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What are hormone disrupting chemicals (or endocrine disrupting chemicals, EDCs)?

**This page is part of CHEM Trust’s Hormone Disrupting Chemicals FAQ – Full list of questions here**

EDCs (endocrine disrupting chemicals), also known as hormone disrupters, are chemicals that can interfere with the endocrine or hormone system – the body’s own sensitive chemical messaging system.

Our hormones (and those of wildlife) regulate bodily functions such as metabolism, sexual development and growth. Hormones are released into the blood by various glands including the thyroid, ovaries and testicles.

The hormone system is connected to the nervous and immune systems. The most miniscule levels of hormones can have great effect and so exposures to very low levels of EDCs can play havoc with nature, particularly at crucial stages of development and during the complex developmental stages before birth. Many of the initial reports about the effects of EDCs come from wildlife. Examples are egg-shell thinning in birds, feminisation in fish, malformations of the genitalia in reptiles, and reproductive and immune problems in various mammals.

Today, in humans, EDCs are linked to infertility and reproductive problems, obesity & diabetes, heart disease, and hormone related cancers, such as breast cancer, prostate cancer and testicular cancer.  Another concern is the potential for effects on brain function and cognitive development as thyroid hormones play a crucial role in orchestrating the development of the brain.

We now know that EDCs include certain pesticides, as well as some industrial chemicals used in a variety of consumer products. Humans are exposed to EDCs via consumer products such as flame retardants in soft furnishings and electrical products, plastics in the lining of food cans, PVC flooring and many cosmetics. We are exposed to several EDCs at any one time and there is now research that indicates that these exposures can ‘add up’ leading to combined exposure effects.

For more details and references, see the answers to questions on the chemicals involved, why is there concern, what’s so special about EDCs and the cocktail effect.

This page is part of CHEM Trust’s Hormone Disrupting Chemicals FAQ – Full list of questions here.

The next question is “Is hormone disruption a new issue?“.