Endocrine disrupting chemicals: exposure, effects on human health, mechanism of action, models for testing and strategies for prevention

Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 2020 Mar;21(1):127-147. doi: 10.1007/s11154-019-09521-z.


Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs) are a global problem for environmental and human health. They are defined as "an exogenous chemical, or mixture of chemicals, that can interfere with any aspect of hormone action". It is estimated that there are about 1000 chemicals with endocrine-acting properties. EDCs comprise pesticides, fungicides, industrial chemicals, plasticizers, nonylphenols, metals, pharmaceutical agents and phytoestrogens. Human exposure to EDCs mainly occurs by ingestion and to some extent by inhalation and dermal uptake. Most EDCs are lipophilic and bioaccumulate in the adipose tissue, thus they have a very long half-life in the body. It is difficult to assess the full impact of human exposure to EDCs because adverse effects develop latently and manifest at later ages, and in some people do not present. Timing of exposure is of importance. Developing fetus and neonates are the most vulnerable to endocrine disruption. EDCs may interfere with synthesis, action and metabolism of sex steroid hormones that in turn cause developmental and fertility problems, infertility and hormone-sensitive cancers in women and men. Some EDCs exert obesogenic effects that result in disturbance in energy homeostasis. Interference with hypothalamo-pituitary-thyroid and adrenal axes has also been reported. In this review, potential EDCs, their effects and mechanisms of action, epidemiological studies to analyze their effects on human health, bio-detection and chemical identification methods, difficulties in extrapolating experimental findings and studying endocrine disruptors in humans and recommendations for endocrinologists, individuals and policy makers will be discussed in view of the relevant literature.

Keywords: Endocrine disruptors; Environment; Estrogenic; Exposure; Human health; Pollutants.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Endocrine Disruptors / adverse effects*
  • Endocrine Disruptors / analysis
  • Endocrine Disruptors / toxicity
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male


  • Endocrine Disruptors