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Toxic 12: Worst Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals and How to Avoid Them

The Environmental Working Group and the Keep A Breast Foundation released a Dirty Dozen list this week, listing some of the most hazardous and widely used hormone disrupters.

EWG is known for creating the popular and widely used Dirty Dozen list of the most pesticide-contaminated produce. (Here’s the list for 2013.) This time, they partnered with a youth-focused breast cancer nonprofit to educate people about endocrine disruptors and their potential damage to our health and to provide simple steps for avoiding these toxins.

Researchers examined scientific literature to create the list. The hormone-disrupting chemicals they found to be the worst and most prevalent are frequently found in food, water, and consumer products, and studies have linked them to cancer, birth defects, lowered sperm count, lowered IQ, thyroid disease, and more.

So, it’s a really good idea to take steps to reduce your exposure from these dangerous chemicals, especially for young people who are most at risk.

The Dirty Dozen List of Chemicals That Interfere With Our Hormones + Ways to Avoid Them

The following information and tips is adapted from the full Dirty Dozen guide.

  1. BPA. This synthetic hormone imitates the sex hormone estrogen in the body. Why it’s bad: It’s been linked to breast and other cancers, reproductive problems, obesity, early puberty, and heart disease. (BPA linked to brain tumors.) How to avoid it: Choose fresh food over canned food (or research which companies don’t use BPA in their products — Eden Organics is one.) Avoid receipts and plastic marked with a “PC” for polycarbonate or recycling label #7.

  1. Dioxin. These chemicals form during many industrial processes. Why they’re bad: They can disrupt male and female sex hormones. Exposure to low levels of dioxin in the womb and early in life can permanently affect sperm quality and lower the sperm count in men. Plus, dioxins are carcinogens and can negatively affect the immune and reproductive systems. How to avoid them: The American food supply is widely contaminated, but here’s good news for vegans: you can reduce your exposure by eating fewer animal products.

  1. Atrazine. This herbicide — even low exposure to it— has turned male frogs into females that produce viable eggs. It is widely used on most corn crops in the United States, so it’s a common drinking water contaminant. Why it’s bad: It’s been linked to breast tumors, delayed puberty, and prostate inflammation in animals (and some research has linked it to prostate cancer in people). How to avoid it: Buy organic produce and get a drinking water filter to remove atrazine.

  1. Phthalates. These chemicals can trigger “death-inducing signaling” in testicular cells, meaning it causes them to die earlier than they should. Why they’re bad: Studies have linked them to hormone changes, lower sperm count, less mobile sperm, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes, and thyroid irregularities. (Other chemicals are contributing to obesity, too.) How to avoid them: Avoid plastic containers, children’s toys and plastic wrap made from PVC (recycling label #3). Some personal care products contain phthalates, so avoid products that list “fragrance” because this sometimes means toxins are used. (The top 10 chemicals in cosmetics.)

  1. Perchlorate. This component in rocket fuel contaminates much of our produce and milk. Why it’s bad: When it gets into your body, it competes with the nutrient iodine, which the thyroid needs to make thyroid hormones, which regulate metabolism in adults and are critical for proper brain and organ development in infants and young children. How to avoid it: Reduce perchlorate in your drinking water by installing a reverse osmosis filter. Drink non-dairy milk. And make sure you’re getting enough iodine in your diet by eating iodized salt or other methods.

  1. Fire retardants. These chemicals, which scientists found in women’s breast milk, can imitate thyroid hormones in our bodies and disrupt their activity. Why they’re bad: They can lead to lower IQ, among other side effects. How to avoid them: Passing better toxic chemical laws to be tested before they go to market is needed, but you can use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter, avoid reupholstering foam furniture and take other steps.

  1. Lead. This heavy metal harms almost every organ system in the body. Why it’s bad: It’s been linked to permanent brain damage, lowered IQ, hearing loss, miscarriage, premature birth, increased blood pressure, kidney damage, and nervous system problems. How to avoid it: Keep your home clean and well maintained. A good water filter can also reduce your exposure.

  1. Arsenic. This toxin is in our food and drinking water. Why it’s bad: It can cause skin, bladder, and lung cancer. It also messes with your hormones and has been linked to weight gain/loss, protein wasting, insulin resistance, osteoporosis and other health problems. How to avoid it: Use a water filter. Reduce your risk of getting arsenic from rice.

  1. Mercury. This naturally occurring toxic metal gets into the air and oceans primarily through burning coal. Why it’s bad: It can concentrate in the fetal brain and can interfere with brain development. It also messes with the hormone that regulates women’s menstrual cycle and ovulation. They may also play a role in diabetes. How to avoid it: Avoid seafood, but if you eat seafood and want to be healthy, wild salmon and farmed trout are good choices.

  1. Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). These chemicals are used to make non-stick cookware. Why it’s bad: It’s been linked to decreased sperm quality, low birth weight, kidney disease, thyroid disease, and high cholesterol, among other health issues. How to avoid it: Skip non-stick pans, as well as stain- and water-resistant coatings on clothing, furniture and carpets. (More about non-stick cookware and your health.)

  1. Organophosphate pesticides. These neurotoxic compounds were developed by Nazis but used by Americans to develop pesticides. Why they’re bad: Studies have linked them to effects on brain development, behavior, and fertility. How to avoid them: Buy organic produce and natural pesticides.

  1. Glycol ethers. These are common solvents in paints, cleaning products, brake fluids, and cosmetics. Why they’re bad: They’ve been linked to blood abnormalities and lower sperm counts. Children exposed to them had more asthma and allergies. How to avoid them: Avoid products with ingredients, such as 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE) and methoxydiglycol (DEGME).

You might also want to read this article with seven everyday products that contain toxic chemicals.

Image Source: Francisco Javier Argel/Flickr