Endocrine disruptors and PCOS

Can our external environment impact our hormones and PCOS symptoms? Read on to find out.

In combination with medicine, lifestyle modifications are an important part of treating polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Lifestyle modifications include improving diet, managing stress, exercising, and reducing exposure to harmful toxins.

While our bodies are built to withstand small amounts of toxin exposure, our protective mechanisms like our skin and detoxification functions like our liver and kidneys can only handle so much. If a chemical is particularly toxic or we are repeatedly exposed to small amounts of a harmful substance, over time this can take a toll on our health.

Substances that disrupt the body's hormonal balance are found almost everywhere in the environment. Endocrine-disrupting chemicals are present in our food, water, and containers that hold our food, as well as common products like shampoo and candles (1). We’ll explore the following questions in this article:

  • What are endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs? Can these toxins cause PCOS?
  • What are harmful EDCs to be aware of?
  • How can I limit exposure to toxins in my day-to-day life?

What are endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and why should we care about them?

The Cleveland Clinic has identified over 800 chemicals that are suspected hormone disruptors, also called “endocrine-disrupting chemicals” or EDCs for short. Endocrine disruptors have a variety of health impacts, both immediate and long-term. 

Repeated and long-term exposure to EDCs has been shown to increase risk for many serious and costly health conditions. Some examples include: 

Hormone-related cancers 

  • Ovarian cancer
  • Breast cancer 
  • Prostate cancer 
  • Thyroid cancer

Fertility and reproductive health 

  • Earlier onset menopause 
  • Trouble conceiving 
  • Issues with sperm quality and health 

Other chronic issues 

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease  
  • Obesity 

EDCs increase risk for cancers and other long-term health issues primarily due to the hormone imbalance that they can cause.

EDCs wreck havoc on our hormones by causing disruption at a cellular level. While much research is still being conducted about exactly how this occurs, it is known that this cellular disruption can ultimately mimic production or natural hormones, cause our bodies to produce increased or decreased levels of a hormone, or alter the natural production of hormones in a different way.

This can have more immediate effects for people with PCOS. A person with PCOS may be adversely affected by EDCs in the short term due to their effect on testosterone levels, weight gain, and even glucose metabolism (1). In other words, they can intensify PCOS symptoms! 

Studies have also indicated that the presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals can promote PCOS-like symptoms through catalyzing epigenetic changes. These epigenetic alterations have even been shown to promote PCOS-like symptoms in future generations (2). 

EDCs to watch out for

In today’s world we are surrounded by chemicals, and it is important to know that unless we want to remove ourselves from society, there is only so much we can control. But, in terms of thinking about the toxins present in our food, homes, and beauty routine, a little bit of knowledge goes a long way. 

Below you will find a list of eleven of the most common hormone disruptors and how to avoid them.

Bisphenol A (BPA)

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that 93% of 2,517 urine samples from people six years of age and older contained BPA (3). BPA is known to mimic the effects of estrogen in the body and disrupt normal hormone function. Generally, BPA can be found in canned foods, food storage containers, baby bottles, and water bottles (3)

How to avoid it: Limit your intake of canned foods, use glass or stainless steel containers whenever possible, and avoid microwaving plastic food containers.


Atrazine is a man-made herbicide commonly used on crops. According to some research, atrazine causes breast cancer, delayed puberty, and prostate cancer (3).

How to avoid it: When possible, purchase organic produce and use a filter for your water.


Phthalates are chemicals that are used in hundreds of consumer products, including plastic. The toxic effects of phthalates have been linked to hormone changes, lowered sperm counts, birth defects in the male reproductive system, obesity, diabetes, and thyroid irregularities (3).

How to avoid it: If possible, avoid using plastic containers. In addition, phthalates can be found in a lot of beauty products. You can find phthalate-free personal care products on the environmental working group website.


Perchlorate, a component of rocket fuel, can be found in our food. In the body, perchlorate competes with iodine, the nutrient needed for thyroid hormone production. Consequently, if you consume too much of it, it can affect your thyroid hormone levels (3).

How to avoid it: Increasing iodine in your diet will reduce perchlorate levels in food. A water filter can be used to eliminate it in your drinking water.


