Hormone, or endocrine, disruptors are chemicals that potentially interfere with the body’s endocrine system. The endocrine system is extraordinarily complex and important—it regulates mood, growth and development, tissue function, metabolism, sexual function and reproductive processes. Some chemicals mimic a natural hormone and thereby fool the body into responding; a false cue like this could result in the body producing more estrogen, which in turn could lead to breast cancer. Other disruptors block the effects of a needed hormone, or cause overproduction or underproduction of hormones (for example, an overactive or underactive thyroid).
Interestingly, tiny amounts of these chemicals can sometimes do more damage than large amounts. It may be counterintuitive, but the body is used to dealing with really small amounts of natural hormones, produced nearly constantly. So when foreign endocrine disruptors from our environment—like our food and our cosmetics—enter our bodies in tiny doses throughout the day, they mimic real life. Any of these changes may produce serious developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune problems. A wide range of substances can disrupt hormones, including DDT and other pesticides, BPA (found in polycarbonate plastics and the resins that line metal food cans), phthalates (found in “fragrances” in detergents and cosmetics) and parabens (common cosmetic preservatives).
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