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Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors and Allergies

The dramatic rise of allergic diseases such as eczema and seasonal allergies may be related to dietary exposure to endocrine-disruptor xenoestrogens such as alkylphenol industrial pollutants.

March 5, 2014 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited

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Images thanks to Stuck in Customs, guilherme cecilio and Toban B via Flickr.


In my video, Preventing Childhood Allergies, I noted a study in Japan that found higher maternal intake of meat during pregnancy was significantly associated with about 3 times the odds of both suspected and physician-diagnosed eczema. They suggest that certain components of meat may affect the fetal immune system. But what about the moms themselves?

Seasonal allergies have exploded in Japan in the past few decades, starting with the first reported case in 1964 and now affecting millions every year. We've seen a rising prevalence of allergic diseases around the industrialized world in past decades, but perhaps nothing quite this dramatic.

Researchers suggested profound changes in the Japanese diet may have played a role. Over the latter half of the century total meat, fish, and milk intake rose hundreds of percent in Japan, so researchers decided to look into dietary meat and fat intake and the prevalence of these seasonal pollen allergies. No association with overall fat, but higher meat intake was significantly associated with an increased prevalence.

So maybe it was the saturated fat? No, that didn't seem to be it, so what other constituents in meat may be to blame? Well, there are the cooked meat carcinogens, the heterocyclic amines, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and nitrosamines, but who knows.

This new review, however, raised an intriguing possibility. There's a class of industrial pollutants called alkylphenols, recognized as common toxic endocrine disrupting chemicals that tend to accumulate in the human body and may be associated with the adverse effects of allergic diseases. A variety of studies have shown how they may exacerbate allergen-induced inflammation, suggesting that alkylphenol exposure may influence the onset, progression, and severity of allergic diseases. These toxic xenoestrogens can be found in human breast milk, stored up in our body fat, coursing through our urine, our bloodstream, and even in the umbilical cord blood going to our babies. How do did it get there? How do people get exposed? Through contaminated food.

It all goes back to a famous study about the reduction of penis size and testosterone levels in alligators living in a contaminated environment. I don't know what you all do for a day job, but these researchers observed that a population of juvenile alligators living on one lake in Florida exhibited a significantly smaller penis size and lower blood concentrations of testosterone compared to animals on some different lake. The most important difference between the two lakes was that lake stubby was fed by relatively polluted waters. They attributed the "short penis phenomenon" to estrogen-mimicking (xenoestrogenic) environmental metabolites of DDT that still pollute our Earth. This seminal work introduced the concept of endocrine disruptors. Environmental xenoestrogens might result in feminization of exposed male animals. And that's just the shriveled tip of the iceberg.

Since then endocrine-disrupting chemicals have been implicated in the dramatic rise over the last 50 years of diseases like breast cancer, prostate cancer, testicular cancer, diabetes, obesity, and decreased fertility, such as dropping normal sperm counts.

Not to mention genital birth defects such as penile malformations, preterm birth, neurobehavioral disorders in children linked to thyroid disruption and earlier breast development in young girls. Because genes do not change fast enough to explain these increases, environmental causes must be involved. Since our greatest exposure to the environment is through our gut, it's no surprise that our greatest exposure to these endocrine-disrupting chemicals is through diet.

Which foods? I'll cover that next.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Sorry for the cliff-hanger, but the video was getting a bit long. To find out which foods may contain these alkylphenol endocrine disruptors, check out my next video Dietary Sources of Alkylphenol Endocrine Disruptors.

Here’s the link to the video I mentioned on Preventing Childhood Allergies. A plant-based diet may also help alleviate allergies in adults. See Say No to Drugs by Saying Yes to More Plants and Preventing Allergies in Adulthood.

More on endocrine disruptors in:

A different class of chemicals has been found to be associated with smaller penis size in humans. See Chicken Consumption and the Feminization of Male Genitalia.

 If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • Tobias Brown

    “Seminal work.” Got the pun Dr!

    • Michael Greger M.D.

      That’s so funny–no pun was intended. Really! :)

  • Thea

    I can’t wait for the sequel!

  • Miranda Brocki

    Dr. Greger, I love and appreciate you but the photo of you at the bottom left of the video covers part of the screen even when you close the “subscribe” banner. This keeps me from reading things that are in your presentation. I use this info in my medical practice so being able to pause and read the backgrounds is very important to me. Thank you!

    • Thea

      Miranda: I share your annoyance of that picture. But just so you know, if you hover over the expanded banner, you will see a tiny circle with an “x” in the upper right area of the box. It may take some practice and even then, it is hard to get the mouse to hit that tiny “x” just right, but if you do, you can make the whole thing, including the picture disappear.

      Hope that helps.

      • Miranda Brocki

        Most excellent! Thank you Thea.

  • marysaunders

    Oh boy. Who has been watching the Tyrone Hayes v. Syngenta story? Effects of endocrine-disrupting chemicals have been known for a long time, and atrazine, in particular, is banned in many countries, including Israel. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, I read that Israel reduced their rate of breast cancer after the ban. Atrazine is still allowed in the U.S. The best source I know of for carefully vetted, world-wide work is The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX) in Colorado. U.S. people are exposed to unspeakable amounts of disruptors. The Potomac River has stretches where 100% of the male small-mouthed bass are duel sexed. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times went on Colbert to talk about this, if you are interested in tragi-comedy.

  • 949donna
    • Ruby


  • Steve Mayer

    Lake Stubby? Love it!

  • Noor Pekala

    Eager to try + find the small x, as it annoys me for the same reason as dr.Brocki!

  • Kris

    HI Doctor Greg,
    I had got to that i have Low testosterone from blood test done last week. Doctor ordered a MRI scan of my pituitary and got to know that i have a 0.4cm benign tumor in my pituitary gland. Can you give me any insights on type of food that can shrink the tumors? Is it possible to shrink the tumors with a good healthy diet naturally?