Lead affects nearly every organ system in the body, causing a staggering array of health effects, including brain damage, hearing loss, miscarriage, premature birth, and kidney damage (3).

How to avoid it: Buy a filter for your water to avoid lead contamination. Keep your home well-maintained, wash any toys in your home, and wash your hands often. 


You can find arsenic in water and food. Arsenic has been found to cause cancer as well as affect hormone function. It disrupts the glucocorticoid system that controls how the body processes sugars and carbohydrates. This is linked to weight gain, weight loss, immunosuppression, insulin resistance, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure (3).

How to avoid it: You can reduce your exposure to arsenic by purchasing a water filter and substituting rice for other grains such as wheat, barley, and oatmeal.


 Mercury is a manmade contaminant found in soil, air, and water. Mercury is known to disrupt endocrine function by inhibiting one or more of the enzymes required for hormone production or by reducing hormone-receptor binding. A number of hormones are affected by mercury, including insulin, estrogen, testosterone, and adrenaline (4).

How to avoid it: You should limit the amount of seafood you consume to avoid mercury. Make sure that products such as thermostats, thermometers, light bulbs, and batteries do not contain mercury.

Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)

 Many non-stick cookware products contain perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). Low birth weight, kidney disease, thyroid disease, and decreased sperm quality have been linked to exposure (3).

How to avoid it: Stay away from non-stick pans, stain-resistant treatments, and Teflon products. 

Organophosphate pesticides

 Organophosphate pesticides are among the most widely used pesticides that affect testosterone and thyroid hormone levels (3).

How to avoid it: When possible, purchase organic produce.

Glycol Ethers

Glycol Ethers are common solvents found in paint, cleaning products, and cosmetics. Several studies have linked glycol ethers to infertility, allergies, asthma, and decreased sperm count (3).

How to avoid it: Avoid exposure by reading labels, especially on sunscreen, makeup, and household cleaners. Glycol ethers free products can be found on the environmental working group website.

Limiting exposure to toxins in daily life

At Pollie, we believe that the best form of symptom management is an agenda that feels authentic to you. While some people are incredibly dedicated to removing all toxins from their life, this can be too time consuming and unrealistic for most of us. But, small changes do add up. 

When it comes to the following products, do your best to take inventory of the following:

  • Food 
  • Household / cleaning products 
  • Beauty / personal hygiene products 
  • Clothes, furniture, and anything else that comes into direct contact with your body 

General tips include:

  • Choose glass over plastic when it comes to food storage, and try to limit exposure to plastics in general
  • -Aim for organic produce (espcially for the Dirty Dozen) and sustainable, quality animal proteins (e.g., grass-fed beef is better than grain-fed!)
  • Look for “clean” household and beauty products (but make sure to check ingredient lists, because marketing can be deceiving!)
  • Invest in a quality water filter if you live in an area with old pipes or poor water quality

PCOS symptoms can be worsened by environmental toxins, but it’s important to remember that exposure to many of these substances is out of your control. Even a little goes a long way when it comes to avoiding endocrine disrupting chemicals. 


  1. Angela Grassi, M. S. (2020, May 25). PCOS and endocrine disrupting chemicals: Reduce your exposure. Verywell Health. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.verywellhealth.com/pcos-and-endocrine-disrupting-chemicals-4067076 
  2. Barrett ES, Sobolewski M. Polycystic ovary syndrome: do endocrine-disrupting chemicals play a role?. Semin Reprod Med. 2014;32(3):166-176. doi:10.1055/s-0034-1371088
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2021, November 26). Bisphenol A (BPA). National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/sya-bpa/index.cfm 
  4. Dirty dozen endocrine disruptors. Environmental Working Group. (2013, October 28). Retrieved January 6, 2022, from https://www.ewg.org/consumer-guides/dirty-dozen-endocrine-disruptors 
  5. Rice, K. M., Walker, E. M., Wu, M., Gillette, C., & Blough, E. R. (2014). Environmental Mercury and its toxic effects. Journal of Preventive Medicine & Public Health, 47(2), 74–83. https://doi.org/10.3961/jpmph.2014.47.2.74

Simona Carputo


Simona is a Certified Health Education Specialist specializing in nutrition and health education. Simona is passionate about helping others develop a healthy relationship with food and manage chronic health conditions by implementing a non-restrictive approach to health.