Friday, May 7, 2010

Something My Body Needs Anyway?

Image Source: Time Magazine

The impact of environmental chemicals on health is becoming a defining concern of this century. I’m sure you’ve seen the increasing number of articles published by the mainstream media questioning the safety of chemicals in consumer products, like plastics. Research has shown that these chemicals are getting into our bodies and can mimic our hormones.

Hormones are signals that regulate biological processes by communicating messages to cells. Hormones bind to a receptor like a key fits into a specific lock, which tells the cell to carry out a specific action.

One example is human growth hormone. As children, growth hormone is released in our body to tell limbs and organs to grow. But when we become our adult size, our body stops releasing the growth hormone, so the cells are no longer receiving the message to grow. Hormones are regulated by a group of glands called the endocrine system.

Image credit: Principles and Explorations, Teaching Transparencies.
Copyright 1996 by Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Certain unnatural chemicals entering our bodies can mimic our natural hormones. They are called endocrine disrupting chemicals (or EDC) because of their ability to interfere with our endocrine system.

The problem with EDCs is that they are not made by your body, and therefore, your body is not able to regulate EDCs like it regulates your natural hormones. But at the same time, EDC’s (green) can bind to the receptors (purple) of specific natural hormones (orange), initiating the same cell response. Research suggests that EDCs artificially switching processes on and off and at the wrong time is contributing to the rising burden of illness in America.

I am particularly interested in EDCs because we are just now discovering the sheer number of chemicals that have the ability to act this way, but we don’t yet know which chemicals, or at what exposure levels, are linked to which real public health threats.

The government again needs to decide if regulatory action is necessary, a decision that depends largely on whether the chemicals pose a threat to U.S. health.

This is Part 4 in the Chemical Exposures and Public Health series.
Part 1 - From Interest to Passion
Part 2 - An Environmental Health Risk
Part 3 - Lead: A Regulatory Success Story
Part 4 - Something My Body Needs Anyway?
Part 5 - Obesity's Elephant: Environmental Chemicals
Part 6 - Why Our Approach to Toxicology Must Change
Part 7 - Failures of U.S. Chemical Regulation
Part 8 - Cleaning Up Our Act
Part 9 - Environmental Health Research Saves Lives and Money
Part 10 - Call to Action

Bookmark and Share

No comments:

Post a Comment