Endocrine disruptors: They’re everywhere and they’re making people sick

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Many BYU students strive to take care of their health, but their efforts may be thwarted by an item as unassuming as a kitchen skillet.

Utahn Cara Clark had two young children when her doctor gave her the news: she had thyroid cancer and, without surgery, six months left to live.

The doctors insisted she remove her thyroid gland completely, which would then require she supplement the absent hormone-production center of her body with a synthetic hormone called levothyroxine every day for the rest of her life. 

“My gut was like, ‘Nope, don’t do it,’” Clark said. 

She felt strongly the surgical route was not the right path for her.

“There’s no end game for you,” she told herself. “If you go down that road, you’ll have peace of mind for maybe a month or two, and then it’s going to be like, ‘Okay, wait, what did I just do? Now, what am I going to do? I have this huge scar. They’ve taken it out. Now, how is my body going to function?’”

Clark set out to understand her condition so she could treat the issue at its source naturally, with as little invasion as possible, and not with the sole intention to mitigate its symptoms, as her doctors prescribed. 

Clark said everybody has cancer cells growing in their body, but a healthy body will naturally flush them out. She said people only “have cancer” if they feed their body the things that encourage the development of these cancer cells. According to Clark, some of these pro-cancer substances include sugar, industrial deodorants and soaps. 

“You just stop it all and you kind of try to reset your body,” said Clark.

These “chemicals” that Clark refers to fall under the umbrella term of endocrine disrupting chemicals.

According to an article published in BYU’s Winter 2021 Ballard Brief, endocrine disruptors are chemical compounds that interfere with the body’s endocrine system, affecting hormonal balance and functionality. These chemicals can mimic natural hormones or block hormone signals, leading to a cascade of adverse effects on the body’s development, reproduction, metabolism and immune function — and they are everywhere.

Ordinary items like kitchen skillets can produce these chemicals. In 1938, the polymer known commercially as Teflon was accidentally formulated in a lab by DuPont scientist, Roy J. Plunkett.

The compound was exceptionally resistant to corrosion and highly non-stick, so it was quickly appropriated for coating the insides of atomic bombs and, shortly after the war, pots and pans.

But the convenience of sliding fried eggs off of a pan comes at a cost. When Teflon is heated, it releases toxins known as perfluorooctanoic acids, which have been dubbed by the Environmental Protection Agency as “likely carcinogenic.” These chemicals have also been linked to the development of PCOS in women and testicular cancer in men.

Toxins like those in Teflon aren’t limited to heavy-duty kitchen appliances, either. Various formulations of these toxic compounds are found in clothing, as well. 

Leggings on display at a popular athletic wear retailer. The fabric used to construct these garments is made out of PFAs. (Megan Sibley)

According to a study published in Environmental Science and Technology, the moisture from sweat leaches the phthalates and plastics from workout clothes. This makes them available for absorption into the body. Once absorbed, these chemicals can either mimic or block female sex hormones or suppress the production of male sex hormones.

“They’re estrogen mimickers,” naturopath and nutritionist Kristine Wallace said. “They’re not estrogen … Our body thinks it’s estrogen.” 

But according to Wallace, not every endocrine system is equally equipped to detoxify itself from these endocrine disrupting chemicals.  

“(Let’s say) two people drink out of a plastic water bottle all the time,” says Wallace. “One person might have issues with it. It might … disrupt their endocrine system in that maybe their periods get messed up or their thyroid ends up with issues — it becomes hypothyroid. But the other person might not because they may have a detox system in their body that works OK.” 

According to Wallace, the body’s ability to detoxify itself is something a person is born with, and there are ways to identity this genetic predisposition.

“Some of those 23andMe tests … they will test for your detox pathways,” he said. “They’re called CYP pathways. And these pathways are different. They should be the same in everybody, but they’re different because your chromosomal or genetic makeup will affect them.”

According to a paper published in the National Library of Medicine, these CYP pathways are also responsible for variations in drug tolerance across populations.

“That’s why some people can drink caffeine and never feel like it’s affecting them,” Wallace remarked. “While (other) people, as soon as they have a sip of caffeine, they’re fully shaking and feeling the effect.”

Brynnly Keate may be one of those people born with an exceptional detoxification system.

Keate was diagnosed with both hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s disease. She was also urged by her doctors to remove her thyroid, but unwilling to take on the complications of such a procedure, she initially chose a similar treatment path to Clark. 

She was prescribed an exceptionally high dose of natural medicine made from animal thyroid called Armour Thyroid by a naturopathic chiropractor. Unbeknownst to her at the time, her dose was so high that her hypothyroidism became hyperthyroidism, which prevented her from ovulating and becoming pregnant with her second child.

Another functional doctor told her to cut all the usual suspects laden with hormone disrupting pesticides from her diet, such as gluten, dairy, sugar and corn. She said she did stop eating these foods, only to become miserable, isolated from her family and still unable to get pregnant, as she had been trying to do.

She eventually dropped these natural remedies and got on a dose of levothyroxine, she said.

“I got pregnant within like three or four weeks and felt a million times better,” Keate said.

As far as detoxification goes, Keate won the genetic lottery. But, as with Clark, not everyone can be so lucky.

Clark had to conduct a thorough upheaval of her consumption habits; she cut out all processed foods, porous fruits and vegetables, personal care products contaminated with these chemicals, and for the last fifteen years, she’s been in remission. 

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