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Endocrine-disrupting Chemicals Have Toxic Role in Development and Health

Exposure to these chemicals, such as BPA, during organogenesis and throughout life can lead to changes in neuroendocrinology, behavior, metabolism, and obesity, prostate cancer and thyroid and cardiovascular endocrinology.

Tufts University researchers Ana Soto, MD, and Carlos Sonnenschein, MD, have completed a review of the impact that environmental endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) have on human development, finding that exposure during organogenesis leads to problems in development and long-term health.

The researchers completed a body of observational, epidemiological, and animal research examining EDCs, finding that developing embryos are especially sensitive to the chemicals. Soto and Sonnenschein focused specifically on bisphenol A (BPA). Although the researchers paid particular attention to BPA, the results of the study are described in slightly broader terms. Exposure to EDCs during organogenesis correlates positively “with an increased incidence of malformations of the male genital tract and of neoplasms and with the decreased sperm quality observed in European and US populations,” the researchers wrote in Nature Reviews Endocrinology. Additionally, exposure to EDCs causes “alterations in male and female reproduction and changes in neuroendocrinology, behavior, metabolism and obesity, prostate cancer and thyroid and cardiovascular endocrinology.”

Soto and Sonnenschein have been investigating BPA for the past 15 years. Previous research revealed that exposure to BPA, even trace levels of the chemical, can increase one’s cancer risk during adulthood.

"The evidence indicates that exposure to BPA and other EDCs may contribute to diseases that manifest during adult life, such as increased cancer rates in the industrialized world,” Soto said. “These chemicals have also been linked to obesity, altered behavior, and infertility.”

Although the researchers conclude that the existing evidence warrants the need for immediate action to decrease the amount of EDCs that individuals are exposed to, they also state that solving the problem will not be an easy process.

“Humans and wildlife are exposed to a mixture of EDCs that act contextually,” the researchers wrote in Nature Reviews Endocrinology. “To explain this mindboggling complexity will require the design of novel experimental approaches that integrate the effects of different doses of structurally different chemicals that act at different ages on different target tissues. The key to this complex problem lies in the adoption of mathematical modeling and computer simulations afforded by system biology approaches.”

Soto and Sonnenschein are both professors in the department of anatomy and cellular biology at the Tufts School of Medicine.