The endocrine system is a complex network of glands found throughout the body that produce critical hormones such as testosterone, prolactin, insulin, and cortisol. Proper hormonal functioning and balance are vital to men’s overall health and well-being, including reproduction.
Unfortunately, the endocrine system is vulnerable to numerous outside influences, one of which is called endocrine disruptors. If left unchecked, they can negatively impact the way this system works with health ramifications.
What are endocrine disruptors?
Endocrine disruptors are chemical substances that can cause the intricate endocrine system to go haywire. These hormonal disruptors bind to hormone receptors that may change hormonal production, transport, and metabolism. Here are three ways endocrine disruptors achieve their goal:
- Blocking the pathway between a naturally-produced hormone and its receptor
- Cause a hormone-producing gland to make too much or too little of a hormone
- Mimics a hormone causing interference with or disruption of the delicate endocrine system
Whichever one of these processes is disrupted by a chemical is considered an endocrine disruptor. Currently, the list of endocrine-disrupting chemicals is extensive. There are hundreds of thousands of man-made chemicals we’re exposed to daily and it’s believed that at least 1,000 of these chemicals are likely endocrine disruptors.
For men, endocrine disruptors may be the culprit behind declining sperm counts and declining testosterone levels in men since the 1950s. However, external factors, such as endocrine disruptors, may be involved in these declines.
Other possible symptoms that may be from the impact of endocrine disruptors include the following:
- Reduced energy levels
- Poor sleep
- Reduced muscle mass and increased body fat
- Hair loss
- Erectile dysfunction in men
- Irritability and depression
Examples of endocrine disruptors
There are various sources of man-made chemicals and even some natural chemicals that are considered endocrine disruptors. A person’s exposure to them is usually through inhalation, foods we eat, or direct contact.
Since there are so many sources, here are the general categories each falls into:
- Heavy metals
A sampling of some more well-known endocrine disruptors include:
- BPA or bisphenol A – A chemical used to make plastics such as water bottles and food storage containers
- Flame retardants – Used to prevent fire spread, these chemicals are found in clothing, furniture, and construction materials. These may lead to cancer, thyroid disruption, and neurological problems.
- Phthalates – This product increases the flexibility of plastics. Found in vinyl flooring, children’s toys, medical tubing, and personal care items like detergents.
- Perfluorinated chemicals – These are used in nonstick pots and pans
How men are exposed to endocrine disruptors
There are numerous ways men can be exposed to endocrine disruptors, starting with what foods they eat. Men who consume an overabundance of ultra-processed, man-made foods (chips, candy, cookies, processed meats, pesticides, etc.) will increase their exposure to chemicals used in manufacturing these foods.
Another source is the use of various household cleaning products, handling plastic food packaging or other plastic packaging material for other items, and exposure to numerous chemicals in pesticides men may use in gardening or drinking only bottled water.
The other exposure to endocrine disruptors for men is through their occupation. This can be particularly problematic as men in certain jobs that use chemicals will often have long-term exposure. These occupations can include exterminators, agricultural workers, and greenhouse workers.
How to reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors
Endocrine disruptors are too abundant to be able to eliminate all exposure to them. But, there are strategies anyone can use to reduce this exposure:
- Wash your hands frequently. This easy task should be at the top of your list for ridding chemicals you may have come into contact with. Always wash your hands before eating (avoid fragranced and antibacterial soaps) and briskly rub your hands.
- Dust and vacuum often. Keep your house clean by during with a damp cloth and use a vacuum with a HEPA filter, helping trap small particles of dust instead of blowing them around.
- Choose fragrance-free products. Phthalates, a class of chemicals often found in fragrances, is an endocrine disruptor. Fragrance-free products to use include creams, cleaning products, and laundry detergents.
- Freshen your indoors naturally. Instead of spraying fragranced room deodorizers, open windows instead. Or use fans, and be sure to empty regularly smelly trash cans and litter boxes.
- Buy more unprocessed foods. Choose the least processed foods most often, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meat, and unsalted nuts. Also choose foods with minimal packaging.
- Avoid plastics. This is a tough one since so many forms of plastics are ubiquitous in our environment. But, start by eliminating drinking beverages from plastic containers, use glass drinking cups, and store food in glass or stainless steel containers.
- Choose simple cleaners. Buy cleaning products with the least amount of ingredients and consider using vinegar, baking soda, and other basic cleaners as much as possible. Avoid harsh cleaning products full of chemicals. Since many companies are not required to list their ingredient list, buy from companies that voluntarily disclose their ingredients on Safer Choice label.
- Filter tap water. Drinking water from a glass cup is preferable than from a plastic bottle. However, tap water can also contain potential hormone-disruptors, according to NRDC’s Drinking Water Project. To reduce the level of endocrine disruptors possible in tap water, install an NSF-certified water filter to run tap water through.
Dr. David Samadi is the Director of Men’s Health and Urologic Oncology at St. Francis Hospital in Long Island. He’s a renowned and highly successful board certified Urologic Oncologist Expert and Robotic Surgeon in New York City, regarded as one of the leading prostate surgeons in the U.S., with a vast expertise in prostate cancer treatment and Robotic-Assisted Laparoscopic Prostatectomy. Dr. Samadi is a medical contributor to NewsMax TV and is also the author of The Ultimate MANual, Dr. Samadi’s Guide to Men’s Health and Wellness, available online both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Visit Dr. Samadi’s websites at robotic oncology and prostate cancer 911.