New evidence ties hormone-disrupting chemicals to two of the biggest health threats we face today: obesity and diabetes.

A task force issued a statement this week on the harm that can come from hormone- or endocrine-disrupting chemicals, also known as EDCs. The statement, released by the Endocrine Society, is based on a review of more than 1,300 studies. The research found mounting evidence to support a connection between the chemicals and health problems including:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Infertility
  • Hormone-related cancers in women (breast, ovarian, endometrial)
  • Prostate cancer
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Neurodevelopmental issues in children

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The statement is significant, points out WebMD, because it comes from doctors who treat people for hormone problems rather than scientists who study the effects of chemicals in animals or on cells.

This new statement updates a similar one released in 2009. But six years ago, researchers couldn't make a strong case for the links between those chemical and diseases, said Andrea Gore, Ph.D., a pharmacologist at the University of Texas at Austin, and chair of the task force that developed the statement.

“The evidence is more definitive than ever before – EDCs disrupt hormones in a manner that harms human health,” said Gore. “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.”

Chemicals to avoid

Gore said that people should minimize exposure to these chemicals that block or mimic the action of hormones in the body and said that better safety testing is needed to identify new EDCs and make sure they are kept out of household products.

Known EDCs include:

  • Bisphenol A (BPA), found in food can linings and cash register receipts
  • Phthalates, found in plastics and cosmetics and flame retardants
  • Some pesticides
  • Triclosan, a chemical used for antibacterial purposes

Gore points out that there are somewhere around 85,000 chemicals known to be used in the U.S. right now.

“Not all of them are EDCs, but if even 1 percent of them were EDCs, that would be 850 chemicals,” she said.

man putting food in a plastic container in microwaveHeating plastic containers may allow chemicals to leach into food. (Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock)

How to avoid exposure

Gore offered several everyday suggestions for people who want to limit their exposure to EDCs.

  • Don't use plastic water bottles. "I not only reduce my own exposure to chemicals by not using disposable water bottles but I'm also contributing to not contaminating the environment."
  • Avoid heating and using plastic containers. "You may have a healthy meal, but if it's in a plastic container, it's leaching chemicals."
  • Limit processed food. "Eat as much not-processed food as possible. During food processing, chemicals can be introduced inadvertently. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables and you're not getting any processed chemicals into your body."

Not everyone agrees

The report has elicited criticism from the chemical industry.

The summary of the new report "makes broad, unsupported claims about the relationship between certain chemicals and disease," the American Chemistry Council, the nation's largest chemical industry trade group, said in a statement. The group points out that regulatory agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have not substantiated the idea that minute doses of endocrine disrupters can cause health problems.

"Furthermore, the Endocrine Society’s report fails to differentiate between chemicals that are ‘endocrine-active,’ meaning they interact with the endocrine system, and those that are ‘endocrine disruptors,’ meaning that the levels of exposure associated with that interaction cause scientifically-proven adverse health effects."

Mary Jo DiLonardo Mary Jo writes about everything from health to parenting — and anything that helps explain why her dog does what he does.