Harmful Endocrine Disruptor : Xenoestrogens

December 20, 2022

Xenoestrogen is a chemical that mimics estrogen. Estrogen is a set of hormones involved in female reproductive development. These chemicals can be natural in nature, derived from plants and animals, as well as synthetic compounds derived from pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and industrial waste. 

Pesticides and industrial waste contaminate water and aquatic life when they mix with reservoirs. This water is utilized for irrigation and is consumed by poultry and animals. As a result, harmful chemical finds their way into the biological systems of humans. Despite being a foreign molecule, it has a molecular structure that is similar to that of estrogen. Xenoestrogens have the same affinity for estrogen receptors as estrogen and can cause harm. 

Along with the reproductive system, these are also known to interrupt other systems of the body such as the nervous system and cardiovascular system. These molecules interfere with the endocrine system (hormone) and disrupt the regulation of cell growth, equilibrium in the body, and also development. 

Xenoestrogens including isoflavones, lignans, DDT, polychlorinated biphenyls, alkylphenols, and bisphenol-A are accumulating in the food chain and in human biological systems. 

When a pregnant woman is exposed to xenoestrogen, the baby is more likely to have a reproductive abnormality, and the mother is more likely to acquire cancer. When a newborn is exposed to xenoestrogen, it can cause problems with the endocrine system, especially in the brain and cardiovascular systems. Diethylstilbestrol (DES) is given to pregnant women as a potent estrogen to avoid miscarriages. Studies showed that kids of mothers consuming this particular drug have urogenital tract abnormalities. Also, female child from mothers consuming it have also shown a rare incidence of developing a tumor. 

The surfactants have potent estrogen-like Octylphenol which can cause issues in the development of the hypothalamus and thereby affect neuronal signaling. Early age menstrual onset and puberty are other effects reported due to exposure to xenoestrogens. 

The central nervous system is susceptible to sex hormone levels, especially in newborns. Estrogen receptors control many developmental endpoints in the CNS associated with sex determination. And alteration by xenoestrogens through estrogen receptors can affect sexual behaviors. 

Along with dietary intake of xenoestrogen, incidences of occupational and clinical exposure have also been seen. Effects on workers involved in the production of oral contraceptives, where active chemicals were likely absorbed through the skin, are one example. Employees who were exposed to a lot of DDT had an incidence of low sperm count (oligospermia). 

Newborns in their developmental stage when exposed to industrial by-products and pesticides show cognitive and behavioral defects. Similarly, these substances are also known to alter thyroid hormone levels. Industrial byproducts such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) can create issues in neurological signaling thereby causing several behavioral problems. 

The adverse effects of these xenoestrogens depend on factors including gender, and age as it relates to developmental stages with a high risk of irreparable damage, and involvement of receptors and endocrine components. Apart from these intrinsic factors, extrinsic factors such as the burden of natural estrogens in foods, as well as complex pharmacokinetics also play a role in the adversity of the damage. Except in cases of industrial exposure, cause-effect correlations between xenoestrogens and negative impacts on human health have yet to be demonstrated. Nonetheless, because many xenoestrogens remain in the environment, have a high potential for human exposure, and accumulate in biological matrices, interest in discovering modes of action and evaluating genuine hazards from these substances should be maintained. 


  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12456297/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xenoestrogen 

Sahara Sarang
Quality Analyst

Sahara has a Master's in Biotechnology. She is passionate about Molecular Biology and Biochemistry research. She aspires to grow every single day and contributes to iTHRIVE through her brainy research skills.

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