Endocrine Disruption

Topics: Endocrine system, Endocrine disruptor, Endocrinology Pages: 7 (2673 words) Published: October 8, 1999
The endocrine system is very dynamic and has ties to most, if not all of the other major systems of the body. It is responsible for production of hormones and the regulation of them as well. These hormones act as chemical messengers within the body. Through several differing mechanisms, they are able to trigger very specific responses in target cells or organs. This is what enables the endocrine system to guide growth, development, reproduction, and behavior, among many others as well. The hormones produced from the endocrine system come from a wide range of different places. Among those responsible for hormone production are the glands and a few organs as well. The glands that are involved are the pituitary, thyroid, thymus, parathyroid, and adrenal. The organs, which also play a vital part, are the pancreas, gonads, kidneys, heart, and parts of the digestive tract. All these different glands or organs work together in the production of certain hormones. Those produced in one location will almost always have an effect on many other areas of the body, not just the surrounding tissues. An analogy that fits very well with the study of the endocrine system is that of a message in a bottle. We can think of the body as a river, and a specific hormone may be a bottle containing a message. The organs or glands mentioned above would manufacture the “bottles” (hormones) that would be released into the river (blood stream). If there were no receptor sites for the hormones in the body, then they would continue to flow along the river and probably not make their destination. However, there are systems of receptor sites that enable specific hormones to bind in specific places. Structure also plays a major role in determining which hormones are able to bind to which receptors. When these “messages in bottles” reach their appointed destination, the binding into the receptor site causes a cascade of reactions to occur. It is these reactions that are vital in maintaining our homeostasis. Many times the binding of the receptor site causes a direct expression of a certain gene. This is where endocrine disrupters can exert major damage. In addition to gene expression, endocrine disrupters cause havoc in many other areas of the body. What exactly are endocrine disrupting chemicals? Endocrine disrupters are chemical agents that produce reversible or irreversible effects in individuals or populations by interfering with hormone function. This definition covers a very wide range of chemicals, many of which I will give brief descriptions of later. These “chemical agents” may exhibit several different mechanisms in their action of producing the endocrine disrupting effects. The suspected endocrine disrupters themselves may actually mimic the function of the natural hormone. The chemical in question may be so similar in structure to the hormones that they are able to bind in the receptor sites and produce cellular responses. In essence, the endocrine disrupters are competing with the natural hormones for priority in binding in the specified sites. Since these endocrine disrupting chemicals are usually distributed in large quantities, it would produce many more molecules able to bind with the receptor. This can happen even if the cellular levels of the actual hormone are extremely low or even absent. What does this mean? This translates into the initiation of certain cellular responses when they are not needed and could be very harmful. Another suspected mechanism is that the endocrine disrupting chemicals are just blocking the function of the natural hormone. This is in contrast to the mechanism above, where the disrupters are actually binding in the site the hormones usually would. This mechanism would produce a lower level of cellular responses, opposite of the first mechanism. There are a few other mechanisms that are thought to occur,...
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