Many of us prefer to drink bottled water, swayed by the belief that it is fresher and better for us. But now, researchers have uncovered an endocrine-disrupting chemical (EDC) in commercialized bottled water, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

EDCs are man-made compounds that are commonly used in many plastics. The compounds have been found to interfere with the hormonal systems of several organisms, particularly reproductive systems.

In 2010, Medical News Today reported on a study which revealed that adults who had been exposed to EDCs prenatally may be ay higher risk of breast cancer, after a mice study revealed the compound could program a fetus for life.

It is known that many types of EDCs are in plastics used to store food and water. Most recently, one EDC called Bisphenol A (BPA) was found to be present in the plastic used to make baby bottles.

For this most recent study, the researches wanted to see if EDCs were seeping into commercialized bottled water and if so, to find out which ones they were.

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The researchers found that the majority of bottled waters analyzed contained endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which could disrupt hormonal systems.

The research team conduced a review of data from previous studies, as well as a review of 18 bottled water products to see if there was evidence of compounds that block estrogen activity (antiestrogenic), as well as activity that would prevent any biological effects (antiandrogenic).

Results of the sample analysis showed that 13 bottles of water demonstrated antiestrogenic activity, while 16 of the bottles showed antiandrogenic activity.

Further research using mass spectrometric simulations enabled the researchers to find the chemical DEHF (di(2-ethylhexyl) fumarate) present in the water. However, the researchers say that this compound only demonstrates antiandrogenic activity, meaning there may be another EDC in the water that is yet to be discovered.

The study authors say:

We have shown that antiestrogens and antiandrogens are present in the majority of bottled water products.

To identify the causative chemical, we applied a novel correlation approach to integrate biological and high-resolution mass spectrometry data. Structural elucidation led to dioctyl maleate/fumarate isomers as promising candidates.”

“While chemical analysis confirmed that DEHF is the putative steroid receptor antagonist, this compound was weakly antiestrogenic in the bioassays, only,” they continue. “We conclude that we have either missed active compound(s) or that another, untested maleate/fumarate isomer causes the antagonistic activity in bottled water.”

The researchers add that it is more likely that there is a missed active compound in the water, as there is supporting evidence for this. As well as DEHF, other isomers were antiestrogenic and antiandrogenic.

“Moreover, maleates are structurally highly similar to phthalate plasticizers, well-known antiandrogens,” the researchers continue.

“Therefore, we pose the hypothesis that dialkyl maleates and fumarates might represent a novel group of steroid receptor antagonists. This illustrates that in spite of the potentially relevant exposure and obvious resemblance to other EDCs, such chemicals have been so far disregarded by the scientific and regulatory community.”

They note, however, that there is no strong evidence as yet to suggest that DEHF is harmful to people and that further research is needed to determine if the compound needs to be banned in plastics used to process or contain certain foods.

But they add that they hope these findings will emphasize the potential effect of EDCs in food, beverages and consumer products.

Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported that the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the World Health Organization found EDCs in certain domestic and industrial products that had failed to undergo sufficient testing.