Most women aren’t aware of the different functions performed by the endocrine system, let alone the impact it can have on their health with endocrine diseases the fifth leading cause of death.
A vital network of glands that produce and secret hormones straight into the bloodstream to regulate many biological processes such as blood sugar control, sexual functions and growth. If the endocrine system gets thrown off balance in any way (which can be caused by stress, illness, or certain chemicals found in everyday products), it can fundamentally affect these physiological processes and manifest in a wide spectrum of signs and symptoms. Let’s take a look at what the endocrine system does for women and why it’s important to be aware of which everyday products may disrupt it and make you sick.
What is the Endocrine System?
The endocrine system is a group of glands that release hormones into the bloodstream. They travel throughout your entire body, regulating different functions and metabolism. The endocrine system works together with the nervous system for all sorts of bodily processes, including regulating your blood sugar, controlling the release of certain enzymes, controlling your blood pressure, and more. It is also responsible for producing sex hormones.
The endocrine system includes the hypothalamus, pancreas, ovaries, pituitary, thyroid and parathyroid glands. You can think of it like a network of ducts, with each gland releasing certain hormones via the bloodstream to different parts of your body. The blood carries the hormones to its target organs, like the liver or kidneys, where they are utilized and used to regulate cellular functions.
What does the endocrine system do for women?
The endocrine system in women is unique because it is responsible for producing sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, critical for puberty, reproduction maintaining a healthy menstrual cycle and pregnancy. They also drive your reproductive system, mood, and energy levels and helps women develop secondary sexual characteristics (such as breasts and body hair), produce eggs, regulate the menstrual cycle, build muscle mass, and control appetite.
The reproductive cycle of a woman is heavily reliant on the endocrine system. The endocrine system also regulates metabolism, nutrient absorption and bone health, among other things. Other functions include the ability to focus and concentrate, regulate emotions, mood, and libido or sex drive.
These hormones fluctuate at naturally occurring point in women’s lives from puberty, pregnancy, breast-feeding to menopause. It is important to be aware of common products that may affect the normal functioning of said processes.
Which products may cause problems in the endocrine system for females?
Research suggests that women, on average, use around 12 products daily that contain chemicals that may potentially cause harm to the endocrine system. Common chemicals include:
Bisphenol A (BPA):
BPA is found in the lining of cans, plastic bottles and containers, dental sealants, and paper money amongst others. BPA releases estrogen-like compounds called xenoestrogens when heated, which may disrupt the endocrine system and make women sick. BPA increases the risk of reproductive disorders such as infertility, miscarriages, and ovarian cysts and has been linked to diabetes, heart disease, and altered brain development. BPA is also known to decrease libido in both men and women.
Phthalates are found in many common household items, including toys, shampoos, cosmetics, and clothing. They are also used as a solvent in pesticides, textile finishing, pharmaceuticals and as food ingredients. In women, phthalates have been linked to infertility, early menopause, fibroids, and breast cancer. They also cause irregular menstrual cycles and are thought to decrease libido in both men and women.
Parabens are preservatives used in cosmetics, shampoos, some deodorants, and other personal care items. They are also found in certain food products such as yogurt, ketchup, and dessert fillings. Parabens have been linked to infertility, breast cancer, and decreased libido.
Bisphenol S (BPS) is a synthetic compound similar to BPA that has recently been used as a cheaper alternative in manufacturing plastics and resins. Studies have shown that BPS also has estrogenic properties, and therefore may pose the same health risks as BPA. But since BPS has only recently been introduced on the market, we don’t know as much about its potential health risks for humans.
Triclosan, found in antibacterial soaps, is linked to non-specific endocrine disruption and the FDA (the U.S. Food and Drug Administration) has issued warnings against marketing these chemicals.
How can endocrine disruption be prevented?
The first step towards improvement is awareness. It is important for women to educate themselves on which products can harm their health and try to limit or eliminate their use. Here are some pointers:
- Avoid BPA, phthalates, and pesticides. BPA and phthalates are found in many plastic containers and some paper receipts. BPA is also used in dental sealants, so if you are getting sealants make sure they are not BPA-based. You can also try to avoid pesticides by buying organic products when possible.
- Incorporate exercise and physical activity to help regulate your hormone levels and keep them within normal ranges.
- Eating a healthy and nutritious diet can help you to avoid nutrient deficiencies that negatively affect your endocrine system.
- Limit stress and learn how to manage stress as much as possible because stress can result in hormonal imbalance making you more susceptible to chronic illness. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga and other relaxation methods can help you unwind and reduce stress.
Since the endocrine system is responsible for vital bodily functions such as sexual, metabolic and immune regulation it is integral we take care of its health and know what we are consuming in everyday products to limit adverse effects.
It’s essential to avoid these chemicals such as BPA, BPS and parabens as much as possible. Eat well, move your body, learn how to manage stress and go for regular medical checkups for early detection of illness. Prevention is better than cure.
Disclaimer: This article provides general information only, and does not constitute health or medical advice. If you have any concerns regarding your health, seek immediate medical attention.