Hormonally active substances are substances that affect the body’s own hormonal activities or even interfere with them. Should this result in adverse effects, they are referred to as endocrine disruptors.
The hormone system (endocrine system) plays a very important role in the body. Hormones are chemical messenger substances inside the body and regulate many bodily functions, such as metabolism, growth and development, reproduction, sleep and mood. Hormonal regulation is particularly important during critical development stages in unborn children, babies and children. The hormone system is very complex and the release of hormones depends on many factors. Scientific findings in this field are still patchy, making the understanding of what an endocrine substance actually is the subject of scientific debate.
Intake of hormonally active substances
Humans and animals may be exposed to a variety of hormonally active substances through their diet and other sources.
Hormonally active substances occur naturally in the phyto estrogens in soy, for example. Some hormonally active substances are used in medicine thanks to their properties (e.g. contraceptive pills or thyroid hormone replacements). They are also found in some plant protection products (e.g. DTT), environmental pollutants (e.g. dioxin, PCB) and substances in food packaging materials (e.g. Bisphenol A) and cosmetic products (e.g. Parabens).
Concerns regarding the potential adverse effects of endocrine disruptors have risen in recent years. Observations in humans and free ranging animals suggest that the frequency of endocrine diseases and disorders, including effects on reproduction and development, as well as hormone-associated types of cancer, is increasing. The scientific basis for attributing all these tendencies to endocrine disruptors is not clear enough according to the European Food Safety Agency EFSA and other factors such as changes in ways of life or genetic background cannot be excluded as causes.