Potent chemicals that can damage your health while present in the same incredibly tiny concentrations as your body’s own hormones are Hormone Disruptors.
Scientists and medical researchers call these chemicals “Endocrine Disrupting Compounds,” but we’re going to call them “Hormone Disruptors.”
Why? Because “hormone” is a much more familiar word than “endocrine” and connects more immediately to personal significance and a degree of understanding.
The endocrine system regulates your body, keeps systems working together by using hormones to communicate with other parts of the body, to regulate most of your body systems and functions.
Individual hormones are chemical compounds produced in your body by glands and tissues.
You are probably familiar with Insulin, sex hormones (estrogen, testosterone), thyroid hormones, adrenalin, and perhaps pituitary growth hormones (sometimes abused by athletes as a performance enhancer.) Many other parts of your body also produce hormones including fat tissue and bones.
Hormone disruptors are imposters: Your body thinks they are hormones, but your internal chemistry handles them in hazardous ways. Hazardous because hormones gone wrong can kill because they imitate other diseases such as cancer, obesity, sex disorders, cancer, birth and developmental defects, diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, infertility and more.
Some hormone disruptors like BPA and phthalates that come mainly from plastics, can promote sickness and disease in more than one of those disease categories. Plastics, we will see later on, are just one of the many sources of hormone disruptors.
More Than Just Hormones
Because scientists first recognized hormone disruptors that acted like estrogen in the body, the first wave of research in the 1990s focused on estrogen receptors. It’s important to recognize that estrogen plays a far broader role than just as a sex hormone. It is found in a very wide range of tissues and influences development, growth, fat metabolism, muscle development, cellular energy usage and more.
But, as scientists studied the effects of various hormone disruptors, they found that many of them — BPA especially — interacted with cells in a lot more ways than just via estrogen or other hormone receptors.
BPA and other “hormone disruptors” can interfere with a cell’s internal signaling. It can directly interfere with signals that tell genes how to function. Or stop a cell from producing a vital protein or other needed compound. As just one example, BPA has been shown to cause the uncontrolled growth in cells that is one of the first stages of cancer.
But because this class of hazardous, low concentration chemical was first named because of its effects on hormones, it is still called by that name even though its effects go far beyond.
Hormone, Endocrine: What’s The Difference?
Hormones act as signals in the bloodstream and carry messages throughout your body, much like a WiFi connection. Nerves are like a hard-wired connection, going only from point to point.
Hormones go everywhere in your body. But, like a WiFi signal that delivers a specific email addressed only to you, hormone messages are picked up by the cells in specific tissues which have receptors (antennas) that are tuned only to one specific hormone (frequency).
Those receptors are sometimes found on the outside walls of cells and sometimes inside depending on the specific cell and hormone type.
Taken together, the glands and tissues that produce hormones form the production parts of the endocrine system. Like talented musicians in an orchestra without a master conductor, they need a good ear to play together in harmony.
That “ear” comes from the cells affected by specific hormones.
When a hormone triggers the specific receptor that’s tuned to receive it, the cell starts doing one of many things. It might grow. Or it might start making a specific protein.
Whatever it does, that initial processing the cell creates chemicals of its own. Those chemicals form their own signal messages that go back into the bloodstream.
Eventually, much like an echo, the cell messages get back to the gland or tissue that produced the hormone. When the “echo” reaches the right volume, hormone production tapers off.
So it works like this: Cells listen for hormone messages destined for them. When they get one, cells do what they are told. Hormone glands and tissues listen for confirmation that the cells have received the messages and performed the instructions they received.
This is called a “feedback loop.”
Sometimes, the feedback loop signals produced by hormone-affected cells can affect other parts of the body. Those can have their own feedback loops.
Taken together, all of these parts and actions: glands, tissues, hormones, receptors, echoes and feedback loops are called the endocrine system.
That is why “hormone disruptor” is far more intuitive to most people than “endocrine disruptor.”
You should keep in mind that, technically, “endocrine disruptor” is more scientifically accurate than “hormone disruptor “because it involves more than just the hormone chemicals themselves.
“Endocrine disruptor” incorporates the way the whole system works. Or how it doesn’t.
There are many possible ways to destabilize not just the hormones themselves, but also the system. Disruptors mess up synchronization, feedback loops, delivery of messages (sometimes to the wrong addresses blocking delivery, over-delivering messages, crosstalk and other disruptions including altering ways that genes operate.
However, for the sake of offering an intuitive grasp to non-medical, non-scientific consumers, we will use hormone disruptor, and hormone-disrupting compound (HDC) in most places rather than endocrine disruptor, or endocrine disrupting compound (EDC).
How Do Hormone Disruptors Disrupt Your Body?
Click on over here for that: Improbably Small, Exquisitely Complicated, Incredibly Fragile = Easy To Disrupt