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Vandenberg, Trasande, Sargis: Understanding endocrine disruptors

New video resources from endocrinologists will make it easier for medical professionals and patients to join ongoing conversations about this important class of chemicals

We all want to live longer, healthier lives. We wish this, not only for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren, too.


Yet, we are hit daily with news about health epidemics that affect human populations: obesity rates continue to climb; more than a million new cancer cases are diagnosed in the US each year; one in every six American children has a developmental disability, and one in 59 have autism spectrum disorder. Many of these conditions are linked to hormones and endocrine health.

This week, the Endocrine Society will roll out new materials, freely available online, to help educate physicians, other medical professionals, and patients with hormone-related diseases about chemicals that disrupt hormones in the body. These "endocrine disruptors" can mimic, block, or otherwise affect the actions of hormones that are responsible for development, reproduction, metabolism, growth, and the general coordination of cells, tissues and organs in the body.

The first video provides an introduction to endocrine disruptors and discusses how endocrine disruptors interfere with hormone biology. The second video examines how endocrine disruptors contribute to metabolic diseases including obesity, and discusses why action is needed to reduce disparities in exposures to endocrine disruptors. Finally, the third video provides straight-forward and cost-effective tips to reduce exposures to endocrine disruptors.

As research scientists and clinicians focused on diseases of the endocrine system, we have collectively spent several decades studying how environmental chemicals contribute to these diseases and others.

Our work has revealed that chemicals found in the bodies of most Americans can affect metabolic health, fetal growth and development, neurological diseases, reproductive cancers, kidney function, and respiratory diseases like asthma. We believe that talking about endocrine disruptors is important because even simple steps can help people avoid these chemicals. Avoiding exposure to environmental chemicals may reduce the risk of diseases including cancer, asthma, and others.

Endocrine disruptors continue to receive attention from government agencies charged with protecting public health. Endocrinologists will continue to engage with these agencies, pushing them to use the best available evidence to regulate chemicals that contribute to human disease. We will continue to remind decision-makers in the US EPA and FDA that they must protect people, and especially the most vulnerable among us, from endocrine disruptors.

We will not shy away from pointing out that exposures to endocrine disruptors are not equal across age, sex, racial, or socioeconomic lines. And we will continue to show how exposures to endocrine disruptors come with high costs, so that reducing exposures could produce significant healthcare savings.

Americans have become much more aware of environmental contaminants: from lead contamination in Flint and other communities, to "forever" chemicals in America's drinking water, to air pollution in Pittsburgh, to BPA in American bodies and consumer products. Indeed, more and more attention is being paid to environmental factors that affect human health.

We hope that these new resources will help medical professionals and others who are interested in better understanding endocrine disruptors and their adverse effects on individual and societal health.

Laura N. Vandenberg is an Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences. Robert Sargis is an Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at the University of Illinois Chicago. Leonardo Trasande is a Professor in the Department of Pediatrics, Department of Environmental Medicine, and Department of Population Health at New York University's Grossman School of Medicine.

New educational resources on endocrine disruptors are available from the Endocrine Society at: https://www.endocrine.org/topics/edc/talking-edcs.

Founded in 1916, The Endocrine Society is the world's oldest, largest and most active organization devoted to research on hormones and the clinical practice of endocrinology. Today, The Endocrine Society's membership consists of more than 16,000 scientists, physicians, educators, nurses and students in more than 100 countries.

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