Susan is an associate professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women’s Health at the University of Missouri. Her research focuses on hormones and endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
Susan became involved in the study of endocrine disruption when she was asked to research the way BPA is carried in the blood. When the studies were complete, and the paper that linked BPA in plastics to endocrine disruption was published, she continued to study endocrine disruptors and their potential impact on our health.
I feel very fortunate to have connected with Susan, and to have the opportunity to ask her questions
about the role Endocrine Disruptors play in our lives. Thank you Susan!
What is an Endocrine Disruptor?
The Endocrine Society defines an endocrine disruptor as “Any chemical or mixture of chemicals that interferes with any aspect of hormone action”
What does it mean when scientists say that plastics mimic estrogen?
Estrogens are female sex hormones that work at very low concentrations. These small hormones are essential for normal development, growth and fertility. For example, it takes very little estrogen to cause the cells that line the uterus to grow to prepare for a successful pregnancy or to cause breast cancer cells to grow. To do their work, they move into cells and bind to specific receptors—imagine a lock and key: estrogen is the key and their receptor is the lock.
Chemicals can come out of plastic that can fit into this estrogen lock. Some chemicals can open the lock-like estrogen, while other chemicals can fit into the lock, but not open it, and block estrogen from doing its work.
It is very important to note that endocrine disruptors can work on dozens of different hormone systems in addition to estrogen.
What do you find the most unsettling in terms of their effect/impact on women’s health?
Pregnant women and their fetuses are particularly vulnerable to endocrine disruption because exposure can permanently alter the development of babies.
What are the top 3 implications to women’s health?
- Infertility: Difficulty getting and staying pregnant
- Hormone responsive diseases like endometriosis and reproductive tract cancers.
- It is very possible that endocrine disruptors exacerbate hormone related mood disorders like PMS, but to my knowledge this has not been systematically studied.
If you were to go into a home and eliminate the top offenders – what would the top 5 be?
- Plastic food containers
- Plastics in the microwave
- Indoor and garden pesticides
- Older non-stick pans
- Plastic water bottles of any kind
Where do you think people would be most surprised to find Endocrine Disruptors?
Household dust and dirt! Endocrine disruptors from inside and outside the home can accumulate there-use a vacuum with a HEPA filter.
I get the sense that what we are just learning about the tip of the iceberg. How far reaching do you think the health problems are as a result?
They are potentially vast. We know from laboratory studies that when the unborn and the young are exposed to endocrine disruptors, there is an increased risk of behavioral disorders, infertility, cancer, diabetes, obesity, thyroid disorders, endometriosis and other reproductive disorders later in life.
What can a family do to eliminate their exposure to Endocrine Disruptors?
- Use glass instead of plastic
- Reduce “product use” lotions, perfumes, makeup, cleaners, antibacterial soaps, air fresheners, canned foods
- Eat fresh, local and/or organic foods
- Rinse canned foods like beans before use
- Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter
What are the words people should watch for when reading product labels?
Phthalates, parabens, “fragrance”
Can Endocrine Disruptors be found in our food?
Yes, pesticides used to grow food, plastics used to package and store food, and other manufacturing chemicals find their way into our food.
How can people advocate for themselves, and their families, with respect to food manufacturers and the government?
Vote with your wallet—make choices that send a message to manufacturers. Talk to friends, family, colleagues and local, state and national legislators about endocrine disruptors.
I have children, what would be your #1 piece of advice to help them reduce the impact of exposure on their health?
Make healthy choices! Be active, get plenty of sleep and reduce your consumption of sugar-laden beverages and junk food.
It sounds like a cliché, but it is absolutely true. These are proven ways to make our bodies healthier, stronger and more resistant to disease. In addition, the more processed the food (think junk food), the more chemicals you are exposed to.
If a product is listed BPA free, is it safe?
We are finding that many products that are labeled “BPA free” still contain endocrine disruptors.