Pesticides can act as endocrine disruptors by different mechanisms including inhibition of iodine absorption, increases in thyroid hormone clearance, decreased cellular uptake of thyroid hormones, or changes in expression of thyroid hormone regulated genes. This study examined how exposure to pesticides impacts thyroid hormone levels, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), triiodothyronine (T3), thyroxine (T4), free T3 (FT3), and free T4 (FT4) by comparing conventional (n
= 195) and organic farmers (n
= 222), and by evaluating which types of pesticides might be associated with changes in thyroid hormone levels. Questionnaires were used to collect information about farmer characteristics, self-reported stress, agricultural activities, and history of pesticide use. Conventional farmers were asked to report the type and quantity of pesticides used each day. The TSH, FT3, T3, and T4 levels of conventional farmers were 1.6, 1.2, 1.3, and 1.1 times higher than those of organic farmers, respectively, after adjusting for covariates. Several specific herbicides had a significant relationship between the amount applied and an increase in thyroid hormone levels, after covariate adjustment. They included: paraquat (TSH, FT3 and T3); acetochlor (FT4); atrazine (TSH, FT3 and T3); glyphosate (T4); diuron (TSH) and the “other” herbicides including alachlor, propanil, and butachlor (FT4 and T3). The most commonly used herbicide among conventional farmers was glyphosate, followed by paraquat, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D). These findings suggest that exposure to pesticides could impact the development of metabolic diseases and other health outcomes by altering the endocrine system (the thyroid hormone levels) through the hypothalamic–pituitary–thyroid (HPT) axis. This work is a part of a longitudinal study which will evaluate the sub-chronic effects of repeated exposure to different types of pesticides on thyroid hormone levels.
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