Our hormones are important for regulating so many areas of our bodies. From menstrual cycles to gut health to our mental wellness, it’s important to keep our hormones in balance.
But TikTok health experts and scientists are revealing that we should be concerned about how much endocrine-disrupting chemicals we’re coming into contact with daily, due to how much they can affect our hormones.
We’re likely to see much more about hormone health going forward says TikTok wellness expert Hannah Bronfman, “We’ve never seen more women wanting to come off birth control, wanting to learn more about their hormones, or cycle syncing.
“We’re going to see so many products coming out that are labelled with ‘endocrine-safe’.”
So, what exactly are endocrine disruptors, and how wary should we be of them?
What are endocrine disruptors?
According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are “natural or human-made chemicals that may mimic, block, or interfere with the body’s hormones, which are part of the endocrine system.”
These chemicals are associated with a wide array of health issues.
But what’s the endocrine system? Our endocrine glands create our hormones. The major endocrine glands include the pituitary, thymus, thyroid, pancreas and adrenal glands.
Researchers say that, as our hormones are so powerful, it “only takes a tiny amount to cause big changes in cells or even your whole body.”
It’s thought that endocrine disruptors throwing our hormones out of whack could have serious implications for our bodies. For example, one study showed that EDCs (endocrine-disrupting chemicals) could have potential links to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
“We certainly need more research, but there are strong associations with obesity, insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, PCOS, gestational diabetes, reduced birthweight, reduced semen quality, endometriosis and breast or prostate cancer,” he says.
The level of danger these chemicals cause you can depend on “where you are in life”, too, says Dr Jamie Alan, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University said in an interview.
“If you’re going through puberty, these can be incredibly disruptive,” she explains. “Similarly, if you are trying to conceive. If you are pregnant, they can disrupt the development of the foetus, potentially resulting in birth defects.”
For most, though, “these are encountered at low levels and don’t cause much harm unless you are in one of these stages,” says Alan.
Where are endocrine disruptors found?
Bad news — they’re pretty much everywhere. According to the Endocrine Society, there are nearly 85,000 human-made chemicals in the world, and 1,000 or more of those could be endocrine disruptors, based on their unique properties.
From perfumes to make-up, to laundry detergent, to shampoo and household cleaners and candles, EDCs are found in so many of the common products we use everyday around the house and to keep ourselves clean and looking and smelling good.
The following are among the most common and well-studied, according to the NIEHS:
- Atrazine is one of the most commonly applied herbicides in the world, often used to control weeds in corn, sorghum, and sugarcane crops.
- Bisphenol A (BPA) is used to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. It is used in manufacturing, food packaging, toys, and other applications. BPA resins may be found in the lining of some canned foods and beverages.
- Dioxins are a byproduct of certain manufacturing processes, such as herbicide production and paper bleaching. They can be released into the air from waste burning and wildfires.
- Perchlorate is a colourless salt manufactured and used as an industrial chemical to make rockets, explosives, and fireworks, which can be found in some groundwater.
- Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of chemicals used widely in industrial applications, such as firefighting foam, nonstick pans, paper, and textile coatings.
- Phthalates are a large group of compounds used as liquid plasticisers. They are found in hundreds of products including some food packaging, cosmetics, fragrances, children’s toys, and medical device tubing. Cosmetics that may contain phthalates include nail polish, hair spray, aftershave lotion, cleanser, and shampoo.
- Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring substances with hormone-like activity found in some plants; they may have a similar effect to estrogen produced by the body. Soy foods, for example, contain phytoestrogens.
- Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) make flame retardants for products such as furniture foam and carpet.
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were used to make electrical equipment, such as transformers, and are in hydraulic fluids, heat transfer fluids, lubricants, and plasticisers. PCBs were mass-produced globally until they were banned in 1979.
- Triclosan is an ingredient that was previously added to some antimicrobial and personal care products, like liquid body wash and soaps.
How to reduce your exposure
With EDCs seemingly everywhere, you might be wondering, “Well, what the hell can I use?”. But there are some simple swaps you can make to reduce your contact with these types of chemicals.
And when it comes to perfume, there are lovely natural ones out there, from Lush’s range (I’m a particular fan of their Sappho fragrance) to Heretic to Sharini’s range of essential-oil blended scents.
Stainless steel and cast iron pans can be easy swaps for cheap non-stick ones that can leach PFAs into your food. And many plastic Tupperware now comes with a BPA-free label on it to let you know it’s safe.
This TikTokker also shared how she swapped from using scented dryer sheets to 100% wool dryer balls to reduce the number of chemicals in her laundry.
It’s easy to drive yourself wild obsessing over every ingredient in your products and often, chemical-free, natural products come with a hefty price tag, so do whatever works for you and your household.