Endocrine disruption is a medical issue characterized by disruption in the function of the endocrine system. There can be a number of reasons for the endocrine system to fail to function as it normally does. Many people think specifically of disruption caused by chemicals known as endocrine disruptors when they hear about endocrine disruption. Malfunctions in the endocrine system can have very serious consequences.
The endocrine system is a network of glands which produces hormones. These hormones are one of the key communication systems of the body, working over time to keep the body stable and functioning. Hormones are especially tied in with growth and development, and also play a role in immune function and other functions of the body. If the endocrine system is not functioning normally, the body can become severely impaired.
When people are exposed to endocrine disruptors, these chemicals act like hormones in the body, confusing the endocrine system. In the mid-20th century, scientists began to express growing concerns about the prevalence of endocrine disruptors, pointing to problems in plant and animal populations which could be hormonal in origin. A number of chemicals have since been identified as potential causes for endocrine disruption, including both natural and human-produced chemicals.
Endocrine disruption is a problem for organisms at all stages of development. For young organisms which are rapidly developing, disruption of the endocrine system can lead to serious issues with development. For adult organisms, the normal regulatory functions of the endocrine system can be impaired, leading to health issues caused by hormone in balances. During fetal development, endocrine disruption can potentially lead to fatal or very severe birth defects.
A greater understanding of the endocrine system and the ways in which it can be impaired has led to tighter controls around the world on substances which can cause endocrine disruption. Some have been banned, while others are severely restricted, as they are recognized as being of value, but also dangerous.
Tests can be run to determine whether or not someone is experiencing endocrine disruption. These tests can check for levels of natural hormones in the body and also look for the presence of endocrine disruptors which may be interfering with the endocrine system. These tests can be used diagnostically to explore why someone appears to be experiencing a hormone problem, and they can also be used as a precaution to screen people who may have been exposed to chemicals which could impair endocrine function for early signs of medical issues.