Are Personal Care Items and Children’s Toys Putting Us at Risk for Obesity and Type-2 Diabetes?

EDCs are a growing global health problem, they're in your home, and you can take steps to avoid them now.

October 7, 2015
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I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always think about what’s in my lipstick or shampoo, if my apple has been exposed to pesticides or what might happen if I microwave a plastic container — but I will now.

Lurking in your household plastics, personal care items and children’s toys are a host of hidden endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs. Although the term might not be totally familiar to you, EDCs are so common nearly every person on the planet has been exposed to one or more, according to a new review of more than 1,300 studies analyzing these chemicals from the Endocrine Society.

Why is this so bad?

Welp, research is beginning to show these chemicals pose significant risks to global health. Found in mostly man-made products, common EDCs are often used as preservatives, plastic softeners or pesticides, so you’ll find them in lots of household and lawn products [insert chart!]. You might have even heard some of the names before: phthalates, bisphenol A (BPA), dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT), lead and cadmium.

EDCs are hazardous, because they often disrupt our internal messaging system, which impacts the entire body, according Andrea C. Gore, PhD, who chaired a recent Endocrine Society Task Force on the danger of EDCs.

“Endocrine disruptors work by mimicking or blocking the normal functioning of the body’s hormones – the chemical messengers that maintain and control metabolism, reproduction, growth and the body’s response to stress,” Gore explains, telling me how these super-sneaky chemicals work. “The body is designed to respond to minute changes in hormone levels, so tiny amounts of EDCs can interfere with the body’s natural signals.”

They might be more dangerous than poisons, which scream obvious danger. While a poison might affect a person in higher amounts, even low-level EDC exposure can pose major risks — especially to babies still in the womb. If exposed at crucial early stages, EDCs can interfere with an unborn baby’s development and eventual sexual function.

Animal studies are beginning to reveal the potential widespread impact of these chemicals, perhaps contributing to major global health problems like type-2 diabetes and obesity. Research has found that exposure to even bitty amounts of EDCs during the prenatal period can trigger obesity much later in life. In addition, EDCs seem to directly target beta and alpha cells in the pancreas, fat cells, and liver cells, which can then lead to insulin resistance or a continual flood of insulin in the body — and both can put you at risk for type-2 diabetes.

Epidemiological studies in humans have also linked EDC exposure to obesity and diabetes, so there’s an abundance of evidence that we should be concerned about what’s in our plastics, toys, and food supply. I, for one, am now officially more conscious.

While the Endocrine task force is working toward regulation and more research on endocrine-disrupting chemicals, you can minimize exposure to EDCs now by taking a few basic steps — and be especially careful if you’re pregnant.

Don’t put plastic containers in the microwave or dishwasher. Heating the plastic can cause EDCs to leach into food. Swap with a glass dish or paper plate instead.

Keep water bottles out of the sun and hot cars can minimize leaching. Even better, rather than buying and discarding disposable bottles, use a metal or glass bottle and filtered tap water.

Many pesticides are known EDCs, so rinse fruits and vegetables before eating to minimize exposure to harmful chemicals. Eating organic can also help.

Check the labels of personal care items and cosmetic products for common EDCs, like BPA and phthalates. Use those that are “-free” of EDCs, especially while pregnant.

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