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Common Chemicals May Cause Obesity and Diabetes

Endocrine-disrupting chemicals pose a public health threat

The Endocrine Society has released a scientific statement about endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). The statement is the result of five years of additional research since their original 2009 report on the matter. Exposure to these chemicals is connected to diabetes development, obesity, infertility, neurologic disease, and certain cancers, among other problems. One common EDC is bisphenol A (BPA), which is found in cash register receipts and certain plastics.

Phthalates are also EDCs and are in pesticides, plastics, cosmetics, and flame retardants. EDCs are extremely ubiquitous: it is likely that almost every single person in the world has been exposed to at least one.

EDCs are so named because of how they work in the body. Illness results when these chemicals disrupt natural hormones in the body by blocking them, imitating them, or altering pathways. A recent study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism estimates that EDC exposure results in direct healthcare expenses and lost wages totaling $209 billion every year.

Animal studies have revealed that some EDCs damage pancreatic beta and alpha cells as well as fat cells; this may show some of the mechanisms for how EDCs cause diabetes. EDCs are also damaging to the unborn. In animal studies, fetal exposure to EDCs was linked to obesity later in life. EDC exposure has also been linked to obesity and diabetes in humans.

The Endocrine Society’s statement is a call for action. Specifically, they recommend more research into the causal relationship between EDC exposure and health problems, more regulations for testing of chemicals, and the creation of products that do not use EDCs. They also want more education to laypeople and policy makers to better figure out ways to best prevent EDC exposure.

Practice Pearls:

  • EDCs (endocrine disrupting chemicals) interfere with hormones in the body and have been linked to diseases such as diabetes, cancers, and obesity.
  • EDCs are very common. Examples include phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA).
  • The Endocrine Society recommends increasing research, regulations, and public education about EDCs.

Gore AC, Chappell VA, Fenton SE, et al. “Executive Summary to EDC-2: The Endocrine Society’s Second Scientific Statement on Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals.” The Endocrine Society. 2015.