Physiological effects and mechanisms of action of endocrine disrupting chemicals that alter estrogen signaling

Four distinct EDCs that alter estrogen signaling

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Lavender oil and tea tree oil are essential oils frequently used in over-the-counter health and beauty products, including topically applied lotions, gels, and creams, to impart pleasant aromas and for a variety of purported health benefits. Consequently, topical exposure to essential oils is widespread; however, little is known regarding the acute and long-term effects of such exposure in humans. Clinical evidence suggests that lavender oil and tea tree oil may possess endocrine disrupting activity. Image by Jacqueline Boissonneau.

2010 Study Introduction

A large number of natural and synthetic chemicals have been identified that are reported to disrupt the normal functioning of the endocrine system and produce untoward effects in hormone-responsive target tissues and organs in both humans and animals. These chemicals are broadly referred to as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) and consist of numerous physically and chemically distinct compounds. The physicochemical differences among EDCs are paralleled by unique biological effects and mechanisms of action within this class of compounds.

The purpose of this review is to provide an overview of the physiological effects and unique mechanisms of action of four distinct EDCs that alter estrogen signaling.

  • Two of these compounds, diethylstilbestrol (DES), and genistein (GEN), have been extensively studied and serve as classic examples of EDCs,
  • while the other two compounds, methoxyacetic acid (MAA) and the essential oils of lavender and tea tree, have only recently been described as EDCs.

2010 Study Conclusions

In this review we have provided examples of the activity and actions of several different EDC type compounds of varying chemical structure, properties, and sources. Findings from in vitro cell based assays and/or experimental animal studies have provided evidence of their hormonal biological actions involving receptor mediated activities as a mechanism for their toxicities. Additionally, an example is given of a unique EDC clinical observation regarding the properties of some essential oils. As expected, further observations of other types of toxicities and development of additional experimental models and systems will be required for the evaluation of the mechanisms involved. Finally, the impact that these exposures may have on the human population will require appreciation of potential chemical effects from certain exposure as well as broader epidemiological assessments in support of the experimental findings.

Sources and Full Study
  • Physiological effects and mechanisms of action of endocrine disrupting chemicals that alter estrogen signaling, HORMONES 2010, 9(3):191-205, 691, 2010, PDF.
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