Please welcome back guest author Dr. Joanne Perron, who joins us today to talk about the causes of - and fight against - disease caused by Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals. Take care of yourselves, Pinkies...
Since I was diagnosed with pre-menopausal breast cancer over 5 years ago, and then having to shutter my OB/GYN practice, I have been seeking an answer to “Why me?” I am weary of reading one more medical study touting that breast cancer risk is reduced by following a healthy lifestyle. I had practiced living by that bible for years before my diagnosis. People would stare and remark on the strange vegetable concoctions that I’d bring for lunch. I actually liked eggplant as a kid. No, it wasn’t my poor diet that caused the cancer. Nor am I overweight, a smoker, a drinker, a genetic carrier.
My question had me thinking about all cancers, reproductive disorders, heart disease, autoimmune disease, neurological and neurodevelopmental disorders, and diabetes. I thought about my childhood friend, Kristie, who lived 3 houses away. What caused her death from breast cancer at age 36? I thought about my numerous female patients suffering from cancer, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and, infertility. And then I began to read the emerging research.
There is a bold, new paradigm about the origins of human disease. First proposed in 1995 by British physician, David Barker, it posits that chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes have their origins in the womb. Whatever the mother is exposed to is passed on to the fetus (that is why smoking is especially dreadful during pregnancy). A fetus in a nutritionally deprived environment will have its “thrifty” genes more active in preparation of being birthed into an equally deprived world. Then when the baby or child is exposed to a world of good n’ plenty caloric delights, it does not have the metabolic machinery to properly handle them and caloric hording occurs. A lifetime of this can then lead to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Yes, an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise play a large role in development of these diseases, but now scientists know that the in-utero environment is just as important and likely affects development of other diseases as well.
Contrary to romantic Victorian notions, the fetus does not float in a pristine and unsullied pool. In 2004, the Environmental Working Group collected umbilical cord blood samples from 10 newborns and found the presence of 287 industrial chemicals, many of them banned for 30 years. When first hearing about this I cried for the profound loss of sanctity. Remember the DES and thalidomide fiascos with their resultant reproductive and limb abnormalities? Fifty years ago, women were erroneously given those drugs to prevent fetal loss and unrelenting morning sickness, respectively. The difference is that the women of 2004 weren’t intentionally given those 200 plus chemicals. The chemicals came from everyday exposure to pesticides, plastics, personal care products, furniture flame retardants, solvents, residential cleaning products, and many more. Exposure may have occurred by ingestion, inhalation, or skin absorption. Many of these chemicals have been studied by scientists and have been found to mimic hormones in lab animals causing parallel diseases to humans. Signals from wildlife are not good either (just ask the Atrazine exposed hermaphrodite frogs). These chemicals are called Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals or EDCs and can cause genetic havoc at miniscule doses. (Google the words and find 147,000 hits!)
EDCs are so worrisome that in June 2009 The Endocrine Society released a 30 page review of the science and a position statement dedicated to the topic. They concluded “the public may be placed at risk because critical information about potential health effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals to which Americans are exposed is being overlooked in the development of federal guidelines and regulations." And the list of EDC categories is growing. In addition to estrogen, testosterone, and thyroid imposters, a new category is called “obesogens."
My focus has changed. I've realized that my mission is to translate the science and educate the public, policy makers, and my medical colleagues. My vision is for all of us to work towards improved chemical safety testing and more prudent regulatory oversight of the 84,000 chemicals that we and future generations may be exposed to. My hopes are that the deep pockets of special interests don’t overshadow precaution and that consumers begin by demanding the removal of lead in lipstick, BPA in food containers, and dangerous pesticides in our food chain. Isn’t it time for the chemical manufacturers to ask themselves if some of the products they produce do not provide better living through chemistry?
What do you think, Pinkies? How do you keep yourself safe from household chemicals? Have you experienced health issues that you know to be caused by everyday products? Share your story!
Yours in health,
Joanne L. Perron, MD, FACOG Pebble Beach, CA
Master’s in Public Health Leadership candidate, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Postdoctoral fellow, Program on Reproductive Health and the Environment, University of California, San Francisco
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