Some harmful chemicals can mess with your natural production of hormones. Some endocrine-disrupting chemicals can imitate hormones or turn one hormone into another. This interferes with their signalling to the body. Some studies have linked these chemicals to fertility issues, thyroid issues, cancer and developmental disorders. Apparently our hormones are critical for development which means that babies and children are at a higher risk of adverse effects from harmful chemicals.
So which are the most common harmful chemicals? Here are 5 of the ones we think you should know about and how you can avoid them.
Bisphenol A (BPA)
BPA can often be found in the lining of canned foods and plastic packaging or bottles. It has been associated with cancer, reproductive and fertility issues, early puberty and obesity. In fact, it has been suggested that we should refrain from microwaving any food or drinks in plastic as it can transfer BPA into the body and can cause issues - especially for a growing one! Instead, use glass containers in your microwave.
Manufacturers are rarely required to notify consumers when BPA is present, which means it's almost impossible to know whether you're exposed to it. However, you can take these steps to lower the chances:
- Steer clear of plastics that have a "PC" marked on them - this stands for polycarbonate and many of them contain BPA.
- Rather than buying canned food, opt for fresh, frozen or dried food.
- Avoid heating food in the can or leaving food in the can when refrigerating after opening. Instead, transfer to a pan or glass container.
- Even though not all manufacturers state whether BPA is present in their packaging, some do, so still check for this before buying!
Phthalates are commonly found in synthetic fragrances, PVC, cling film and toys. Some studies have linked this chemical to birth defects and fertility issues in men, miscarriages and gestational diabetes.
To avoid phthalates you can:
- Avoid plastic tupperware and toys made from plastic.
- Avoid products that have phthalates on the ingredients label, as well as any products that has 'fragrance' written on it.
PFAS chemicals are a group of fluorinated compounds, which includes over 4,700 chemicals - some of which have been linked to thyroid problems, cancer, weak immune system and developmental defects. The group also includes chemicals whose health impacts are unknown.
PFAS can be found in many items around the home including: kitchenware, waterproof clothing, carpets, upholstered furniture and food packaging. As PFAS are nonstick, waterproof and grease-resistant, they are highly desirable to manufacturers. It has even been found in drinking water in the UK.
How to avoid PFAS:
- Drink filtered water - either with a filter jug or a filter for your tap. Make sure when buying a filter you have an understanding of which chemicals it filters out - unfortunately it's not a one-size-fits all scenario!
- Avoid stain-repellant treatment on carpets, upholstery and any other fabrics around the home.
- Fast food is often served in PFAS-treated packaging- so eat as little of this as possible!
- Hand-pop popcorn on the hob as microwaveable popcorn bags are often coated with PFAS.
- Avoid nonstick pans and kitchen utensils that are made with PFAS.
Atrazine is a chemical in the form of white crystals typically used as a herbicide for crops and to clear plant-life from industrial sites. Its use means that it often contaminates soil and water.
Although virtually non-toxic to birds, it is very toxic to aquatic life. Scientists have found that the chemical can turn male frogs into females that produce fully viable eggs. The chemical can also affect humans. Atrazine can enter the body by inhaling air that has atrazine in or drinking water that is contaminated. Sadly, Atrazine can sometimes be found in our drinking water. Recent studies have shown its link to childhood leukaemia and Parkinson's disease. It can also cause gastrointestinal irritation (nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea) or skin irritation.
To avoid this chemical, invest in a filter for your drinking water and buy organic produce.
Perchlorate is a component of rocket fuel. It is an endocrine disruptor that can interfere with the thyroid glad. It does this by competing with iodine when entering the body, which the thyroid gland needs to make its natural hormones. Thyroid hormones regulate metabolism and are critical for proper brain/organ development in growing children.
Perchlorate has been found to contaminate drinking water in the UK, as well as fruit and vegetables grown in greenhouses and cloches, dairy products and baby food! You can read the full report here.
To avoid perchlorate, use a reverse-osmosis filter in your drinking water tap. While it is extremely difficult to avoid this chemical in food, you can offset potential effects by supplementing your diet with iodised salt to ensure you are consuming enough iodine.