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Chemicals that disrupt the human endocrine system are all around us, and recent research finds that they can cause erectile dysfunction, infertility, thyroid disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hormone-sensitive cancers.

The modern environment is filled with chemicals that disrupt the human endocrine system. These chemicals increase the production of some hormones and decrease the production of others. They can turn one hormone into another and interfere with the signals that hormones send to healthy tissues. They can tell healthy cells to die prematurely, bind to and deactivate the hormones that are supposed to be in the body, and make it impossible for the body to use certain nutrients.

Environmental endocrine-disruptors are involved  in an ever-lengthening list of diseases. They are impossible to avoid altogether. However, you can reduce your exposure to these health-robbing chemicals by taking simple measures. Here is a list of the eight worst endocrine-disruptors and what to do about them. 


Arsenic occurs naturally in spring waters in certain parts of the world, such as Arizona and Bangladesh. It was used as a defoliant in the Cotton Belt of the United States until about 1990, and arsenic contaminates drinking water in many locations around the world, even in advanced countries.

Slow contamination with arsenic doesn't kill you directly, but it can increase your risk of bladder cancer, lung cancer, and skin cancer. One of the first signs of chronic arsenic poisoning is vertical lines on your fingernails.

How can you avoid arsenic contamination? First of all, find out if your water is contaminated. There are simple testing kits for arsenic, but they aren't used the way you might expect. The test strip is held above your water sample rather than in it. Just be sure to follow instructions. Then, if your tap water tests positive for arsenic, you really need to drink bottled water and to minimize your daily exposure to contaminated water in your bath or swimming pool.


Atrazine is an herbicide used to control weeds in corn (maize) fields and sugar cane fields and also on golf courses. If you live in the corn-producing parts of the United States it's impossible to avoid it in drinking water. Atrazine famously is responsible for transforming male frogs into female frogs, and there is evidence linking it to prostate cancer in men.

How do you avoid atrazine? Get a water filter that is certified to remove atrazine from tap water, and avoid corn products that are not labeled as organic.

BPA (Bisphenol A)

BPA is a nearly universal environmental contaminant that is used in industry to harden plastics. Inside the human bloodstream, it mimics estrogen. Its effects may account for the increasing rates of early puberty in girls and infertility in men. 

How can you avoid BPA? One of the major uses of this chemical is for making the "glue" that holds cans together. You can avoid BPA by eating fresh food rather than canned. It also helps to avoid plastic containers marked "polycarbonate" or "recycling #7." If you can't avoid these kinds of containers entirely, at least do not use them to store acidic liquids or keep them in a hot place.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Casals-Casas C, Desvergne B. Endocrine disruptors: from endocrine to metabolic disruption. Annu Rev Physiol. 2011. 73:135-62. doi: 10.1146/annurev-physiol-012110-142200. Review. PMID: 21054169.
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