Common chemicals can mimic hormones and present serious health risks

Two recent studies point to some of the health hazards of prevalent household chemicals. The main culprit is their molecular structure, which is similar to naturally occurring hormones and can trick the body, disrupting important natural processes.

Common insecticides interfere with our circadian rhythm and metabolism

The first study examined two compounds often used in insecticides, Carbofuran and Carbaryl. While Carbofuran was banned in the U.S. in 2009, Carbaryl is still found in a number of household products, like flea repellant and ant traps. The danger with these carbamate compounds is that they have a similar structure to the hormone melatonin, which plays an central role to synchronize the timing of our body processes — our circadian rhythms. Melatonin is not only important for healthy sleep, as you might already know, but for a well-functioning metabolism too, as we described extensively here.

Melatonin is a darkness hormone produced in response to reduced light intensity at the eye (both dim light and darkness stimulate melatonin release from the pineal gland). Essentially, melatonin helps the brain’s ‘master clock’ know when it’s evening and nighttime.

When carbamates bind to our melatonin receptors, however, they’re sending a hormonal signal that should not be there. Carbamates can bind to melatonin receptors during the day, telling the brain it’s nighttime even though it’s noon. This will completely throw off body-rhythm timing. Not good.

This study found that the resulting melatonin disruption from carbamate exposure alters the balance between insulin and glucose at specific times of day. The result is an increased risk for chronic diseases, like type 2 diabetes and metabolic disorders in addition to sleep disturbance.

Bisphenol A will make you fat

The second study examined the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), which is found in certain food containers, like some plastic water bottles and can linings. BPA mimics estradiol, which is one of the body’s three main estrogens hormones. What this study showed is that reducing exposure to BPAs isn’t just important to your health, but your offspring’s too.

The study, which was conducted on pregnant mice, found that the offspring of mice that were fed BPA — even at levels currently deemed safe — experienced a delayed leptin surge a few days after birth. This post-natal leptin surge programs the brain to respond to this fullness signal, leptin, for the rest of your life. Consequently, these mice had a harder time losing weight in the long term, making them more susceptible to obesity and cardio-metabolic disorders in adulthood, than those who weren’t exposed to BPA in utero.

The hippies had it right. Go natural, avoid unnecessary exposure to chemicals, drink from BPA-free containers (glass and metal are good), and use natural cleaning products in your home.