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How do chemicals affect your hormones?

You might have read about recent studies that have focused on a group of chemicals called endocrine disruptors. These chemicals can interfere with or disrupt your endocrine system.

What is the endocrine system?

The endocrine system is made up of several glands in the body, including the ovaries, testes, thyroid and pancreas. The endocrine system also includes cells that release hormones found in the gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, heart and placenta. Endocrine glands produce hormones.

Chemicals that are endocrine disruptors can change the way the endocrine system works by:

  • acting like certain naturally-occurring hormones, such as estrogen
  • blocking the action of certain hormones
  • interfering with the production of hormones or hormone receptors
  • altering the chemical messages sent by hormones
What kinds of substances are endocrine disruptors?

Birth control pills, some cancer drugs and other medications disrupt our endocrine system on purpose – to control fertility, to treat cancer and to treat other medical conditions.

Endocrine disruptors can also be found in synthetic chemicals used as industrial solvents and lubricants, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) and dioxins. Other examples of endocrine disruptors include bisphenol A (BPA) from plastics, some flame retardants (PBDEs) and phthalates.

It’s possible that endocrine disruptors could change how hormones act in our bodies and lead to health problems, such as cancer. The evidence linking most endocrine disruptors to cancer so far has been inconsistent.

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