Plastics and their effects on our health
For our modern society plastic is one of the most useful and versatile inventions. Practically everything we touch, eat or drink involves some sort of plastic on a daily basis. We buy our food in plastic bags and containers, we buy drinks and water in plastic jugs and bottles. Many of us use plastic plates and cups at home and store our leftovers in plastic containers. We wrap things in plastic wrap. We use plastic baggies for a variety of things. Plastic protects our phones, our books and important papers. Plastic lines the inside of canned foods for protection. Plastic has many useful applications not just for our homes but also major industries as well. Medicine, computers, chemistry, culinary, dentistry, agriculture, the list goes on and on. Plastic has revolutionized our society.
Too much of a good thing is actually affecting our health. Have you ever tried to go a day without contact with plastic? It is almost impossible. Plastic is a polymer, meaning a bunch of the same molecules loosely strung together with weak chemical bonds. This allows some of the molecules to break off. Exposure to so much plastic is starting to interfere with our hormones. Many types of plastics have a "Xeno-estrogenic" effect in excess. Once we get too much in our bodies we can begin to see hormonal Imbalances in women and men that look like excess estrogen. This can have many negative effects especially on fertility, menstruation, growth and development, and overall health and well being.
Xenoestrogens disrupt our normal endocrine system and in women it has been implicated in breast cancer, endometriosis, and can even disrupt neural signaling during fetal growth. For men Xenoestrogens have an effect on testicular function, spermatic concentration, growth and motility. Environmentalists are even seeing a trend in the fish due to so many xenoestrogens from our waste water getting into streams. Male fish are showing partial and compete sex reversal to female fish.
The most important exposure that we have control over is using plastic for food and water. Heating food in plastic containers is one of the strongest ways to intake xenoestrogens. The heating of the food in plastic allows the molecules to break off more easily. Frozen vegetable packs that advertise putting the packs in the microwave to "steam" in the bag, frozen meals in plastic trays and pouches, and putting hot cooked food into a plastic container for storage or covering it with plastic wrap are all ways the plastics can adversely affect our health. Drinking water in plastic bottles also allows the harmful chemicals such as bisphenol-a, Polychlorinated biphenyl and phlalates to leach into the water as they can leach into food.
What can you do about it? Try to use as little plastic as possible in your daily life. Use Pyrex or other types of non plastic containers for food storage and heating. Drink water out of glass or stainless steel bottles. Use your own cloth grocery bags and produce bags instead of using the plastic ones. Limit or avoid frozen meals and processed foods. Don't microwave or heat anything that is plastic. Try to eat as little canned food as possible. By implementing these simple easy changes it will not only help your own health but the health of the planet as well.
Dr. Teresa Richter
Dr. Teresa Richter is a graduate of Bastyr University. She completed her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine as well as a Bachelor of Science in Herbal Sciences at Bastyr University.