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Environmental Studies

Endocrine Disrupters and the Pill

Introduction
How EDs Work
Our Stolen Future
Drugs in the Environment
Examples of EDs
Government Testing
Laws
The Pill as an ED
History of the Pill
Case Study: Coastal Waters
Case Study: Fish
Case Study: Men in Italy
Solutions
What you can do!
Further Information

Comments & questions to:
khornbach@macalester.edu



How Endocrine Disrupters Work

     
      From the name its obvious what endocrine disrupters affect, the endocrine system, which is made up of glands throughout the body. This system regulates metabolism, blood sugar levels, growth, functions of the reproductive system, and development of the brain and nervous system. There are three main components to the endocrine system: glands, hormones, and receiver cells. The system functions when a nerve cell signals to an endocrine gland that there is some work to be done. This may be in response to the need to grow, a change in temperature, or the ingestion of food needing to be metabolized. Basically, something needs to happen and then the nerve cell will respond. The endocrine gland responds by releasing hormones that carry instructions to a certain cell, which can carry out the necessary function to react to the initial change. The hormone must then bond with the cell and relay the information it is carrying so that the function is carried out. 
    EDs disrupt this natural flow. They can function in several ways, over stimulating, under stimulating, or simply telling the body to do something which is not necessary at a certain time. EDs can function in several ways to disrupt the endocrine system. The most simple and earliest discovered are EDs that mimic and bind to hormone receptor cells instead of the actual hormone. This is the version we will focus on, as the later case studies will look at an ED which functions this way. This can cause the body to over-respond to the ED or respond at the wrong time. EDs can over stimulate the body's growth hormone, causing increased muscle mass. They can convince the body to produce insulin when it is not needed. Certain EDs are actually meant to suppress or promote certain hormones, such as DES, and therefore can cause these reactions when not desired. Endocrine disrupters send mixed signals to the body, causing it to produce the wrong hormones. This is especially worrisome in developing animals and peoples, because of the importance of hormones in the development stages of life. As discussed later, Colborn found that children of women who took DES during their pregnancies often suffered serious side effects later in life. EDs are a serious risk as they work within the body to undo its very basic functions. Exposure to EDs can happen any number of ways. DES was actually given to women forever altering the way that their children would live. However, the changes that Colborn notes in the animal populations and the problem of biomagnification points out a slightly scarier point, EDs are in our environment and could be affecting you right now.

Information on Endocrine System and EDs from: Tulane University and Our Stolen Future

Last updated:  5/2/2006

 


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