An endocrine disruptor is a molecule which mimics, blocks or changes the action of a hormone and interferes with the normal functioning of an organism.
Mechanism of action of the endocrine disruptors
The endocrine disruptors have three mechanisms of action. They may:
- mimic the action of a hormone because of their similar molecular structure to the natural hormone (such as bisphenol A which has estrogenic properties);
- block the action of a hormone by saturating its receptor;
- interact with the effect of the hormone such as the bromide fireproofing agents which interfere with the function of thyroid hormones.
Endocrine disruptors and hazards to health
The endocrine disruptors can act at very low doses in the same way as hormones. Whilst the harmful effects may be seen directly on exposed people, the effect may pass through generations with other compounds. Distilbene, a compound prescribed to prevent miscarriages, for example, caused genital malformations in the children of women who were treated.
The action of other endocrine disruptors is occasionally so small that the effects on health have not yet been proven and are difficult to identify (this applies to bisphenol A).