The endocrine system is a complex system consisting of glands in the body that produce hormones.The first gland that many of us think of in the endocrine system is the thyroidgland which is located in the throat.
Other glands are the pituitary gland, theadrenals, and the pancreas. Males and females have, respectively their sexglandswhich are the testicles in the males and the ovaries in the females.
Hormones act as chemical messengers, controlling many basicfunctions from how our body uses food to growth and from reproduction to bloodpressure and glucose levels. They are carried by the blood stream to locationsin the body where they perform their particular functions..
And that is not all. Other regulators, such as chemicals secreted into the blood by neurons,are sometimes termed neurohormones. In fact, that there numerous systems in ourbodies that regulate processes as diverse as blood pressure, reproduction, fluid balance,bone resorption and more.
So what are endocrine disruptors?
EPA’s working definition: Endocrine disruptors “interfere with the synthesis, secretion, transport, binding, action, or elimination of natural hormones in the body that are responsible for the maintenance of homeostasis (normal cell metabolism), reproduction, development, and/or behavior.”
Many endocrine disruptors are thought to mimic hormones. They have chemical properties similar to hormones that allowsthem to bind to hormone specific receptors in our bodies.
There are chemical substances from bothnaturaland man made sources, that can harm us in specific situations and doses. There is growing concern among scientists and the publicthat this is happening.
The presence of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in our environment raises concernsfor three reasons
1. There are increases in many human reproductive disorders and even some cancers which could be related to disturbance of the endocrinesystem. 2. Adverse effects from environmental chemicals known to act on the endocrine system have been observed in laboratory animals. 3. Harmful effects have been observed on reproduction, growth and development inmany species of wildlife.
Phytoestrogens are estrogen hormone-like chemicals found in plants.Although medical data remain inconclusive, recent epidemiological studies and experiments with animals suggest many varied benefits ofphytoestrogens. For example, Asian populations consuming diets high in the phytoestrogens found in soybeans have lower incidences of hormone-dependent cancers (including breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers) compared to western populations. Also, theprevalence of osteoporosis and menopausal symptoms are lower. In addition, the incidence of coronary heart disease is lower in Asian populations. However, when Asian populations immigrate to western countries and adopt westerndiets and lifestyles, the risk for those diseases rises.
A survey of a variety of populations of women showed that urinary phytoestrogens (a measure of phytoestrogens in the diet) are highest among vegetarians, particularly macrobiotics, and lower among breast cancer patients, suggesting an association between low disease risk and high phytoestrogen intake.
Sources: International Programme on Chemical Safety;U. S. Environmental Protection Agency; Environmental Health Perspectives Volume 104
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