Abstract

The potential hazardous effects that estrogen- and androgen-like chemicals may have both on wildlife and human health have attracted much attention from the scientific community. Endocrine disruptors (EDCs) are chemicals that have the capacity to interfere with normal signalling systems. EDCs may mimic, block or modulate the synthesis, release, transport, metabolism and binding or elimination of natural hormones. Even though potential EDCs may be present in the environment at only very low levels, they may still cause harmful effects, especially when several different compounds act on one target. EDCs include persistent pollutants, agrochemicals and widespread industrial compounds. Not all EDCs are man-made compounds; many plants produce substances (phytoestrogens) that can have different endocrine effects either adverse or beneficial in certain circumstances. Natural substances such as sex hormones from urban or farm wastes can become concentrated in industrial, agricultural and urban areas; thus, such wastes may be considered potential ‘EDCs’ for humans and/or wildlife. Much attention has focussed on changing trends in male reproductive parameters in relation to EDC exposure; however, studies on the female reproductive system have been less comprehensive. We have focussed this article on four major aspects of female reproductive health: fertility and fecundability, endometriosis, precocious puberty and breast and endometrial cancer.

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