Natural or synthetic chemical compounds of environmental origin that mimic hormones or inhibit the effects of hormones are known as “endocrine disruptors”. In all living systems, there are 2 important signaling systems that enable the organism to perceive changing internal and external conditions and take appropriate precautions: 1. The nervous system that functions as electrical signaling. 2. Hormones that function as chemical signaling, ie the endocrine system. Endocrine disruptors can be defined as external artifacts that disrupt the organism’s own internal signals. First of all, its traces were found in aquatic mammals. It was found to cause sexual changes in these animals that could threaten the survival of the species. Then, in the human species, the sperm count that decreased by half from the 1960s to the 1990s was associated with male sexual development disorders, early puberty in girls, and breast cancer, whose frequency increased in women.
Bisphenol-A (BPA), a monomeric polycarbonate compound, which is the raw material of plastic, is one of the first endocrine disruptors to be noticed. In 1993, Dr. David Feldman and his team realized that during their in vitro experiments, the estrogenic effect of the plastic containers they used in the laboratory environment increased after autoclaving. They prove that in MCF-7 human breast cancer cell culture, BPA released from these plastic containers into the environment after autoclaving has an estrogenic effect. Researchers conducting endocrine experiments in cell culture warn about this artifact effect of BPA released from plastic containers. They also point to the possibility that plastic poses a similar threat to public health, as it is a widely used material for food preservation. As a matter of fact, in 1995, Dr. Broton and his team demonstrated significantly higher BPA levels in canned foods released from a plastic film that covers the inside of the can. While the BPA level in Dr Feldman’s test containers was 2-4 mcg, the BPA levels found by Dr Broton in canned foods were 4-23 mcg, which disturbed the medical community a lot. Subsequently, the observation of significantly higher levels of endocrine disruptors even in breast milk made the issue a much more serious issue.
|Endocrine disruptors proven to affect human health by disrupting endocrine signaling.|
|Synthetic “endocrine disruptors”|| Hexachlorobenzene|
|“Endocrine disruptors” in heavy metal structure|| Lead|
|Naturally occurring “endocrine disruptors”|| Phytoestrogens|
The accepted view today is that endocrine disruptors can enter the body by mixing into the food chain, as a natural component of some foods or by contaminating food during storage and manufacturing. There are four main effects on human health:
1. They can mislead the immune system.
2. They can impair reproductive functions and sexual development.
3. They can cause cancer.
4. They can damage the nervous system.
Endocrine disruptors can be classified in many different ways.
- According to the purpose of use: herbicides (weed killers), insecticides (pesticides), pesticides (pest kills) fungicides, hormones.
- According to its chemical structure: dioxins, halogenated biphenyls, alkyloxyphenols.
- According to its biological function and mechanism of action: estrogen mimics, androgen inhibitors.
“Endocrine disruptors”, which is nowadays one of the most up-to-date research subject of the world endocrinology community, must be handled with an interdisciplinary approach due to the complexity of the problem, its prevalence and diversity of resources.