthalates are present in some meats, cooking oils and dairy products, thus contributing to children exposure despite the ban. In her article “A threat to male fertility“, Deborah Blum writes: “A growing body of work over the last two decades suggests that phthalates can rewire the male reproductive system, interfering with the operation of androgenic hormones, such as testosterone, that play key roles in male development. That mechanism, some experts believe, explains findings that link phthalate exposure to changes in everything from testicular development to sperm quality.” In addition, according to results from a new study, two phthalates belong to a group of 15 chemicals that are significantly associated with early menopause and may have detrimental effects on ovarian function. Earlier menopause and decline in ovarian function may adversely affect fertility and lead to earlier development of heart disease and osteoporosis. The other chemicals are nine polychlorinated biphenyls, three pesticides, and a furan. Women that have high levels of these chemicals in their bodies experience menopause two to four years earlier than women with lower levels of these chemicals. For the study, the researchers analyzed data collected from 1999-2008 as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey incrporated data from 31,575 people, including 1,442 menopausal women who had been tested for presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in their blood and urines. It was designed so that the women who had undergone chemical testing would represent a population of almost 9 million menopausal women. The strongest association with early menopause was found for mono-(2-ethyl-5-hydroxyhexyl) phthalate and mono-(2-ethyl-5-oxohexyl) phthalate,...

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What Are Endocrine Disruptors?
Aug21

What Are Endocrine Disruptors?

By Roberta Attanasio According to the International Programme on Chemical Safety, World Health Organization (WHO) (2002), an endocrine disruptor is an exogenous substance or mixture that alters function(s) of the endocrine system and consequently causes adverse health effects in an intact organism, or its progeny, or (sub) populations. This year, a group of experts convened by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and WHO defined the growing impact of hormone disruptors on human health problems a “global threat“.   What is the endocrine system? The endocrine system is one of the communication systems of our body and is found in all mammals, birds, fish, and many other types of living organisms. It’s made up of glands, which are located throughout the body and produce hormones. The major glands are the pineal, pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands, as well as pancreas, ovaries and testes. What are hormones? Hormones are chemical messengers that broadcast messages throughout the body. Radio broadcasting stations use radio receivers to reproduce the audio sound signals. Similarly, endocrine messengers must be received through specialized receivers to transmit signals – these specialized receivers are called receptors. Therefore, in order to respond to a hormone, a cell must bear a receptor specific for that hormone. By interacting with a receptor in or on a cell, the hormone transmits a signal that tells the cell to behave differently – for example to grow more, or to stop growing. Hormones and the signals they transmit are critical to the normal functioning of every tissue and organ in both vertebrates and invertebrates and are often quite similar across species. There are over 50 different hormones and hormone-related molecules that, from conception through adulthood and into old age, coordinate and regulate all biological processes in the body, including the development and function of the brain and nervous system, the growth and function of the reproductive system, the development and function of the immune system, as well as metabolism and blood sugar levels. What are endocrine disruptors? Endocrine disruptors (also called endocrine disrupting chemicals) are chemicals that interfere in some way with hormone action and in so doing alter endocrine function and cause adverse effects on the health of humans and animals. Hormones and endocrine disruptors can act at all times during life – fetal development, infancy, early childhood, puberty, adulthood and old age. However, the strength of their impact may be different depending on the timing of their action. For example, during adult life the effects of hormones or endocrine disruptors may occur only during exposure. When exposure ends, the effects decrease. What is developmental programming? Because hormones play an important role in the development of tissues and organs...

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