Human exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals

Endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are a diverse group of compounds that interfere with hormone signaling in the human and wildlife. Consequently, they can cause adverse effects on the reproduction, development, and metabolism. Most of the research on EDCs focuses on few well-known compounds.

Because we belief that looking at these usual suspects (i.e., Bisphenol A, ethinyl estradiol, phthalates and nonylphenols) is to narrow a view, we are interested in so far unknown EDCs. This is why we use in vitro bioassays to characterize the total endocrine activity of complex samples (including the effects caused by unknown EDCs). We couple these biological assays to chemical analysis in an approach called effect-directed analysis (EDA) to identify the causative compounds.

We successfully applied this approach to demonstrate that commercially available bottled water contains so-far unknown EDCs that are estrogenic as well as antiestrogenic and antiandrogenic (i.e., blocking the human estrogen and androgen receptor). In addition, using non-target, high-resolution mass spectrometry we identified a novel EDC in bottled water.

In our quest for EDCs we also reported that estrogen-like compounds are omnipresent in foodstuff and dairy-based infant formula. Here, the estrogenicity was related to the use of soy lecithin as food additive. In a recent work, we showed that plastic baby teethers leach estrogenic and antiandrogenic EDCs and that certain parabens cause the observed activity.

Taken together, our work highlights that the human exposure to EDCs is largely driven by unknown compounds and arising from unexpected sources. Here, bioanalytical tools coupled to powerful chemical analysis can contribute to better understand the complexity of the human exposome.