The endocrine system is the exquisitely balanced system of glands and hormones that regulates such vital functions as body growth, response to stress, sexual development and behavior, production and utilization of insulin, rate of metabolism, intelligence and behavior, and the ability to reproduce.
Hormones are chemicals such as insulin, thyroxin, estrogen, and testosterone that interact with specific target cells. The interactions occur through a number of mechanisms, the easiest of which to conceptualize is the lock and key. For example, target cells such as those in the uterus contain receptors (locks) into which specific estrogenic hormones (keys) can attach and thereby cause specific biological actions, such as regulating ovulation or terminating pregnancy.
Other endocrine disrupting mechanisms include binding hormone transport proteins or other proteins involved in signaling pathways, inhibiting or inducing enzymes, interfering with uptake and export from cells, and modifying gene expression.
Since approximately the 1950s, there have been a growing number of synthetic chemicals introduced into our environment and daily lives. These are used in the production of almost everything we purchase. They are found in cosmetics, cleaning supplies, children’s toys, food storage containers, furniture, carpets, automobiles, computers, and phones.
These chemicals are encountered as plastics, resins, and pesticides. Many of these chemicals that we are exposed to on a daily basis are known endocrine disruptors. In other words, they are similar enough in chemical structure the body confuses them with actual hormones. When this happens, they attach to the receptor and cause the cell to respond. Unfortunately, this response frequently leads to negative effects within the body.
To date, no chemical in use has been thoroughly tested for its endocrine disrupting effects. Traditional toxicological testing was not designed to test for endocrine disruption effects. To make matters worse, when performing these toxicological tests, they look at the dose required to cause death in the test subject. While these endocrine disrupting chemicals may not cause immediate death in studies, this does not mean they do not cause chronic disease and cancer, which take longer to manifest. After all, the hormones in our bodies are secreted and work in very low concentrations, far below what would be required to cause death in a laboratory test animal.
In future articles we will go into more depth about the significance of endocrine-disrupting chemicals including how to limit exposure and the importance of detoxification and the role of the different organs of detoxification.
Make sure to check out our in-depth articles on preventing and healing chronic diseases utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.
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Wishing you good health!
Mike Woodley, R.Ph, FAARM, FMNM