What are endocrine disruptors?
Endocrine disruptors (EDs) are environmental chemicals that affect the function of the endocrine system, the system involving the glands and hormones of the body. The endocrine system coordinates the functions of various organs and systems in the body. EDs may disrupt the endocrine system in several ways:
they may act as "imposters" of naturally occurring hormones
they may block the action of hormones
they may alter the chemical message sent by hormones
they may disrupt the production of hormones or hormone receptors (proteins used to receive information from hormones)
Most EDs act like naturally occurring estrogens in the body. However, some EDs block androgens (male sex hormones such as testosterone). The theory of endocrine disruptors gained credibility from a number of studies demonstrating reproductive problems in wildlife exposed to certain environmental chemicals. For example, alligators exposed to an organochlorine pesticide, diclofol experienced various reproductive abnormalities.Also, certain birds exposed to the organochlorine pesticide DDT failed to reproduce.
EDs are a diverse class of chemicals. They include:
certain pesticides (DDT)
industrial chemicals (PCBs, dioxins)
phenols (bisphenol A, alkylphenol)
plant hormones (phytoestrogens)