Endocrine System, Endocrine Active Substances and Endocrine Disruptors

The endocrine system is a set of glands that produce hormones (chemical messengers) and release them throughout the body, regulating growth, development, metabolism, tissue and sexual function, mood, sleep and behavior. In addition, the endocrine system maintains stability of the body’s internal environment (homeostasis) in response to changes in external conditions. Both of these roles must be considered when evaluating potential endocrine disruptors.

An endocrine active substance interacts with the endocrine system without causing adverse effects at normal levels of exposure. Many common substances are endocrine active – sugar, caffeine and plant-based estrogens such as soy protein for example – but they do not usually cause harm at doses commonly consumed. Such substances could become endocrine disruptors, however, if people are exposed to them at unusually high levels. Similarly, misperceived endocrine disruptors may be simply endocrine active substances under normal use conditions.

The internationally accepted definition of an endocrine disruptor is a substance that interferes with the endocrine system to cause a harmful or irreversible effect in a living being, its offspring or (sub)populations in the case of wildlife. The likelihood that an endocrine disruptor will cause harmful effects is based on its potency and potential for exposure (dosage, frequency and duration).

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