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The hormone disruptors in your home

Reading time: 9 minutes

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals can wreak havoc on your health, says Marcelle Pick. Here are the main ones to watch out for and how to avoid them

Last year, my friend Helen introduced a new policy for her household: plastic-free birthday and holiday gifts only. A great idea . . . and surprisingly difficult. Plastic seems to be absolutely everywhere.

I asked Helen what had inspired this new tradition, assuming the driver was a concern for the environment.

“That was how it started,” she said, but after researching the impact of certain kinds of plastic, she’d stumbled upon some frightening facts about their effects on hormonal health.

Helen has struggled on and off with estrogen dominance for years. It’s a hormonal imbalance in which estrogen levels are much higher than progesterone levels, leading to PMS-type symptoms, hot flashes, irregular periods and low libido.

The idea that so many items in her household could be contributing to the problem was unsettling, to say the least. And she was about to learn just how many items around her—plastic or not—had the potential to disrupt her hormonal balance.

Most women I know are intimately familiar with the changes that hormonal imbalance can bring to their bodies.

After all, they’ve dealt with mood swings, bloating, weight gain and cramps every month for years—even decades. They remember puberty and have watched their teenage daughters wrestle with it. They’ve also heard dire warnings about what happens in menopause.

What many of these women don’t know, however, is that myriad external factors (like the chemicals in certain plastics) can impact hormonal balance, making these symptoms worse.

All around us, in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the products we use, are chemicals that can change the balance of hormones in the body. These are called endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) or endocrine disruptors because they interrupt proper hormone function and can lead to extremely uncomfortable symptoms.

Let’s take a quick look at how the endocrine system functions, how endocrine disruptors change that function and some of the most common culprits.

How does the endocrine system work?

The endocrine system is the compilation of all the glands and organs that produce hormones, which the body uses as regulatory messengers. The system is responsible for regulating your body’s biological processes from the time you are conceived until you die.

These processes include brain and nervous system development, reproductive system development and function, regulation of blood sugar levels and metabolic function.

The major components of the endocrine system are female ovaries, male testes, and the pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands. Other components include the pineal gland, thymus, hypothalamus, parathyroid glands and pancreas. While some of these components are major players and others take a supporting role, all are important to proper endocrine function.

What’s most important to know when considering EDCs is that all the system’s glands must be working in harmony to regulate the communication your body receives from the hormones they secrete.

If even one gland is malfunctioning, big problems can result, from fertility issues to exhaustion to weight gain. That means it’s vital to avoid external factors that can skew the hormonal messages your body receives.

What are endocrine disruptors?

The National Institute of Environmental Health Science in the US defines endocrine disruptors as “natural or human-made chemicals that may mimic, block or interfere with the body’s hormones, which are part of the endocrine system.”1

They can cause adverse effects—not only in humans but in wildlife as well. These include problems in development, reproductive and immune system issues, and impaired brain function.

You may be thinking of major environmental disasters, such as oil spills or chemical dumping, as the kinds of events that expose us to endocrine disruptors. But, unfortunately, our exposure is far more frequent than that. They’re everywhere; most of us bring them into our homes ourselves, often without even knowing it.

That’s because these chemicals are hiding in plain sight—in our cleaning products, clothing, beauty products, detergents and food packaging, even in our tap water.

This is a major problem. Research has linked endocrine disruptors to thyroid disease, birth defects, developmental disorders, infertility, metabolic issues, obesity, decreased IQ, cancer and many other conditions. And those most at risk are infants and children.

The problem is so widespread that one analysis in Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology estimated that a median of $340 billion (£268 billion) in the US and $217 billion (£172 billion) in Europe is spent treating these negative effects each year.2

I think it’s safe to assume no one wants to expose themselves to chemicals that can cause such devastating issues. But lack of awareness and poor regulations mean they are doing just that—and far more often than they realize.

10 ways to defend yourself

In a perfect world, we’d be able to prevent synthetic chemicals from attacking our endocrine system. But the love of modern conveniences, along with corporate greed, has created a world filled with these chemicals that surround us every single day.

