The Role of Environmental Pollution in Endocrine Diseases

  • Agostino Di CiaulaEmail author
  • Piero Portincasa
Living reference work entry
Part of the Endocrinology book series (ENDOCR)


Environmental pollution is able to affect the balance of multiple endocrine axes in humans. This negative outcome occurs because of the effects of artificial chemicals, which are widely diffused. The endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) are ubiquitous and are able to mimic hormones, to block hormones, or to modulate their synthesis, metabolism, transport, and action. In this scenario, these chemicals represent a threat not only to individual but also to global health. The exposure to EDCs starts very early in life (in utero life), is able to modulate epigenetic mechanisms, and has a lifelong duration. The exposure interacts with other effects on health, which originate from other pollutants, and affect several vital functions of the body, which also include a correct development. Mechanisms of damage can therefore range from intracellular molecular alterations to disrupted multiorgan endocrine homeostasis. The interest for the endocrine-mediated health effects of environmental chemicals (mainly insulin resistance, obesity, type 2 and type 1 diabetes, thyroid diseases, reproductive abnormalities, cancer) is growing. The concern is due to the large and increasing burden of such compounds in the environmental matrices (air, water, soil), in the food chain, and in consumer goods used daily. Additional aspects to consider include the well-documented links with a number of diseases at increasing incidence, and the high direct and indirect health costs generated by the exposure to EDCs worldwide. EDCs can act at very low doses and according to nonmonotonic dose-response curves. Relevant aspects also derive from the possible transgenerational effects due to maternal exposure during pregnancy and/or to paternal preconceptional exposure, with possible risk of developmental alterations and diseases appearing later in life. Further studies are urgently required to explore even better the combined effects of the exposure to multiple EDCs, the effects in individuals characterized by variable susceptibility, the epigenetic mechanisms, and the transgenerational effects, including cancer risk. There are abundant available evidences, however, to promote adequate primary prevention policies. Actions should focus to strongly limit the environmental burden of EDCs and to decrease the epidemic growth of noncommunicable diseases while reducing the relevant health costs secondary to exposure.


Endocrine-disrupting chemicals Pollution Environment Epigenome 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of Internal MedicineHospital of Bisceglie (BAT), ASL BATBisceglieItaly
  2. 2.International Society of Doctors for Environment – ISDEBaselSwitzerland
  3. 3.Clinica Medica “A. Murri”, Department of Biomedical Sciences and Human OncologyUniversity of Bari Medical SchoolBariItaly

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