EDCs often find their way into our systems through the foods we consume. Several EDCs can be found in pesticides. Shopping for organic produce is a good preventative step to take to reduce EDC intake.
That time of the week has arrived again – grocery shopping. Aside from struggling to find the perfect combination of healthy, pesticide-free, cost effective, and taste-bud satisfactory food, it seems obvious grocery shopping for the environmentally and health conscience mother is no easy task. Even after having done your research, as you haul that gallon of milk into your cart, are there still life-altering chemicals waiting to be ingested come dinnertime?
Dr. Shanna H. Swan, a reproductive medicine specialist and professor at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, recently conducted an interview with EurActiv about the potential effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) or “stealth chemicals” as Dr. Swan nicknames them.
Endocrine disrupting chemicals and their effects have been a topic of increasing concern. Dr. Swan will be the first to inform you that studies analyzing EDCs and their physiological effects are few and far between. Does this mean the effects are not being seen? Absolutely not, Dr. Swan argues. Levels of infertility, hormone imbalances, and increased prenatal difficulties are becoming more prevalent, causing scientists to call for a more direct approach to combating these chemical problems.
Dr. Swan breaks EDCs into separate groups, taking one chemical at a time to try and better understand how each specific EDC is disrupting the regular distribution of hormones. Phthalates are an example of a primary group of EDCs. It can be broken down even further to DEHP, a chemical used to soften plastics. DEHP is used in hospital tubing as well as in tubes used for milking cows. As warm liquid travels through this tubing it absorbs the DEHP which travels with the liquid until it reaches its final destination. Our bodies are usually the recipient of such liquids and all the good, and bad, they contain.
The positive news is that legislation banning phthalates in certain products, such as children’s toys has already occurred. However, this is only one step of many that needs to be taken, Dr. Swan states. Exposure to phthalates is happening through application of cosmetics. Along with rubbing that sweet scented body lotion all over your body, comes a dose of DEP (another phthalate) which our skin absorbs. As we spray our hair and paint our fingernails another phthalate, DBP, enters our system. Unfortunately, it seems routes of exposure to EDCs are endless.
What Dr. Swan is most concerned about EDCs affecting are fetuses that are at the receiving end of so many of these disrupting chemicals. These chemicals have the potential to severely impact fetal development, altering the way bodies form and lifelong traits. As Dr. Swan explains, the level of exposure to EDCs does not necessary determine the outcome, rather the point of development at which the exposure occurs can have the largest impact on the fetus. According to Dr. Swan even, “a drop in an Olympic-sized swimming pool” has power to cause major changes.
So what can women— especially pregnant women—do to reduce exposure to these stealth chemicals? Choose personal care products wisely and particularly avoid products (such as hair spray and nail polish) where EDCs are likely found. Refrain from spraying anything scented (i.e. air fresheners) in your home. Although when it comes to food little can be done to determine levels of EDCs, therefore try to buy food that is fresh, organic, and local whenever possible. Opt for glass storage over plastic and never microwave in plastics containers.
Through the support of more research, education, and labeling of products with EDCs, we can work together to continue the battle against these stealth chemicals infiltrating our lives and the lives of those we love.