That makes it impossible to avoid exposure altogether, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to limit it as much as possible. Chemical buildup in your system is likely to bring you to a breaking point if you don’t address the issue.

The good news is there are many small steps you can take to protect yourself. These may make life a little less convenient, but the trade-off is a healthier, more vibrant and potentially much longer life.

Go organic. You hear a lot of talk about produce, the chemicals used in growing, and the importance of choosing organic fruits and vegetables to avoid pesticide exposure. The Environmental Working Group in the US and the Pesticide Action Network in the UK release Dirty Dozen lists annually to warn against the most contaminated produce in each country (see below).

Avoiding EDCs in produce is important, but it doesn’t go far enough. Milk, cheese, meat, poultry, farm-raised fish and grains can all be contaminated as well, so it’s best to choose organic food whenever possible. Research has shown that eating organic only can decrease the pesticides in your body significantly in just a few days.

Eat fresh foods. Food cans are typically lined with BPA or similar chemicals to prevent corrosion. Instead of opening a can of vegetables to add to a casserole, try fresh or frozen instead. Whole foods are far better than processed and don’t need elaborate packaging either.

Use safe cookware. Nonstick cookware and utensils are made with per- and polyfluorinated/fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals” because they never break down.

To avoid PFAS, choose stainless steel or cast iron pots and pans and stainless steel or wooden utensils. Make popcorn on a stovetop, not in the microwave.

Stop using plastic products. With a little effort, it’s easy enough to stop using plastic for food storage, water bottles, dishes and toys. For dishes and food storage, glass and stainless steel are great choices. Wooden toys (as long as they don’t have toxic paint) are a great alternative to plastic.

If you must use plastic, at the very least don’t heat it up. That means keeping it out of the microwave and dishwasher. Heat breaks plastics down, allowing food to absorb those harmful chemicals.

Avoid buying products packaged in plastic as much as possible as well. While tap water can be a concern, buying water bottled in plastic isn’t any better.

Your guide to going plastic-free.

Read and understand labels. Know what to look for in the ingredients list. Don’t be fooled by labels that say “BPA-free.” All that means is that one specific chemical, bisphenol A, isn’t included.

Look for the words “bisphenol-free” instead. Checking labels extends beyond food; discover what’s in your cleaning products, detergents, clothing and beauty products to help guide your choices. And if you’re in the market for new carpeting or furniture, make sure they haven’t been treated with flame retardants.

Say “No, thank you” to receipts. The thermal paper used to print most receipts these days is coated with bisphenols A and S, chemicals that your body can absorb through the skin. But more and more places are offering a digital receipt option. Take it if you really need the receipt.

If you must have a receipt, and digital isn’t an option, be sure to wash your hands after handling it. Often, taking the receipt is more habit than necessity; an added bonus to declining it is less clutter in your pocketbook.

Keep your house and hands clean. Chemicals collect in dust and dirt, so there’s a really good reason to keep things tidy. Invest in a high-quality vacuum cleaner that has a HEPA filter, and dust frequently with a damp cloth.

Remember not to undo all your hard work by using harsh chemicals in your cleaning; homemade options containing basics like white vinegar and baking soda are just as effective and a lot less dangerous.

Wash your hands frequently, but don’t use chemical-laden soaps. This is particularly important before eating to avoid transferring pollutants from your hands to your mouth.

Avoid artificial fragrances. Scents may invoke pleasant memories or soothe your nerves, but synthetic ones may also wreak havoc on your hormones. Instead of using scented candles or chemical air freshener sprays, freshen the air by opening windows, try an essential oil in a diffuser, and use fresh flowers, citrus peels, coffee grounds or baking soda to handle undesirable odors.

Choose filtered water. Contaminated water systems are so common that you should avoid drinking tap water unless a filter is installed. PFAS were detected in tap water from 17 out of 18 water companies in England,3 and in at least 45 percent of tap water in the US.4 But bottled water isn’t a better option because the bottles are plastic.

