Our endocrine system is made up of glands that produce and secrete hormones that regulate many of the body’s functions, including growth and development, metabolism, electrolyte balances, and reproduction.
The hypothalamus is a portion of the brain that links the nervous system to the endocrine system via the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland, sometimes called the “master gland,” controls the function of numerous other targeted endocrine glands. These include the adrenal glands which produce cortisol; the gonads which produce sex hormones; the thyroid which produces thyroid hormone; the parathyroid which produces parathyroid hormone; and the pancreas which produces insulin and glucagon.
Because many of these hormones are part of a hormonal cascade that is responsible for almost every cell and organ in the body, a disorder in any of these glands may cause a major decline in overall health.
What are endocrine disruptors?
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the hormone systems and may cause adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immunological effects. Often man-made, these chemicals can be found in everyday products that we use and ingest, including plastic bottles, detergents, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences suggests that these products may be resulting in reduced fertility and increased progression of some diseases, including obesity, diabetes, endometriosis, and some cancers.
How can the normal communication of the endocrine system be disrupted?
Chemical substances can disrupt the normal communication of the endocrine systems in three different ways:
- They bind to thyroid receptors and mimic the natural hormone. The disruptor may send an ill-timed or stronger signal than the natural hormone.
- They bind to thyroid receptors and prevent the correct hormone from binding. This means that the normal sign does not occur, affecting how the body responds.
- They interfere or block the ways in which natural hormones and receptors are made or managed.
If these substances affect the normal rhythm of the endocrine systems, then increased or decreased amounts of hormones may be produced.
Simply put, endocrine disruptors cause hormone imbalance. So, if we are constantly exposed to these chemicals, we can’t completely heal from thyroid disorders. It’s impossible to remove all the offenders, but with some effort, it may be possible to reduce our exposure.
Where are we exposed to endocrine disruptors?
All of the consumer products that we inhale, ingest, and apply to our bodies put us in contact with hundreds of disruptors each day. When we equip ourselves with knowledge about what products contain which chemicals, we can make informed lifestyle changes and choices.
Some of the top ways that we expose ourselves to disruptors include, but are not limited to:
Personal Care Products
Many cosmetics, lotions, hair care products, and toothpaste brands contain phthalates, triclosan and other harmful chemicals that affect the endocrine system by altering our hormones and raising estrogen to unhealthy levels.
Canned Food and Plastic Containers
Most companies have removed Bisphenol-A (BPA) from their packaging, but there are still some products that contain this endocrine disruptor. BPA acts like estrogen in the body and raises estrogen levels in both men and women.
Conventional produce is sprayed with numerous pesticides and herbicides. Produce that have soft edible skin are the worst offenders because not only does the chemicals leach into the produce, the skins are generally consumed as well.
Chlorine removes iodine from our cells which is particularly harmful to the thyroid because most people already suffer from iodine deficiency and thyroid tissue requires a large amount of iodine. In addition, studies have shown a link between chlorine exposure and low testosterone levels. In general, it is best to avoid chlorine as much as possible.
Aerosol cans, bleach, air fresheners, and other cleaning products are filled with multiple toxic chemicals that we breathe and are absorbed through our skin. In addition to being endocrine disruptors, they can also cause respiratory illness and headaches.
How to avoid endocrine disruptors:
It may be difficult to avoid common chemicals entirely but, equipped with the proper knowledge, you can begin to remove some of the worst offenders from your daily interactions.
- Replace personal care products with natural or homemade varieties. Might we suggest The Detox Market? They only carry products with pure ingredients and cruelty-free formulas. (You can even try before you buy with a sample bag!)
- Buy food and beverages that are BPA-free. Better yet, choose options that are packaged in glass containers! Also, it’s suggested to avoid warming food inside plastic containers because the heat allows the chemical to leech into the food or beverage.
- Purchase organic produce whenever possible to avoid pesticides and herbicides, especially in produce where the skin is consumed. Another great shop-at-home option may be Thrive Market, an online membership-based retailer offering natural and organic food products at reduced costs. (You can even shop by diet preferences - keto, paleo, gluten-free, etc. - which is super helpful to those who eat a particular kind of way to support their thyroid health.)
- Use a water filtration system to avoid drinking chlorinated water. Whole house water filtration is also a great investment because it will filter all tap water including water that used for bathing. If you’re considering getting a pool, then a saltwater system may be the best choice!
- Buy natural cleaning products with ingredients that you recognize as safe. This Safer Choice options guide may be helpful when choosing store-bought cleaning supplies. Consider using household products like vinegar and baking soda to clean your home. Adding a little lemon or lavender essential oil will help achieve a nice citrus aroma that will replace the toxic fragrances in typical cleaning supplies.
Understanding how the endocrine system works is one of the first steps in understanding thyroid disorders. This awareness of how to eliminate endocrine disruptors from your life will greatly help as you manage your thyroid condition. Having a care team that specializes in thyroid health is also essential as you journey to feeling your best.
Editor's Note: Paloma Health is not affiliated with any of the companies or products shared on this page. We simply share resources that we believe may be helpful to those struggling with a thyroid condition.