Sept. 30 (UPI) — Consumers who read labels and do their best to buy products without harmful chemicals aren’t wasting their time — new research suggests smart shopping pays in the form of reduced exposure.
In a new study, published Wednesday in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, researchers surveyed consumers to find people who avoid products with specific endocrine disruptors.
When scientists measured chemicals in their bodies, they found significantly lower levels of those same endocrine disruptors.
Some chemicals are called endocrine disruptors because they interfere with the body’s hormone production system. Exposure to endocrine disruptors has been linked with reproductive disorders, thyroid disease, asthma and cancers.
Despite the health risks endocrine disruptors pose, the chemicals remain common in personal care and household products.
“That’s why expert scientific panels and medical societies recommend that people take steps to limit their exposure to these chemicals,” lead study author Robin Dodson said in a news release.
“And, with the current pandemic, we see how diseases associated with environmental chemicals also make people more vulnerable to COVID-19 — yet another reason to reduce exposures in the population,” said Dodson, an environmental exposure scientist at the Silent Spring Institute.
To measure exposure levels, researchers collected urine samples from 726 volunteers and measured levels of 10 common endocrine disruptors. Participants completed an online survey about their shopping habits and whether or not they steer clear of products with specific chemicals listed on the label.
Survey results showed 87 percent of the volunteers were careful to avoid products with certain chemicals. The urine sample analysis showed the same shoppers had lower levels of parabens, BPA, triclosan and benzophone-3 compared with the U.S. population.
The research showed that avoiding specific products and reading ingredient labels was associated with lower exposure levels. Shoppers who avoided parabens, triclosan, BPA and fragrances were twice as likely as other shoppers to be in the group with lowest body burden for all 10 common endocrine disruptors.
Conversely, shoppers who focused exclusively on avoiding BPA had BPA exposure levels similar to shoppers who did not try to avoid BPA.
“This study not only helped us gain a better understanding of how product choices influence people’s exposures to endocrine disruptors, but it also provided us with an opportunity to educate consumers and empower them to make healthier choices,” said Dodson.
While researchers said their findings suggest smart shopping can pay dividends, scientists found consumers weren’t always able to avoid exposure. Many shoppers who reported trying to avoid parabens had high levels of parabens in their bodies.
“What this study shows us is that people can’t shop their way out of this problem,” Dodson said. “This is about much more than consumer choice.”
Stronger requirements for product labeling and ingredient transparency could help, but Dodson said the burden of responsibility for health and safety should be placed more firmly on the producer, not the consumer.
“Ultimately, encouraging companies to invest in safer alternatives and strengthening regulations to keep harmful chemicals out of products in the first place would be the most effective and equitable way to protect public health,” Dodson said.