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Institutional framework

EU strategy on endocrine disruption

Environment DG

       
     
 
BACKGROUND INFORMATION

icon What is endocrine disruption? What are endocrine disrupters?

The International Programme for Chemical Safety has established the following definition for endocrine disrupters:

Endocrine disrupters have been defined as exogenous substances that alter function(s) of the endocrine system and consequently cause adverse health effects in an intact organism, or its progeny, or (sub)populations.

Endocrine disrupters interfere with the functioning of the endocrine system, in at least three possible ways:

  • by mimicking the action of a naturally-produced hormone, such as oestrogen or testosterone, and thereby setting off similar chemical reactions in the body;
  • by blocking the receptors in cells receiving the hormones (hormone receptors), thereby preventing the action of normal hormones; or
  • by affecting the synthesis, transport, metabolism and excretion of hormones, thus altering the concentrations of natural hormones.
Classification

There are two classes of substances which can cause endocrine disruption:

  • Natural hormones, which include oestrogen (responsible for female sexual development), progesterone and testosterone (=androgens: responsible for male sexual development) found naturally in the bodies of humans and animals, and phytoestrogens, substances contained in some plants, such as alfalfa sprouts and soya beans, which display oestrogen-like activity when ingested by the body. Natural hormones are believed to be easily broken down in the human body; thus they do not accumulate in body tissues, which is the case with certain man-made substances.

Chemical structure of the testosterone hormone. Image source

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