Ask G

Ask G: Puberty cues

What are endocrine disruptors?

I've heard that girls are reaching puberty younger partly because of stuff called endocrine disruptors. What are they and how do I avoid them?
-Chantelle, NSW

Could chewing a teething ring cause an early puberty for this little girl?

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Hormones are the body's chemical messengers that help tell tissues and organs what to do. Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that behave like (or 'mimic') hormones.

There is some evidence to suggest that they can influence and damage the endocrine and reproductive systems of animals and humans that ingest them. Some also have a tendency to accumulate in the body.

Common endocrine-disrupting substances include some pesticides, heavy metals, organochlorines and some plasticisers and surfactants.

Endocrine disruptors are virtually impossible to completely avoid because they're so prevalent, but you can take measures to limit your exposure to them.

For starters, don't store fatty food in plastic containers, don't reheat food (particularly fatty food) in plastic containers, limit your intake of shell fish, don't have seafood harvested from polluted waters, don't use pesticides (except benign alternatives like pyrethrum) in your garden, wash fruit and vegetables before eating them and don't give children (particularly teething tots) soft plastic toys made from PVC.