How can pollution affect our hormones?

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Jonny Bowden
Nutrition & Dietetics
There are chemicals in the environment-- from pesticides to toxic air to food additives-- that can act as what's called "hormone disrupters" or "endocrine disrupters". That's because these chemical compounds look to the body very much like hormones, and have the potential to "disrupt" or affect hormonal actions. Goitrogens, for example, can impact the activity of the thyroid. And scientists are now investigating a whole class of these chemical compounds they call "obesogens" because they stimulate weight gain.
Toxic chemicals in the environment infiltrate our bodies and interfere with the functioning of our endocrine system, among other things. The endocrine system produces and manages our hormones. It accomplishes this through a complex system of glands and receptors throughout the body (familiar sounding glands like pituitary, thyroid, adrenal, ovaries, and testicles). Hormones (such as insulin, estrogen, and testosterone) are produced in these glands, travel through the bloodstream, and bind with matching receptors.

These hormones control a variety of important functions in the body, like growth, reproduction, blood pressure and food utilization. When pollutants enter our bodies and affect the endocrine system, they're called endocrine disruptors.

There is no end to the tricks that endocrine disruptors can play on our bodies. They are known to:
  • increase the production of certain hormones and decrease the production of others
  • imitate hormones
  • turn one hormone into another
  • interfere with hormone signaling
  • tell cells to die prematurely
  • compete with essential nutrients
  • bind to essential hormones
  • accumulate in organs that produce hormones

Continue Learning about Endocrine System Disease Causes

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.