Skip Navigation

Your Environment. Your Health.

Endocrine Disruptors


Body organs

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife. A wide range of substances, both natural and man-made, are thought to cause endocrine disruption, including pharmaceuticals, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls, DDT and other pesticides, and plasticizersDictionary of Environmental Health such as bisphenol A. Endocrine disruptors may be found in many everyday products– including plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys, cosmetics, and pesticides. The NIEHS supports studies to determine whether exposure to endocrine disruptors may result in human health effects including lowered fertility and an increased incidence of endometriosis and some cancers. Research shows that endocrine disruptors may pose the greatest risk during prenatal and early postnatal development when organ and neural systems are forming.

Our Chemical Lives - Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Our Chemical Lives full content

How do endocrine disruptors work?

From animal studies, researchers have learned much about the mechanisms through which endocrine disruptors influence the endocrine system and alter hormonal functions. 

Endocrine disruptors can:

  • Mimic or partly mimic naturally occurring hormones in the body like estrogens (the female sex hormone), androgens (the male sex hormone), and thyroid hormones, potentially producing overstimulation.
  • Bind to a receptor within a cell and block the endogenous hormone from binding. The normal signal then fails to occur and the body fails to respond properly. Examples of chemicals that block or antagonize hormones are anti-estrogens and anti-androgens.
  • Interfere or block the way natural hormones or their receptors are made or controlled, for example, by altering their metabolism in the liver.
Endocrine Disruptor effect on hormones
When absorbed in the body, an endocrine disruptor can decrease or increase normal hormone levels (left), mimic the body's natural hormones (middle), or alter the natural production of hormones (right).

What are some examples of endocrine disruptors?

A wide and varied range of substances are thought to cause endocrine disruption.

Chemicals that are known endocrine disruptors include diethylstilbestrol (the synethetic estrogen DES), dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), DDT, and some other pesticides.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical produced in large quantities for use primarily in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. The NTP Center for the Evaluation of Risks to Human Reproduction completed a review of BPA in September 2008. The NTP expressed “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures to bisphenol A."

Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) is a high production volume chemical used in the manufacture of a wide variety of consumer food packaging, some children’s products, and some polyvinyl chloride (PVC) medical devices. In 2006, the NTP found that DEHP may pose a risk to human development, especially critically ill male infants.

Phytoestrogens are naturally occurring substances in plants that have hormone-like activity. Examples of phytoestrogens are genistein and daidzein, which can be found in soy-derived products.

Health Studies & Clinical Trials 

What NIEHS is Doing on Endocrine Disruptors 

General Information 

For Educators 

Related Topics 

Back to Top

Share This Page:

Page Options:

Request Translation Services