In an article published on February 8, 2019 in the peer-reviewed journal Environment International, Karolina Nowak and colleagues from the Department of Immunology, Medical University of Bialystok, Poland, reviewed scientific studies focused on the immunomodulatory effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) commonly found in many consumer products, including food packaging.

The authors summarized that both in vitro and in vivo research has shown that “EDCs (e.g. bisphenols, phthalates, triclosan, phenols, propanil, tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, diethylstilbestrol, tributyltin (TBT), and parabens) affect the development, functions, and lifespan of immune cells (e.g., monocytes, neutrophils, mast cells, eosinophils, lymphocytes, dendritic cells, and natural killers).” Thus, both innate and adaptive immunity can be deregulated, as EDCs interfere with both cellular and humoral activities. For example, EDCs are often observed to suppress inflammatory processes, “which may lead to an insufficient immune response against bacteria, fungi, viruses, and cancer cells” and thus “attenuate responses to infections.” A relationship “between exposure to EDCs and immunity related diseases (e.g. allergy, asthma, diabetes, and lupus)” has also been suggested, although for some autoimmune diseases it “remains ambiguous.” The immature immune system is known to be particularly vulnerable to EDC exposure, and epidemiological studies have shown that disrupted immune development “may predispose to progression of asthma and allergy in children.”

Nowak and colleagues emphasized the importance of low-dose effects and noted that EDC effects on immune cells are often “multivariable,” i.e., influenced by the “dose, sex, time of exposure, and method of application.” The authors further presented “a model of possible mechanisms of EDC action on immune cells at cellular, molecular, and epigenetic levels” and concluded that “a complete understanding of the mechanism of action of EDCs in immune cells requires further study.”

Scientists from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have recently reviewed available immunotoxicity assays and discussed how they could be used in the safety assessment of food contact substances, with a special focus on developmental immunotoxicity (FPF reported).


Nowak, K., et al. (2019). “Immunomodulatory effects of synthetic endocrine disrupting chemicals on the development and functions of human immune cells.Environment International 125: 350-364.