I have heard that EDC such as BPA and phthalates may be dangerous and interrupt the endocrine system. What are they and how can I avoid them?

Endocrine disrupting chemicals are a broad class of chemicals that can interfere with the natural hormonal control systems of the body and effect cell metabolism, reproduction, development and behaviour. Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates are endocrine disruptors that are in widespread use and found in our environment, food, and consumer products as well as in most people in the modern world.

BPA is a key ingredient in polycarbonate plastics and is used in many common products including baby and water bottles, medical and dental devices, CDs and DVDs, thermal receipt paper, household electronics, as well as in the lining of almost all food and beverage cans. Phthalates are a group of plasticizer compounds that are used to soften PVC plastics as well as being used in a wide variety of consumer goods such as children’s toys, personal care products, adhesives, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, textiles, detergents as well as food products and packaging.

Exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals can lead to a range of conditions such as infertility, reproductive abnormalities, various cancers, obesity, impaired intellectual development and impaired immune function with the effects varying according to the age at exposure, the extent of exposure and the mixture of chemicals. While the consequences of being exposed to endocrine disrupting chemicals is not yet fully understood, it is known that a small dose of an endocrine disrupting chemical during pregnancy that may not significantly affect the mother, can profoundly affect the developing fetus in ways that may not become evident much later. This was recently demonstrated by a study done at Columbia University that found that the level of phthalates in mother’s urine during the 3rd trimester of pregnancy correlated with the intellectual development of her child at aged 3.

The latent effects of fetal exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals may also extend into adulthood and early exposure to such chemicals in animal studies has been found to damage natural weight-control mechanisms and foster dietary choices that favour high fat intake and the development of metabolic syndrome, diabetes and obesity. Thus exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals has been suggested as a contributing factor for the global epidemic of diseases such as obesity, diabetes and ADHD.

While it may be impossible to completely avoid exposure to BPA and pthalates in the modern world recently there has been moves internationally to restrict their use and there are some simple lifestyle measures that can also help reduce exposure. These measures begin with reducing the amount of plastics used, choosing only natural organic homecare products and choosing glass, ceramic or stainless steel food and beverage containers and avoiding canned food and food packed in plastic. If plastic containers are used, do not to put them in the dishwasher or microwave and where possible select products that are labeled BPA free.

A recent study found that families eating fresh unpackaged, organic food were able to drop their BPA levels by 66% and phthalate levels by 55% in just 3 days. Similarly, American toddlers eating mostly organic food were found to have less than one sixth the pesticide residues in their urine.

While it may not be possible to completely eliminate BPA and pthalates from your life, the above measures may go a long way to reducing your exposure and increasing your consumption of fresh non-packaged food is likely to have many additional health benefits.