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Will Flame Retardants Harm the Thyroid?

Flame retardants known as PBDEs are found in old furniture and some clothing; women with high levels are at risk for thyroid trouble.

Americans have heard quite a lot about bisphenol A or BPA, an ingredient found in many plastic containers as well as cash register receipts. It is an endocrine disruptor, mimicking the actions of the female hormone estrogen. Should we be paying attention to other endocrine disruptors? Some evidence suggests flame retardants disrupt hormones.

Flame Retardants as Endocrine Disruptors:

Another class of chemicals has received less attention but may also affect hormones. PBDEs or polybrominated diphenyl ethers are used as flame retardants in clothing and furniture.

As upholstered cushions age, they release PBDEs into the room as dust, which can be inhaled or ingested inadvertently. The chemicals may also show up in body care products, food, toys and some pharmaceuticals.

New research utilizing data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES 2003-2004)) suggests that women with high levels of PBDEs in their bodies are at increased risk for thyroid trouble. Those with the greatest body burden of PBDEs were 48 to 78 percent more likely to report thyroid dysfunction than those with the lowest levels. Women were most vulnerable after menopause, with double or triple the risk for those who had high levels of PBDEs.

Perhaps it is time to get PBDEs our of furniture and other consumer products.

Environmental Health, online May 24, 2016

Previous Research on Flame Retardants:

This is not the first time that PBDEs in flame retardants have been linked to thyroid malfunction.  We wrote about PBDEs in connection with thyroid disorders several years ago.

There are also hints that exposure to PBDEs early in life can put young children at risk for thyroid disruption (Environmental Research, online May 23, 2016). Animal research confirms that this could potentially pose problems for brain development (Reproductive Toxicology, online May 24, 2016).

If you would like to learn much more about thyroid physiology and how other drugs and chemicals may impact thyroid function you may wish to download our24-page Guide to Thyroid Hormones. It provides a comprehensive overview of the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid problems.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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