The Effects of Our Environment on the Endocrine System

Dr. Lieberman’s Note: We are sorry to see that people generally have so little understanding of the adverse effects of using so many toxic chemicals in their daily lives and that they are equally unaware of effective, safer alternatives. Our goal in continuing to present the information given here is to encourage each reader to take responsibility for his or her own actions and possible consequences in choices of products to use for pest control, home and garden maintenance, food containers and preparation, etc. We can’t change the whole world at once, but we can each make our own best choices.

We have been concerned about problems of infertility, impotency in males, and overt falling sperm counts. To this must be added an increasing incidence of endometriosis and breast cancer, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Is there a unifying explanation for all this? The data seems to confirm there is.

The culprit can be summed up in one word--xenoestrogens--or endocrine disrupters, but the problem is undoubtedly more complex.

Basically, many synthetic chemicals to which we are exposed mimic estrogen, which results in feminization of our male population and causes multiple disease syndromes related to estrogen dominance, or too much estrogen relative to the levels of other hormones in our bodies.  Since all hormones are inter-related, when hormonal balance is disrupted, every endocrine organ suffers, including not only our reproductive organs, but the thyroid, pituitary, adrenals, etc.  The function of the entire body is under the regulation of hormones, so we can see why profound adverse effects can result from deregulation of the endocrine system by xenoestrogen chemicals.

Speaker after speaker at this conference emphasized our excessive exposure to multiple chemicals which fall in this category of xenoestrogens or estrogen mimics, including pesticides, plastics, and many additives.  As early as the 1960’s, Rachel Carson warned of the dangers of DDT in her book, Silent Spring.  Even then it was too late to prevent the damage done by widespread application of this pesticide, and now traces of DDT are found in the tissues of every living being--human, animal, and plant--throughout the world.  Hundreds of other pesticides have since been used and continue to be used with reckless abandon, all of which are not only toxic but also estrogen mimics.

Soft plastics, another potent source of xenoestrogens, are ubiquitous in our environment.  [Soft plastics are “bendable” plastics such as are used in making most bottles in which bottled water, juices, and sodas are sold; many bottles in which cooking oils are sold, and other food containers too numerous to list.]  The use of soft plastics in packaging of our foods has contributed to the contamination of our food supply with estrogen mimics.  The combined use of pesticides in growing the food and soft plastics in transporting and packaging the food raises our exposure to endocrine disrupters.

Several speakers at this conference discussed the effects of xenoestrogen exposure.  In women, we see the greatly increased incidence of breast cancer, endometriosis, severe menopausal symptoms, and premenstrual symptoms.  In men, we are seeing earlier and more severe andropause, which is the male equivalent of a female's menopause and is due to low levels of testosterone in the male.

Normally, andropause, like menopause, is genetically programmed.  However, other factors besides normal aging can bring on andropause, including infection of the testes (orchitis), autoimmunity, and now we see, chemical exposures.  Not only can chemicals directly injure the testicular tissue, they can and do act as androgen hormone blockers, thus blocking the effect and uptake of testosterone.

The pesticide DDT and its metabolites, as well as the plastercisers such as Bisphenol A (a common ingredient in the lining of cans), can act as androgen hormone blockers at levels as low as 2-5 parts per billion.  DDE, the metabolite of DDT, is equal to the drug Flutamide in its effect as an androgen blocker, and Flutamide is such a powerful androgen blocker it is used to treat prostate cancer!  The significance of this is our pollutant exposure is literally equal to the taking of powerful drugs which have the same effect on our hormones, but which are unwanted in the bodies of normal people.

Andropause is occurring prematurely in many men, and therefore is not being recognized by most patients and their physicians.  Severe andropause is characterized by fatigue, depression, irritability, anxiety, lack of initiative and self-confidence, loss of libido, impotency, loss of neurocognitive function, decreased muscle mass, weakness, aches, pain, stiffness, and increased cardiovascular events (heart attack).  There is a re-distribution of body fat, which gives that characteristic paunch of older men.  Of great significance, the low levels of testosterone found in andropause are also associated with insulin resistance, and insulin resistance in itself is the cause of the syndrome associated with obesity, hypertension, high cholesterol and triglycerides.  Thus, premature andropause brings many health risks to younger and younger men.

There was also one paper presented at this conference on the levels of toxic chemicals being found in breast milk--levels so high that if the breast milk were to be put on grocery store shelves, it would be banned by the EPA. The fatty tissue of the breast is a primary store house or waste dump site for many of these xenobiotics to which the adult female is exposed.  Levels of DDE (the metabolite of DDT) and Dioxins and Furans (highly chlorinated hydrocarbons) are especially elevated in breast milk.  The latter are considered to be among the most toxic chemicals known. In the first six months of life, a breast fed baby has already been exposed to many times the accepted lifetime level recommended as safe for these chemicals by the EPA.

Based on studies performed in Egypt by Accuchem Laboratories, Dr. John Lasiter reported that a population of women exposed to xenobiotics had, surprisingly, the lowest levels of these chemicals in their blood.  Upon further investigation, it was determined that these women had breast fed their babies, and the more babies mothers had breast fed, the lower the xenobiotic level in the mothers.  Breast milk had thus become a route of excretion of toxic chemicals from the nursing mothers. The mothers were being detoxified, but the chemicals were going into the mouths of their babies.

Knowing that breast milk is so contaminated raises the question: Is it still safe to breast feed our babies? The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently recommended that mothers breast feed for one year, up from the previous recommendation of breast feeding for the first six months of a baby's life.  While we could normally whole-heartedly recommend breast feeding, now, unfortunately, we need to think about this as a source of toxic chemicals for our children.  Analysis of breast milk can be readily obtained for any nursing mother and may be advisable.

Another featured speaker at the conference, Dr. William Rea of Dallas presented data, published in the Journal of Nutrition and Environmental Medicine, demonstrating that when patients are challenged or exposed to toxic chemicals at common ambient levels, they have physiologic effects equal to the effects of drugs and hormones.  Whereas it is accepted that small doses of drugs and hormones have profound effects on the body, it is also true, but not readily accepted, that synthetic chemicals can also cause overt signs and symptoms at seemingly low levels.  Although the levels of exposures to chemicals are low, they are equal to the physiologically active doses at which drugs are often prescribed.

In summation, many of the disease processes and unusual syndromes we physicians are seeing in our offices, in patients from infancy to old age, appear to be the result of our patients' increasing exposure to toxic chemicals.  The impact of these chemicals, especially the estrogen mimics which we call xenoestrogens, is profound and is threatening the health, welfare, and even survivability of the human race.  It was the opinion of many of the speakers that biodetoxification may need to play a greater role in both prevention and treatment of disease for many of our patients.

For information on our Biodetoxification Program, see Chemical Toxicity and Sensitivity.
For alternatives to household pesticides, please see our Environmental Control.

If you are a nursing mother and wish to obtain an analysis of your breast milk from our Center, please see our Website section titled New Patient Information.


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