Chemicals – friends turned foes?

Many chemicals that we use at home can have life-altering effect

Hormones are important chemical messengers. They travel through our bloodstream to other parts of our body, where they either stimulate or suppress a certain function, such as body growth or reproductive cycles. Interestingly, a press release by the World Health Organization says that “a rapidly growing body of scientific evidence” indicates that certain synthetic chemicals, when consumed interfere with hormones by either imitating them in a harmful way or blocking them.

The chemicals involved include PCBs, dioxins, furans and some pesticides including DDT residues called endocrine disrupters. These chemicals have the potential to disrupt the normal functions of the body’s endocrine system. The source hormone is PCB – polychlorinated biphenyl used in lubricants, plastics, electrical insulation, pesticides, dishwasher liquids and other products.

One hormone that these chemicals mimic is the female sex hormone, estrogen. A study published in the medical journal, Pediatrics suggests that an increased prevalence of early puberty among many girls could be linked to estrogen-containing hair products as well as environmental chemicals that mimic estrogen. Exposing a male to certain chemicals at a critical time in his development can have adverse effects. Experiments have shown, says a report in Discover magazine, “that PCBs applied at just the right time during development can change male turtles and alligators into females or intersex individuals.”
In addition, chemical toxins weaken immune systems, leaving animals more prone to viral infections. Indeed, viral infections seem to be spreading farther and faster than ever, especially among animals high on the food chain, such as dolphins and seabirds.

In human beings, children are the ones who are affected the most by chemicals that mimic hormones. Children born to women who ingested PCB-contaminated rice oil in Japan few years ago “suffered from physical and mental developmental delays, behavioral problems including hypoactivity and hyperactivity, abnormally small penises, and IQ scores five points below average”. Tests performed on children exposed to high level of PCBs in North America revealed similar adverse effects upon their physical and mental development.

Also linked to these chemicals, reports WHO may be the increase in hormonally sensitive cancers among men and women such as breast, testicular, and prostate cancer. In addition, in a number of countries, the evidently ongoing decrease in the average sperm count in men as well as the quality of the sperm, may be linked to the increase in the use of chemicals.

We are an experimental generation. True, many of our chemical creations have paid us back well, but others have not. We are wiser and therefore we have to avoid unnecessary exposure to chemicals that have the potential to hurt us. Surprisingly, many of these can be found in our home.

Jisho Sunil


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