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Endocrine disrupters

The commonly accepted definition of substances interrupting functioning of the endocrine system, determined in international relations as “endocrine disruptors” (ED) or “endocrine disrupting chemicals” (EDCs) is that given by a report of International Programme on Chemical Safety in 2002 [1]: An endocrine disrupter is an exogenous substance or mixture that alters function(s) of the endocrine system and consequently causes adverse health effects in an intact organism, or its progeny, or (sub)populations [1].
Many national governments, EU institutions, international organizations (OECD, WHO, ILO, UNEP, FAO) and societies are concerned about endocrine – disrupting chemicals due to 1) adverse effects in the endocrine system observed in the in certain wildlife, fish, and ecosystems; 2) the increased incidence of certain endocrine-related human diseases; and 3) endocrine disruption resulting from exposure to certain environmental chemicals observed in laboratory experimental animals [1].
The most commonly known substances, that have caused or are suspected to cause endocrine disruptions in wildlife, belong to the group of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB, DDT, DDE). These substances have induced reproductive and immune dysfunctions among Baltic seals, resulting in population declines, significant eggshell thinning and abnormal gonadal development in birds of prey exposed to these substances, a syndrome of embryonic abnormalities in fish-eating birds, whereas fish have been chemical contaminated [1]. Abnormal developments, including function and structure of gonads were observed also in reptiles, amphibians, fish and marine gastropods environmentally exposed to anthropogenic chemicals [1]. In the most cases taking into account that no appropriately planned experimental studies were carried out but only wildlife observations, therefore evidence of casual relationship between exposure, usually quite high, and biological effects are weak and it is impossible to estimate dose – response relationships.
Number of human health changes with an unknown etiology, occurring in certain populations, are suspected casual connection with environmental exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Decreasing sperm quality of men after 1930 in Western Europe, when the investigation has been triggered that have enabled an analysis of this phenomenon (oligospermia, sperm vitality, increasing incidence of abnormal sperm morphology), and also increment of human fertility problems including among people occupationally exposed to certain substances, increase number of spontaneous abortions, decrease of male newborns in certain human populations, increase in the incidence of developmental disorders of the male reproductive system (cryptorchidism, hypospadias) have been linked, inter alia, to environmental exposure to chemicals disrupting the endocrine system, in particular the regulation through the sex hormones system. According to WHO, that investigation have not supplied enough evidence to confirm the hypotheses of the casual relationship between these health changes and exposure to endocrine disruptors [1]. Similarly, the hypothesis on the leading role of hormonal equilibrium disturbances that could be linked to the environmental exposure to chemicals had not been confirmed in clinical and epidemiological studies in the etiology of endometriosis, precocious puberty, immunological and neurological disorders, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, testicular cancer, prostatic cancer, thyroid cancer in humans [1]. However the research data do not allow the rejection of these hypotheses, because the study have not enough statistical power. Simultaneously the possibility of incidence of hormonal regulation dysfunctions, particularly in the reproductive system of adults and children's development process under the influence of environmental exposure to exogenous substances cannot be excluded. Some of these substances, as we know, can bind with endogenous hormones receptors or disrupt hormonal regulation in other way. One of the main weaknesses of the research explaining the occurrence of adverse effects in humans is the lack of sufficiently reliable data on the exposure to substances which may cause abnormal function of the endocrine system.

1.International Programme on Chemical Safety. Global assessment of the state-of-the-science of endocrine disruptors.  WHO/PCS/EDC/02.2. World Health Organization, 2002


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