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Endocrine Disruptors and their Impact

M3 India Newsdesk Apr 01, 2024

The article delves into the widespread presence and harmful effects of endocrine disruptors, exploring their sources, mechanisms of action, & diverse health impacts. It also emphasises the critical need for coordinated action to minimise exposure and protect public health & environmental integrity.

Endocrine disruptor chemicals (EDC), a class of chemicals ubiquitous in our environment, have emerged as a silent yet potent threat to human health and the delicate balance of ecosystems.

As per the Endocrine Society, these are defined as "an exogenous (non-natural) chemical, or mixture of chemicals, that interferes with any aspect of hormone action and their functioning leading to disease or even death."

As per estimate, more than 24% of human diseases and disorders globally are attributable to environmental factors, with such factors playing a role in 80% of the deadliest diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and others.

EDCs in the environment may contribute to disorders with hormonal underpinnings such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Neurological disorders
  • Reproductive disorders
  • Inflammation
  • Compromised immune functioning

EDC exposures at even extremely low dosages can alter biological outcomes.

The increased prevalence over the past 50 years of hormone-sensitive cancers (e.g. breast and prostate), compromised fertility, early puberty, genital malformations, and unbalanced sex ratios are at least partially attributable to increased chemical abundance and exposure.

Despite their widespread presence, these compounds often lurk unnoticed, exerting insidious effects on organisms ranging from microscopic plankton to apex predators. This article delves into the intricate world of endocrine disruptors, exploring their sources, mechanisms of action, health impacts, regulatory challenges, and strategies for mitigation.

EDCS includes furniture, toys and children’s products, food packaging, electronics, building materials, cosmetics, and many others. People can also be exposed to EDCs from pesticides, air pollutants, industrial waste, and other pathways. Exposure to EDC may be most harmful during fetal development, infancy and childhood, adolescence and pregnancy.

The following sections include examples of commonly used EDCs from four categories:

  1. Pesticides (glyphosate, DDT, chlorpyrifos) have adverse reproductive health outcomes.
  2. Plastics and plasticisers (bisphenols, phthalates) have been linked to effects on reproductive health and development and emerging evidence is revealing that phthalates may impair neurodevelopment resulting in impaired cognitive function, learning, attention, and impulsivity.
  3. Chemicals in household and children’s products (arsenic, inorganic lead) have been linked to cancer and other health conditions and it has also been linked with metabolic disorders such as diabetes, disruptions and reproductive function and cardiovascular and neurocognitive disorders.
  4. Industrial chemicals (per- and polyfluorolalkyl substances (PFAS), brominated flame retardants) PFAS can disrupt hormones such as estrogen and testosterone, and some PFAS can impair thyroid hormone functions.

Mechanisms of action

Endocrine disruptors exert their deleterious effects by interfering with the intricate signalling pathways of the endocrine system. They can mimic, block, or modulate the action of hormones, disrupting vital physiological processes.

By binding to hormone receptors, altering hormone synthesis or metabolism, or influencing gene expression, these chemicals elicit a spectrum of adverse effects, particularly during critical developmental stages. The best-known examples of hormone mimics are EDCs that act upon the body’s estrogen receptors (ERs).

Health impacts

The repercussions of endocrine disruptor exposure span a broad spectrum of health outcomes, encompassing neurological disorders like ADHD and autism spectrum disorder, as well as depression and other mood disorders, learning disabilities and conduct disorders, reproductive disorders, developmental abnormalities, metabolic dysregulation, and carcinogenesis.

In humans, prenatal exposure to certain disruptors has been linked to impaired fertility, birth defects, neurodevelopmental disorders, and an increased risk of hormone-related cancers.

With greater international attention to the public health effects of EDCs, many organisations have called for improved regulatory policies, grounded in the latest available scientific evidence, to protect the public from hazards associated with endocrine disruption.

One contentious issue in regulatory discussions is around the concept of low-dose exposures to EDCs and why these are biologically relevant. The EDC is exposed to our bodies through oral consumption of food or water, contact with skin and/or inhalation, children’s products, medical supplies and equipment and application to skin. Which results in disruption in various endocrine functions.

Efforts to reduce exposure to endocrine disruptors involve various strategies, including banning or restricting the use of certain chemicals, promoting the development of safer alternatives, improving waste management practices, and educating the public about potential risks and ways to minimise exposure.


In summary, endocrine disruptors pose a formidable challenge to public health and environmental integrity, underscoring the urgency of concerted action. By elucidating their sources, mechanisms of action, and health impacts, this article seeks to raise awareness and galvanise efforts aimed at minimising exposure and safeguarding future generations from the pernicious effects of endocrine disruption. Only through collaborative endeavours can we hope to mitigate this hidden threat and pave the way for a healthier, more sustainable future.


Disclaimer- The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of M3 India.

About the author of this article: Dr. Hitesh Saraogi is a diabetologist, physician and obesity specialist at Dhanvantari Hospital, Raj Nagar Extension, Ghaziabad.

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