Endocrine disruptors in its immediate environment: what are the health risks?

Endocrine disruptors, which include many pollutants or natural chemicals, can be frightening when we know all their harmful consequences on health. Meersens explains everything about these very particular pollutants but above all gives you the keys to limit your exposure and that of your loved ones in order to protect your health and that of your descendants.

Reading time: 10 minutes


What is an endocrine disruptor?

Endocrine disruptors, everyone knows this term, but it is not always clear about the substances involved. An endocrine disruptor is a chemical substance of natural origin (present in plants for example) or artificial (created by man) foreign to the organism and which can interfere with the functioning of the endocrine system and induce deleterious effects on a individual or even his descendants!

The next question is: What is the endocrine system? Behind this name hides a group of organs that have a function in the production of hormone and are therefore responsible for the control and coordination of many bodily functions (growth, development, reproduction, metabolism, response to the environment and stress…). The main organs that produce hormones are located in the brain (pineal gland, hypothalamus, pituitary gland), the upper part of the body (thyroid, thymus,) as well as the belly or lower abdomen (pancreas, adrenal glands, ovaries, testes). . Fat tissue also allows the production of hormones.

Now that we understand better the role of the endocrine system, it is necessary to pay a little attention to hormones to understand why endocrine disruptors are not pollutants like the others. Hormones are produced by endocrine organs and are then secreted into the blood to act as chemical messengers. They therefore direct communication and coordination between the other tissues and organs of the body.

The impacts of endocrine disruptors on the body

Endocrine disruptors can work in several ways: By imitating the action of a natural hormone; By binding to natural hormone receptors; By interfering with or blocking the mechanism of production or regulation of hormones or receptors, thus modifying the concentrations of hormones present in the body.

Example of all the actions that endocrine disruptors can have on the body

In addition, for most pollutants, it is said: it is the dose that makes the poison. This is not the case with endocrine disruptors. Indeed, they can have serious consequences at very low doses and less impact at higher doses; their action can be potentiated or diminished depending on interactions with other endocrine disruptors or pollutants. Not easy to study the action of endocrine disruptors you say! You are right and to make things even more complex, some endocrine disruptors will not have an effect on the person who took the endocrine disruptor (for example in the form of a drug) but will have an effect on his descendants (child in direct contact with the substance during pregnancy but also small children who themselves have never been in direct contact with the substance).

Endocrine disruptors can be the source of many problems: growth, development, reproduction problems, fertility disorder, brain dysfunction, metabolic disorder, immune suppression, inflammatory response, etc. Several endocrine disruptors are also suspected in the onset hormonal-dependent cancers (breast, uterine, prostate and testicular cancer). An endocrine disruptor can cause a variety of problems.

Pathologies linked to exposure to endocrine disruptors during periods of vulnerability (source INRS)

It should be noted that endocrine disruptors can accumulate in the body, especially in adipose tissue. Rapid loss of fat has been shown to release these substances into the body.

Variable vulnerability over the life course

During the different windows of life (conception, childhood, adolescence, adulthood (reproduction period) and old age the same endocrine disruptor will not have the same impact. There are so-called critical periods of development (in utero, lactation, puberty, pregnancy…) where exposure to an endocrine disruptor will have more effect on health because these are periods when hormones play an essential role (growth, development, reproduction…)

Periods of vulnerability to endocrine disruptors of the main organs and systems in humans (Source: INRS)

During pregnancy exposure to endocrine disruptors can affect the unborn child. It also varies according to the exposure windows.

Exposure window during pregnancy and potential impacts (source: Béranger R. 2017)

Now that you are aware of the health impacts during critical periods, when you must be particularly vigilant to minimize your exposures or those of your loved ones, it is time to familiarize yourself in more detail with the various endocrine disruptors in order to put in place strategies to avoid them.

