Researchers have found a link between chemicals that mess with our hormones such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates, and the two biggest public health threats currently facing society - type 2 diabetes and obesity.
These chemicals are known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and they’re found in a whole lot of items we touch daily, such as pesticides, food cans, cosmetics, cash register receipts, and even wine. “The chemicals are so common that nearly every person on Earth has been exposed to one or more,” a statement from the US Endocrine Society explains.
EDCs have long been known to mess with our body’s natural systems by mimicking or interfering with the action of hormones. Because hormones are so important at regulating our bodies, this can change the way our cells grow and develop, and can impact most of our biological functions, such as eating, sleeping, and reproducing.
But in a report issued today by the US Endocrine Society, leading endocrinologists detail new evidence both in humans and animal models that suggests exposure to the chemicals can also contribute to an increased risk of diabetes and obesity.
The new evidence includes a long-term epidemiological study that showed that people who are exposed to more EDCs are more likely to develop obesity and type 2 diabetes. The statement also outlined a growing body of evidence that linked EDC exposure to infertility, hormone-related cancers, and neurological issues.
"The evidence is more definitive than ever before - EDCs disrupt hormones in a manner that harms human health," said Andrea C. Gore, a pharmacologist at the University of Texas at Austin and chair of the Endocrine Society task force. “Hundreds of studies are pointing to the same conclusion, whether they are long-term epidemiological studies in human, basic research in animals and cells, or research into groups of people with known occupational exposure to specific chemicals."
The evidence suggests that the risk is particularly high for unborn children who are exposed to EDCs while in the womb. In animal studies, researchers have found that this type of exposure causes obesity later in life, and can also affect beta and alpha cells in the pancreas, fat cells, and liver cells, which can lead to insulin resistance.
There's no need to panic just yet, the US Food and Drug Administration reassure people that the levels of BPA found in food containers and packaging is safe. And so far, researchers haven’t managed to show exactly how EDCs trigger type 2 diabetes and obesity in humans.
But the Endocrine Society argues that there’s enough evidence to suggest their involvement in the increase in these two conditions to warrant action. Currently around 35 percent of American adults are obese, and more than 29 million people in the US have diabetes.
"It is clear we need to take action to minimise further exposure," Gore said. "With more chemicals being introduced into the marketplace all the time, better safety testing is needed to identify new EDCs and ensure they are kept out of household goods."
They’re also calling for additional research into the cause-and-effect relationships between EDC exposure and health conditions, and better public education about EDC risks. And they make a pretty compelling argument. You can read the statement yourself over at Endocrine Reviews.