So what’s the best solution? Invest in a properly installed water filter. If you get a whole-house filter system, you won’t absorb the chemicals when you shower or wash your hands, either.

Use your purchasing power. The effects of endocrine disruptors are increasingly well known, but the industries that manufacture and sell chemicals and other products continue to thrive. The more we all push back by choosing to buy products without EDCs and by sharing our concerns with others, the more of a difference we can make, not only for ourselves but for future generations.

A healthy endocrine system is key to feeling your best

When you do your best to keep your endocrine system functioning well, hormonal balance is much easier to achieve. Since our world is filled with chemicals that can throw our bodies off course, it’s important to control the things you can rather than worrying about those you can’t.

Knowing what’s in the products you choose, eating with intention and giving your body an extra boost with high-quality supplements will support your endocrine system so you can enjoy the life you live.

Common endocrine disruptors

While there are far too many EDCs to mention them all, some have been studied extensively and are well known to lead to serious health consequences. But despite the best efforts of activists and healthcare professionals, they still show up in common household products.

The best thing you can do is know what they are and where to look for them; then you can avoid them. The following are some of the most widely used:

Bisphenol A (BPA). Unless you never look at mainstream media, you’ve likely heard about BPA, used in some plastics and resins. Food packaging, some plastic bottles and cash register receipts commonly contain BPA. While more companies are advertising “BPA-free” products, be careful. The substitutes are sometimes just as bad.

Phthalates. Plasticizer chemicals commonly found in synthetic fragrances, PVC plastic, toys and plastic food wrap.

PFAS. This collection of fluorinated compounds includes more than 14,000 chemicals. They’re used in cookware, waterproof clothing, carpet and upholstery coating, and food packaging. They’re also found in tap water. These chemicals are so ubiquitous that studies have found nearly everyone worldwide has PFAS in their blood.1

Atrazine. If you eat products containing non-organic corn or your water system is near corn crops in the US, it’s likely you’ve been exposed to atrazine due to its widespread use as a weed-killer on these crops.

Flame retardants. These chemicals are used in mattresses, upholstery, insulation, electronics, foam cushions, clothing, even infant car seats. While use of some of the worst has ceased, the replacements aren’t much better. And since they don’t stay put in the product but end up in the air, even if you avoid touching treated materials, you may be exposed.

Perchlorate. This potent chemical is a component in rocket fuel that ends up in the drinking water supply of far too many Americans. It also ends up in food, especially dairy products since the chemical accumulates in the milk of cows. It also accumulates in human milk, so breastfeeding mothers should be especially aware of their water source.

The fruits of chemical use

To see the produce with the most and least chemicals in your country, visit these websites.


Environmental Working Group

Clean Fifteen and Dirty Dozen:

View the lists for free on the site or enter your email to download a copy.

According to the EWG, testing detected no pesticide residues in almost 65 percent of samples from the foods on the Clean Fifteen list. These foods are safer to eat even if they aren’t organic.


Pesticide Action Network UK

Dirty Dozen:

Enter your email to view the list.

PAN UK doesn’t release a list of clean produce items because the government testing program is too limited to conclude that any specific produce is nearly free of pesticides.

Note that pesticides (including herbicides) are just one type of EDC. Farmland is often contaminated with other chemicals due to poor environmental practices, such as using sewage sludge to fertilize crops.

The best bet is to buy your produce from a local organic farm or grow your own. But if you can’t, buying organic produce will make a big difference.

What do you think? Start a conversation over on the... WDDTY Community

Main text
  1. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, “Endocrine Disruptors,” April 2, 2024,
  2. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol, 2016; 4(12): 996–1003
  3. Leana Hosea and Rachel Salvidge, “‘Forever Chemicals’ Found in Drinking Water Sources across England,” Nov 28, 2023,
  4. US Geological Survey, “Tap Water Study Detects PFAS ‘Forever Chemicals’ across the US,” July 5, 2023,
Common endocrine disruptors
  1. Environ Sci Technol, 2011; 45(19): 7954–61
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