The different endocrine disruptors

We must distinguish 3 sources:

  • Substances intentionally produced for their hormonal effect (synthetic hormones). For example birth control pills
  • Synthetic chemicals produced for a variety of purposes, without seeking an effect on the hormonal system. For example, organochlorine pesticides, certain plasticizers (bisphenol A, certain phthalates), dioxins or related substances (polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), flame retardants (PBDEs), etc.
  • Natural compounds found in a wide variety of plants (phytoestrogens in soy, for example, or certain molecules found in essential oils)

So we find endocrine disruptors everywhere (furniture, clothes, cosmetics, air, water, food, certain industrial products like drugs or phytosanitary products …)

Some well-documented and known endocrine disruptors:

  • Bisphenol A (BPA): it is found in plastics as well as in containers (which may contain food)
  • Dioxins: they are by-products of waste incinerators, they are also found in herbicides and in the bleaching industry
  • Perchlorate: it can be found in running water but to date no non-reversible effect has been shown on humans
  • Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS): they are found in anti-adhesives, fire-resistant foam, clothing covering, carpets …
  • Brominated flame retardants (BFR): they represent 30% of the flame retardants used (for textiles, furniture, toys, etc.)
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (polychlorinated biphenyls) (PCBs): they are present in food of animal origin; they are persistent organic pollutants (POPs) in the environment
  • Triclosan (antibacterial action) and long chain parabens (propyl and butyl parabens which are used as a preservative): present in cosmetics, antibacterial gel…
  • BHA, BHT: also present in cosmetics and other everyday products

There are many others that are not listed here. The TEDX list identifies them. New substances are being investigated in order to classify them or not in this list. Resorcinol, which is found in glue, tires, cosmetics, dyes, etc., has been identified as a substance of very high concern (SVHC) by ANSES.

My close environment and endocrine disruptors

To reduce your risk of exposure, the first thing is to identify places or objects that can induce exposure to endocrine disruptors.

As indicated, endocrine disruptors can be found in:

  • The bathroom: cosmetics and hygiene products sometimes lack beauty
  • The bedroom: indoor air not always healthy (watch out for furniture, decor and some so-called “purifiers”
  • The kitchen: non-stick pans, utensils, containers (beware they are not all the same)
  • His plate: unfortunately it happens that endocrine disruptors are found in food (naturally present, migration of packaging or presence of pesticides at risk)
  • The wardrobe and the playroom: no clothes without chemistry!

How to reduce the risk of exposure to endocrine disruptors?

Here are some tips to reduce your exposure:

  • In your bathroom: use cosmetics sparingly and favor those with few ingredients. Cosmetics with the Organic Cosmetics certification can be a solution to avoid the endocrine disruptors most at risk. Eating healthy and being well hydrated is the first step to having beautiful skin without the need for 15 creams. For hydration of the skin if necessary vegetable oils are a solution. For babies ban all perfumed products and creams, a liniment and a soap or soap-free gel depending on the baby’s skin type are the only products really necessary.
  • The bedroom: Ventilate the home every day even in winter. Limit purchases of products with toxic fumes (forget about Ikea furniture and other toxic decorations). Replace detergents with non-toxic household products (white vinegar, bicarbonates, soap, lemon…)
  • The kitchen: do not reheat food in plastic but rather in glass or earthenware. Use cast iron or stainless steel pots and pans rather than Teflon (especially if it is scratched or damaged). Store your dry foods (pasta, rice, semolina, pulses, seeds, oilseeds …) in glass jars in the dark rather than leaving them in their cardboard or plastic packaging. Prefer a glass rather than plastic kettle. Watch out for the fashion of bamboo tableware as toxic substances could migrate into food.
  • On his plate: avoid prepared dishes. Eat as diverse as possible and do not eat more than one fatty fish per week if you are pregnant (these fish have high concentrations of pollutants and endocrine disruptors). Favor fresh products without pesticides. Wash vegetables and fruits before consumption. To find out if tap water is safe, nothing could be simpler, use the Meersens mobile app.
Let’s finish with good news: the body naturally has the capacity to eliminate toxic molecules. Studies have shown that stopping exposure to endocrine disruptors (stopping cosmetics, changing diets, etc.) results in a decrease in their presence in the urine. Of course not all toxic molecules are always eliminated, some are even stored in adipose tissue, so it is important to try to reduce your exposure. By avoiding iodine deficiency during pregnancy, this reduces the risk of certain endocrine disruptors acting on the thyroid. Iodine is found naturally in food (iodized salt, fish, seafood, certain cheeses or dairy products as well as eggs).


To reduce the risks present in your environment (air pollution, noise, waves, quality of food and water) the Meersens application helps you and gives you all the right advice and actions to protect your health and that of your loved ones. Make the invisible visible for a healthier life.
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