Your Health On Plastics: Endocrine Disruptors in Your Body & the Environment

Friday Mar 28, 2014 | BY |
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Tupperware

Even if it says “BPA-free,” might your plastic containers contain hormone-altering phthalates?

Endocrine disruptors are a class of biology-altering, man-made chemicals that have negative impacts on health. Thanks to pesticides, human and veterinary drugs, plastics, cleaning agents, cosmetics, antibiotics, and sunscreen—all products that have been intentionally introduced into waterways—our once pristine aquatic habitats are contaminated, and male frogs can’t reproduce.

These products have not only fouled our natural water systems and chemically castrated frogs; they are also eroding your health.

Phthalates Are Toxic

A recent study tracked 501 couples as they tried to conceive. One finding stood out: men were more likely to be the cause of infertility then women.

The problem was tracked to phthalates—chemicals that make plastics softer and more flexible. Apparently, phthalates interfere with testosterone, and are associated with a variety of hormone-related conditions:

  • Interfere with male reproductive organ development
  • Cause genital defects
  • Lower testosterone levels in adolescent males
  • Lower sperm count in adult males

Phthalates (pronounced f-THAL-lates) are used in cosmetics and plastics, but also in packaging, textiles, detergents and other household products. They are found in the tubing used in hospitals to deliver medications, enteric coatings used to create time-release capsules, and countless other products including skincare products.

Types of Phthalates

  • DBP (di-n-butyl phthalate)
  • DEP (diethyl phthalate)
  • DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate or bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate)
  • BzBP (benzylbutyl phthalate)
  • DMP (dimethyl phthalate)

Young children are particularly at high risk. In 2008, the government banned phthalates in children’s toys. These chemicals cross the placental barrier, putting fetal development at risk to toxicity from phthalates and other endocrine disrupting chemicals.

About a billion pounds of phthalates are produced every year, and their use is so widespread that they are nearly impossible to avoid entirely. In random testing, researchers found that 95 percent of Americans have detectable levels of phthalates in urine. But, phthalates are just one of many chemicals the mess with hormones.

What Are Endocrine Disruptors?

Hormones are chemical messengers produced in specialized glands. They can travel everywhere in the body, where they coordinate complex processes like growth, metabolism, fertility, and immunity. Hormone-producing glands and the hormones they secrete make up the endocrine system.

Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the body’s endocrine system. They produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.

Even in very small amounts, these chemicals cause big problems. They can increase the production of certain hormones and decrease the production of others, imitate hormones, turn one hormone into another, interfere with hormone signaling, trigger cells to die prematurely, compete with essential nutrients, bind to essential hormones making them inactive, and accumulate in organs that produce hormones—rendering their function abnormal. The results of endocrine disruption include birth defects, infertility, diabetes, liver toxicity, and cancer.

The endocrine system is one of the body’s most important internal communication systems. It is how cells talk to each other to keep everything working right. Hormones are the primary messengers of the endocrine system, traveling back and forth among cells carrying instructions for life. Disrupting normal endocrine function, results in serious, and often permanent, consequences on our health, as well as that of future generations.

In the body, hormones occur in extremely low levels. For example, hormones like estradiol and testosterone are measured in micrograms (mcg), nanograms (ng), or pictograms (pg) per milliter (mL) or deciliter (dL). In such small amounts, it doesn’t take much to disrupt hormone balance.

The “Dirty Dozen” of Endocrine Disruptors

  1. BPA (Bisphenol A)
  2. Dioxin
  3. Atrazine
  4. Phthalates
  5. Perchlorate
  6. Fire Retardants
  7. Lead
  8. Arsenic
  9. Mercury
  10. PFCs (Perflorinated chemicals)
  11. Organophosphate Pesticides
  12. Glycol Esters

These chemicals are unsafe in any amount. The environment, our shared natural commons, is awash with endocrine disruptors. And so is your kitchen.

The End of Tupperware

Tupperware plastic containers were invented in 1948, and shortly afterwards sales exploded because of women selling directly to each other at Tupperware parties. Tupperware claims that all their products are BPA-free, but are not specific about phthalates. Consumer protection groups are wary.

Similar plastic food preparation and storage containers are now sold everywhere. Some manufacturers label products as “BPA-free.” But, can any plastic be completely free of BPA and phthalates? I find it too much work to investigate every plastic container, so avoid all plastics as much as possible.

Researchers found that most plastic products leach endocrine-disrupting chemicals even if they’re labeled “BPA-free!” They also found that 70 percent of common plastic products tested positive for estrogenic activity. BPAs are associated with disrupting estrogen and have been implicated in breast cancer. The main source of exposure to BPA is through diet.

BPA (Bisphenol A) leaches into food from the protective internal epoxy resin coatings used in canned foods, polycarbonate tableware, plastic food storage containers, water bottles, and baby bottles. How much BPA leaches from these products into food and water depend on the temperature of the liquid or bottle, as when heated in a microwave oven. BPA is also found in breast milk.

Chart 1

From NIH Institute of Environmental Health Sciences




What You Can Do To Avoid Endocrine Disruptors

Plastics are everywhere in the environment. Even if you threw out all plastics in your house today, you’d likely still have residual amounts in your body.

Doctors can easily test for heavy metals like arsenic and mercury, but there are no simple, inexpensive laboratory tests for phthalates and BPAs. A few innovate labs, like Metametrix, offer urine testing for phthalates, but most doctors are not familiar with this kind of testing and insurance companies are not likely to reimburse.

Even if people are more cautious about exposure to phthalates and BPAs, animals will continue to suffer from the accumulation of these toxic chemicals in the water system. It seems we could be on the brink of the extinction of numerous species of amphibians and reptiles. These animals are like the canaries in cold mines, and when they are gone, so too will be our early warning system.

I am also concerned about the role endocrine disruptors play in autoimmune diseases and chronic fatigue syndrome, as well as in the rising incidence of hypo- and hyper-thyroid conditions. My clinical hunch is that in genetically susceptible individuals, they play a significant role as disease-causing agent. Even miniscule amounts of BPA have shown to impair breast development and trigger abnormal cell growth associated with breast cancer.

Until we have convenient, affordable, and reliable testing, take control of your home and personal environment. Avoid phthalates and other endocrine disruptors by making dramatic changes in your shopping choices and how you store food.

Do These Five Things Now

  1. Replace plastic food storage containers with glass.
  2. Don’t microwave in plastic or Styrofoam containers.
  3. Don’t allow your children to suck or chew on plastic or vinyl toys.
  4. Don’t drink water from plastic bottles or plastic cups.
  5. Use only personal care products labeled “phthalate-free.”
Dr. J. E. Williams

J. E. WILLIAMS, OMD, FAAIM

Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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