What is an Endocrine Disruptor and how does it affect your hormones? An Interview with Carol Kwiatkowski, PhD.
by Susie Arnett
We live in a world not only of processed food, but of processed stuff. Have you purchased any furniture lately? Or some laundry detergent? Just like that frozen chicken tender, there’s a lot more in that bookshelf or soap than meets the eye. It made me wonder, if processed food is not so healthy for our bodies, is processed stuff? What’s in it anyway and how does it affect our bodies?
I interviewed Carol Kwiatkowski, the executive director of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange (www.endocrinedisruption.org), an organization that collects and disseminates information about endocrine disruptors—chemicals that impact hormones. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, it’s not because it has nothing to do with your life. You are currently surrounded by them.
Most endocrine disruptors (EDs) originate underground and then are refined and then used to create other chemical compounds like pesticides, flame retardants, plastics, and solvents. They end up in a lot of household products, plastic water bottles, building materials, personal care products, dental materials, cigarettes (and the smoke they release), and in furniture. According to Dr. John Lee, authority on natural hormone balance, we are swimming in “a sea of estrogen” because many of these EDs mimic the female hormone.
The reason EDs are a cause of concern is because they affect hormones either by mimicking them, blocking them, or by affecting their production and/or transportation. And because hormones function at very low concentrations, it takes very little to have an effect.
I took my son to the dentist the other day and the dentist wanted to apply sealants to his back molars. Dental sealants are made of a kind of plastic and when I researched it online, it turns out that they are estrogenic. When I brought this up with the dentist, he brushed it off saying that it’s within acceptable levels but is there any acceptable level of estrogen exposure for a 12 year old boy? The research is inconclusive.
EDs get into our bodies in a lot of different ways. They may be in the food or water you consume or they get into the food by the coating on food packaging or by the plastic bottles we use. We breathe them in via household dust or the offgassing from paint, the glue used to attach new carpeting when we renovate our homes. And of course, you can pick them up through the skin. In fact, we are often rubbing them right into our skin when we use certain skin care products or shampoos that contain them.
Because they affect hormones, EDs in the body can lead to a long list of issues. ED exposure is linked to reproductive disorders like infertility and poor sperm quality, breast and prostate cancer, neurological disorders like Parkinson’s, and neurodevelopment disorders like Autism (much higher incidence in males).
Whew… that’s quite a laundry list. This post is by no means a comprehensive look at the topic but I felt like it was important to include a look at EDs in The Testosterone Project because even tiny, tiny amounts of EDs can negatively affect hormones like testosterone so men and boys are susceptible. One of the primary reasons is that many of them mimic estrogen so if you are exposed to them, it’s like getting a little shot of estrogen every time you have contact, not the best thing for a growing boy or man.
One ED that is getting a lot of attention is bisphenol A or BPA which is found in plastics like water bottles and in the linings of food cans. BPA was originally developed as an estrogen and later on, they found they could make plastic out of it. According to Carol, it is a very well-studied chemical and what they’ve discovered is that in humans even at low levels, it’s been found to impair male sexual function, lead to poor sperm quality and cardiovascular quality, and obesity.
There are currently plastics out there that are touting themselves as BPA-free but this recent study brings their safety into question.
But we live in this world. We can’t get rid of all of our IKEA furniture, for example. Carol’s mantra is “Learn more and use less and until we know for sure, err on the side of caution.” In her opinion, men in particular need to protect themselves by being aware of the products they are using so they can reduce exposure. This is what Carol recommends for men (and for women too):
To learn more about other factors that can affect your testosterone levels, check out The Testosterone Project.
BIOGRAPHY: Dr. Carol Kwiatkowski is the Executive Director of TEDX and an Assistant Professor Adjunct at the University of Colorado at Boulder in the Department of Integrative Physiology. She earned her PhD in Cognitive Behavioral Science from the University of Denver. Prior to joining TEDX, she was an Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Dr. Kwiatkowski oversees the development and execution of all of TEDX’s programs. She also developed TEDX’s Critical Windows of Development website tool, which presents a timeline of how the human body develops in the womb, with animal research showing when low-dose exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals during development results in altered health outcomes. www.endocrinedisruption.org
The Testosterone Project, created by Susie Arnett, explores the evolution (or devolution) of masculinity in modern society through a series of interviews with leading thinkers on the topic of men and men’s health. Susie Arnett is a writer and producer and has produced programming for HBO, Fox, Lifetime and MTV. For more information, contact Susie Arnett at [email protected] . www.lightfieldmedia.us
Photo: Peterzen / Flickr