Endocrine-disrupting chemicals: Mainstream recognition of health effects and implications for the practicing internist.
Rapidly advancing evidence documents that a broad array of synthetic chemicals found ubiquitously in the environment contribute to disease and disability across the lifespan. Although the early literature focused on early life exposures, endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are now understood to contribute substantially to chronic disease in adulthood, especially metabolic, cardiovascular, and reproductive consequences as well as endocrine cancers. The contribution to mortality is substantial, with over 90,000 deaths annually and at least $39 billion/year in lost economic productivity in the United States (US) due to exposure to certain phthalates that are used as plasticizers in food packaging. Importantly, exposures are disproportionately high in low-income and minoritized populations, driving disparities in these conditions. Though non-Hispanic Blacks and Mexican Americans comprise 12.6% and 13.5% of the US population, they bear 16.5% and 14.6% of the disease burden due to EDCs, respectively. Many of these exposures can be modified through safe and simple behavioral changes supported by proactive government action to both limit known hazardous exposures and to proactively screen new industrial chemicals prior to their use. Routine healthcare maintenance should include guidance to reduce EDC exposures, and a recent report by the Institute of Medicine suggests that testing be conducted, particularly in populations heavily exposed to perfluoroalkyl substances-chemicals used in nonstick coatings as well as oil- and water-resistant clothing.
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