Endocrine Disruptors: Obesity and PCOS
Our daily routine is full of processes that expose us to different chemical toxins. Somewhere around the fact that we needed to preserve the storage life of our products with preservatives and additives, we forgot about how these products would affect our health. Our lifestyle habits are a combination of what we do, what we consume (dietary and information intake), and what we are exposed to in our environment. Nowadays, women’s (and sometimes men’s) daily beauty and hygiene routine exposes them to more than 250 chemicals compounds that might harm their hormone production. Furthermore, the connection between these endocrine disruptors, like bisphenols and parabens, with hormonal homeostasis and our endocrine health ultimately reflecting in metabolic and inflammatory disorders is well studied.
In addition to how these endocrine disruptors may exert a detrimental effect on hormone metabolism, production, and transport, we need to reflect on how a pro-inflammatory milieu and obesity can result in disorders like PCOS.
What are endocrine disruptors?
Endocrine disruptors are part of a diverse group of molecules that can be synthetic or natural. Either way, they all have the potential to inhibit, slow, or interfere with hormonal biosynthesis. The disruption of these chemicals can be present in control mechanisms, genetic expression, epigenetic manifestation, and hormone regulation.
Furthermore, these endocrine disruptors (ED) are extensively distributed in hygiene, foods, plastic bottles, and cosmetic packages are commonly used in our daily life. One of the most common ED is bisphenol A (BPA), a phenolic structure that mimics estrogen’s chemical composition. This characteristic allows BPA to interact with estrogen receptors and interfere with hormonal homeostasis affecting female fertility. However, this interaction has been extensively studied, resulting in the utilization of alternative BPA replacement products like:
- Bisphenol S (BPS)
- Bisphenol F (BPF)
- Bisphenol AF (BPAF)
Parabens or p-hydroxybenzoic acid are distributed in our daily life products, and with BPA, they can add up to a “cocktail effect.” These parabens have anti-androgenic activity due to their binding capacity with androgen receptors, resulting in an inhibition of testosterone-induced transcription. The most common parabens are these following:
- Methylparaben (MP)
- Propylparaben (PP)
- Ethylparaben (EP)
- Butylparaben (BP)
- Benzylparaben (benzylP)
Several studies have confirmed that parabens are associated with reproductive disruption, hormonal inhibition, and development stunt. Recently, MP has been related to the inhibition of energy-balancing hormones and metabolic health. Consequently, MP has been proposed as an ED with obesogenic potential.
Endocrine disruptors and PCOS mechanisms
Polycystic ovarian syndrome encompasses a myriad of dysfunctions, including metabolic, reproductive, and neuroendocrine disorders. Consequently, this condition is heavily influenced by excess body weight and insulin sensitivity. Furthermore, these two conditions work synergistically to develop PCOS pathophysiology. Firstly, obesity interferes with the ovulatory process; meanwhile, hyperinsulinemia promotes the conversion of androgens.
Adding to the metabolic mechanisms, obesity promotes a low-grade inflammatory environment where a proper ovarian function cannot thrive.
A study with the aim to determine the association and causation of environmental EDs and PCOS consisted of 19 women with PCOS and 20 healthy subjects. The results of this study reported that those patients diagnosed with PCOS had higher concentrations of BPA. Furthermore, these patients were divided between those with an average weight and their obese counterparts.
On the other hand, the interaction between testosterone and BPA resulted in an exciting PCOS pathology explanation. The mechanisms of action are as follow:
- Testosterone decreases uridine diphosphatase glucuronosyltransferase activity which leads to increased levels of BPA.
- BPA interferes with hydroxylases enzymatic action, which are crucial for testosterone metabolism.
- Also, BPA displaces testosterone to SHBG, increasing the concentration of circulating free androgen.
Hormonal balance depends on an intricate web of mechanisms. Starting from their production and transportation, EDs can interfere and cause detrimental effects that lead to hormonal dysfunction. Now more than ever, the term diet refers to what we consume, and refraining from BPA and parabens may contribute to the prevention of diseases like PCOS. Novel research also shows how parabens have obesogenic properties. Adding these factors and knowing how they interact, we can clearly say that eating clean and consuming clean is the only way to preserve proper hormonal function. – Ana Paola Rodríguez Arciniega, MS
Šimková, M et al. “Endocrine disruptors, obesity, and cytokines – how relevant are they to PCOS?.” Physiological research vol. 69, Suppl 2 (2020): S279-S293. doi:10.33549/physiolres.934521
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