It’s a tight rope
The endocrine system is the complex glandular system in your body comprised of: the pituitary, pineal, thyroid, thymus, adrenal, pancreas, ovary and testes. These glands produce chemical messengers, known as hormones that travel through the bloodstream to tissues and organs. Hormones are essential to regulating body processes including growth and development, metabolism, digestion, breathing, blood circulation, body temperature, reproduction, sexual function and mood. Hormones control the way you respond to your environment and provide the proper amount of energy necessary for the body.
The endocrine system can become impaired and lead to an overall imbalance. Hormones are extremely potent and cause drastic changes in cells. A slight excess or deficiency may result in a variety of conditions including acne, migraines, depression, weight gain, diabetes, menopause, osteoporosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, thyroid disorders, growth delays, infertility and more.
Keeping hormones in check is a delicate balancing act. Stress, infection and changes in your blood’s fluid and electrolyte balance also influence hormone levels. Natural hormones are not the only factors that affect the endocrine system. Pharmaceutical hormones administered for birth control, fertility and hot flashes also cause a disruption. Synthetic hormones are not exactly the same as natural hormones; they contain an extra side chain (so they can be patented) that is not found in naturally occurring hormones. This molecular change in the pharmaceutical drug creates a stronger affinity for the receptor sites on cells. In other words, they will bind for longer than the hormones produced by our bodies, activating the tissue for an extended period of time. In addition, these synthetic hormones will not only flood receptor sites, they may affect the binding sites of many other hormones that they should not bind to. The endocrine system requires a delicate balance and therefore more potent hormones are not actually better. The over-flooded receptor sites stop responding and no longer provide essential functions to the body. This can lead to serious alterations and possibly disease. For example, synthetic hormones in the birth control pill can activate estrogen sensitive tissue. These excess estrogens stimulate cell division and growth resulting in endometrioses or even breast cancer.
Chemical compounds in the environment mimic hormones once they get inside the body. Low dosages of estrogenic chemicals can irreversibly alter programming in female reproductive cycles, playing a further role in endocrine conditions. For example, plastic products release chemicals that act like estrogen in the human body (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/03/090326100 714.htm). Hormone disruptors, found in our food, also mimic natural hormones and create imbalances. Meat and dairy have the highest levels of persistent hormone disruptors. Estrogenic hormones are given to cattle, pigs and poultry so they grow bigger and fatter faster. One in particular, Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) is given to cows to increase milk production and may be shown to increase the risk of breast cancer in humans.
An interesting report from the U.S. Geological Survey and Department of Environmental Protection revealed that 42-79% of the male smallmouth bass from the Potomac River in Washington DC, have started producing eggs. Similar results have been found throughout Europe. In Colorado, female fish have been having trouble reproducing. Left over estrogen from humans, cattle, pigs and poultry is disrupting the fish’s reproduction and feminizing males.
Our water system is contaminated with pharmaceutical drugs. The Canadian federal government’s first study of drinking water found traces of common painkillers, anti-cholesterol drugs and the antidepressant Prozac. After a person has taken drugs, active byproducts of these substances are released into sewage through urine or feces. These metabolites are not completely removed during the sewage-treatment process. Drug contaminated wastewater can enter groundwater or surface water and eventually be consumed by people. The National Water Research Institute for Health and Environment Canada found 9 different drugs in water samples taken near 20 drinking water treatment plants across southern Ontario. Accumulation of these metabolites disrupts hormones and affects the endocrine system.
Bioidentical hormones are used in attempts to correct an imbalance. These are made from botanical plants such as soy. These products are identified by the human body as being chemically identical to their natural hormones. In other words, the body responds to the hormones as if it were produced from the body rather than as a foreign substance.
We are continuously exposed to chemicals and hormones in our environment and even in our diet. Accumulation of these products in the body can easily alter the function of the endocrine system. It is important to be aware of how hormones, both natural and synthetic, can influence future health problems.
- Berkson, D.L. Hormone Deception: How Everyday Food and Products are Disrupting Your Hormones and How to Protect Yourself and Your Family. Contemporary Books, Chicago, Illinois. 2000.