Date: August 19, 2013
Source: NIH/National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
By determining the three-dimensional structure of proteins at the atomic level, researchers at the National Institutes of Health have discovered how some commonly used flame retardants, called brominated flame retardants (BFRs), can mimic estrogen hormones and possibly disrupt the body’s endocrine system. BFRs are chemicals added or applied to materials to slow or prevent the start or growth of fire.
“We’re beginning to have a better understanding of flame retardants and their effect on human health. This particular study helps us literally see what brominated flame retardants do when they get in the body — they interfere with the body’s natural hormones,” said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of NIH, and National Toxicology Program (NTP). “Using the 3-D imaging capabilities, we can see the flame retardants binding, or attaching, to proteins like estrogens do.”
“Having chemicals act like estrogen or other hormones disrupts how the endocrine system works,” said Birnbaum. “In this case, the ability of flame retardants to bind to and inhibit an enzyme that metabolizes estrogen, called estrogen sulfotransferase, could result in the body having too much estrogen.”
The endocrine system is one of the body’s main communication networks and is responsible for controlling and coordinating numerous functions, including growth and development, reproduction, response to stress, and energy levels.