UN urges deeper probe into hormone-disrupting chemicals

February 19, 2013
A nurse at the Mother and Child Hospital in Surabaya in East Java province looks after 13 newborn babies born on December 12, 2012. Scientists suspect chemicals which disrupt the hormone system are linked to early breast development, poor semen quality, low birthweight in babies and other problems, but more research is needed, UN agencies reported.

Scientists suspect chemicals which disrupt the hormone system are linked to early breast development, poor semen quality, low birthweight in babies and other problems, but more research is needed, UN agencies reported on Wednesday.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and (WHO) said evidence is mounting that so-called (EDCs) become a health risk when they enter the environment, but key knowledge gaps remain.

"Close to 800 chemicals are known or suspected to be capable of interfering with hormone receptors, hormone synthesis or hormone conversion," the agencies said in a report.

"However, only a small fraction of these chemicals have been investigated in tests capable of identifying overt endocrine effects in intact organisms."

The report was commissioned against a backdrop of concern that EDCs—found in some pesticides, electronics, personal care products, cosmetics and food additives—are entering water supplies and the food chain through agricultural runoff, waste dumps and other sources.

In recent decades, scientists have observed a rise in endocrine-related disorders in humans and wildlife, including studied populations of deer, sea lions and sea otters.

In some countries, up to 40 percent of young men have low semen quality, which reduces their ability to father children, said the report, State of the Science of Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals.

"Global rates of endocrine-related cancers—breast, endometrial, ovarian, prostate, testicular and thyroid—have been increasing over the past 40 to 50 years," it said.

"There is a trend towards earlier onset of breast development in young girls in all countries where this has been studied. This is a risk factor for ."

Incidence of genital malformation in young boys, such as non-descending testes, has increased over time or levelled off "at unfavourably high rates," it added.

The emergence of these disorders over such a short time means that genetic factors can be ruled out, it said.

Laboratory studies back suspicions that EDCs are to blame, it said.

But there are big gaps in knowledge, especially grass-roots studies that compare incidence of these disorders and exposure to the chemicals, it said.

There could be other environmental causes, and age and nutrition could play a role, it added.

In the quest for a fuller picture, the report called for more research and better international coordination on testing standards and urged governments, in the meantime, to be vigilant.

"Worldwide, there has been a failure to adequately address the underlying environmental causes of trends in endocrine diseases and disorders," it said. "(...) (The) disease risk due to EDCs may be significantly underestimated."

The document was issued on the second day of a meeting of UNEP's governing ministers, which ends in Nairobi on Friday.

Explore further: Current chemical testing missing low-dosage effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals

Related Stories

Current chemical testing missing low-dosage effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals

March 29, 2012
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) -- such as BPA -- can show tangible effects on health endpoints at high dosage levels, yet those effects do not predict how EDCs will affect the endocrine system at low doses, according ...

Experts say protocols for identifying endocrine-disrupting chemicals inadequate

June 26, 2012
In a Statement of Principles unveiled today, The Endocrine Society proposes a streamlined definition for endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and offers recommendations that will strengthen the ability of current screening ...

Suggested link between The Pill and prostate cancer

December 1, 2011
AN international study published in BMJ Open has recently suggested the existence of a casual link between the use of the contraceptive pill and the increase incidence of prostate cancer, due to men’s abnormal exposure ...

Recommended for you

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...

Teens likely to crave junk food after watching TV ads

January 15, 2018
Teenagers who watch more than three hours of commercial TV a day are more likely to eat hundreds of extra junk food snacks, according to a report by Cancer Research UK.

Can muesli help against arthritis?

January 15, 2018
It is well known that healthy eating increases a general sense of wellbeing. Researchers at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) have now discovered that a fibre-rich diet can have a positive influence ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.