What are hormonal pollutants?

What are hormonal pollutants?

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Hormones travel in the bloodstream to cells in different organs that contain specialized proteins called receptors, which recognize that hormone and bind to it.

The hormone changes the state of the receptor "inactive" to "active", which allows it to bind to cellular DNA and activate or repress the expression of nearby genes.

Each endocrine gland secretes only a very specific and very small amount of a hormone, at a specific time, very small amounts circulating in the blood, since hormones are very effective and produce their effect at very low concentrations (picograms or nanograms / ml of blood).

This is at concentrations of 0.00000000001 0.00000001 gr / gr, or ppb.

The amount of the different hormones present in the blood is different in each person and varies with age, sex, time of the reproductive cycle or state of health.

Each person has their own state of hormonal balance.

Figure 1. Endocrine glands

Hormones orchestrate the growth of the embryo's nervous and immune systems, and program organs and tissues such as the liver, blood, kidneys, muscles, brain, and reproductive system.

For all these systems to develop normally, the embryo must receive the appropriate hormonal messages, in the right place and at the right time, which requires adequate timing and stimuli.

If something disturbs the stimuli in a critical period of development, the offspring can suffer serious consequences throughout their lives.

Hormonal disruptors are chemical substances capable of altering the synthesis, release, transport, metabolism, binding, action or elimination of natural hormones in the body, this is to alter the hormonal balance and the regulation of embryonic development and, therefore, with ability to cause adverse effects on the health of an organism or its progeny.

Hormone disruptors can act in different ways: Mimic the action of hormones, for example, those that act as estrogens are called environmental estrogens, among these are DDT or some PCBs.

Antagonize the action of hormones, for example antiestrogens such as some PCBs or PCBS, such as the fungicide vinclozin.

Alter the synthesis and metabolism pattern of hormones, such as PBDE-99 (flame retardant) that alters the synthesis of thyroid hormone (TH). Modulate the levels of the corresponding receptors, such as bisphenol A that interferes with the estrogen receptor.

Activate peroxisome proliferative receptors (PPAR), which are related to the development of liver cancer and diabetes, as well as the differentiation of adipose cells that produce body fat (eg metabolites of the solvents trichlorethylene and perchlorethylene).

Effects on human health

Hormonal disruptors are related to important diseases:

  • Damage to the male reproductive system: decreased semen quality and infertility, congenital malformations of the urogenital tract such as cryptorchidism (no testicular descent) and hypospadia (abnormal position of the opening of the urethra).
  • Damage to the female reproductive system: precocious puberty, reduced fertility, polycystic ovary syndrome, reduced fertility, adverse pregnancy outcomes, endometriosis, and uterine fibroids (non-cancerous tumors).
  • Tumors in hormone-dependent organs: breast cancer, ovarian cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, thyroid cancer.
  • Alterations in the development of the neurological system: cognitive or behavioral deficits (hyperactivity, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, hearing loss, lack of motor coordination, learning difficulties, etc.).
  • Metabolic diseases: metabolic syndrome, diabetes and obesity.
  • Neuroimmune system disorders: Myalgic encephalopathy / chronic fatigue syndrome / postviral fatigue syndrome (ME / CFS / SFPV), fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis.

Effects on wildlife

The health effects of wildlife include:

Invertebrates: induction of imposex (development of male sexual organs in female individuals causing their sterility) and intersex (presenting male and female characteristics at the same time), and reduction of reproductive capacity.

Fish, amphibians and reptiles:induction of intersex, altered sex ratios, thyroid abnormalities and changes in sexual behavior. Birds: disorders in reproduction, in the development of eggs and changes in reproductive behavior.

Mammals:loss of reproductive capacity, subfertility and reproductive tract malformations, thyroid disorders and adrenal gland injuries.

That is, hormonal pollutants are related to the main diseases that affect industrialized societies and wild animals today.

* Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chlorinated dioxins (PCDDs), chlorinated furans (PCDFs)

Source: Andreas Kortenkamp A et al. STATE OF THE ART ASSESSMENT OF ENDOCRINE DISRUPTERS Final Report. Project Contract Number 070307/2009/550687 / SER / D3.

Annex 1. SUMMARY OF THE STATE OF THE SCIENCE. Revised version. Brussels: European Commission, DG Environment, 29 January 2012.

Unique characteristics of hormonal disruptors

They can act at very low doses

Like hormones, hormonal disruptors can cause effects at very low exposure doses, equivalent to the exposure levels currently found in the population, due to household air pollution, food, or the presence of EDC in consumer items.

Thus, Figure 1 shows how the concentrations of various pollutants with estrogenic capacity in a representative sample of the Spanish population are in the range of 10 to 8,000 ng / g, that is, at concentrations higher than those that these pollutants can produce estrogenic effects (100pg / g to 10 ng / g).

Exposure time: it may be even more important than the level of exposure.

There are periods of development that are especially vulnerable to endocrine disruption (embryonic and fetal development, early childhood), causing damage that can cause significant effects on health throughout life.

Therefore, pregnant women and children are very sensitive to exposure to homonal pollutants.

The dose-effect relationship is not linear, and can, for example, generate harmful health effects at very low or high doses and not generate effects at intermediate exposure doses.

Cocktail effect: EDCs can act together, additively or synergistically and exposure to low doses of an EDC mixture can cause negative effects at exposure levels considered safe for the individual substances that make up the mixture.

Latency:the negative effects of EDCs can manifest themselves many years after exposure occurs; in addition, the effects of prenatal exposure are mainly manifested in adulthood.

Ubiquity of the exhibition: human EDC monitoring studies show contamination in the population of all ages.

EDCs have been detected in umbilical cord blood, hair and urine of infants, children, and blood and fat of adults.

Analyzes of food, consumer items.

Air, water, house dust, etc., show the ubiquity of exposure to EDC.

Therefore, EDCs are considered substances without safe exposure thresholds.

Some EDCs are also persistent and bioaccumulative

Some hormonal pollutants are also persistent substances, that is, they degrade with difficulty, remaining in the environment for years.

They can also be bioaccumulative, that is, they accumulate in the organism of living beings, so that animals (and food) that are found in the upper levels of the food chain progressively accumulate these pollutants, being able to have body concentrations millions of times higher than those of living things at the bottom of the food chain.

Due to these characteristics, traditional risk assessment methods, included in current regulations, are not adequate to protect the population and the environment against EDCs.

Faced with the new challenge posed by these substances for the protection of health and the environment, it is necessary to use a new paradigm, apply the precautionary principle, and adopt urgent measures to eliminate or reduce exposure to EDC as much as possible. , in particular the exposure of children and women of reproductive age, pregnant and lactating.


Reports: Romano D. Endocrine disruptors. New answers for new challenges.

Madrid: ISTAS, 2012. Bergman A, et al, editors. State of the science of endocrine disrupting chemicals - 2012. Geneva. UNEP / WHO; 2013.


Final Report. Brussels: European Commission, DG Environment, 29 January 2012.

European Environment Agency. The impacts of endocrine disrupters on wildlife, people and their environments. The Weybridge + 15 (1996–2011) report. Copenhagen: EEA, 2012.

Audiovisual: The small print




RES: ktails-perturbateurs-endocriniens /

1 Miquel Porta, Elisa Puigdomènech, Magda Gasull and Magda Bosch de Basea.

Distribution of serum concentrations of persistent organic compounds (POPs) in a representative sample of the general population of Catalonia.

Barcelona: Department of Health of the Generalitat of Catalonia, IMIM and Autonomous University of Barcelona, ​​2009.
Free of hormonal contaminants

Video: Water Tampers with Fish Hormones, Causing Males to Develop Female Traits (June 2022).


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