Plastics are a part of modern life and are found everywhere. One of the most common types of plastic in current use is polyvinyl chloride or PVC. Two forms of PVC are made: plumbing pipes and other structural components are made of a rigid form of this material and food boxes, bottles and wraps are made of a flexible form that can bend repeatedly without breaking. PVC is made flexible by the addition of chemicals called phthalates and Bisphenol A, which mimics the hormone estrogen in the body.
The most common phthalate used is di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate, usually shortened to DEHP. Bisphenol A is genrally referred to as BPA. These compounds are wonderful in that they make plastics flexible and resistant to UV radiation. They are also terrible because they slowly leach out of the plastic into any liquid or fat or air they are in contact with. The leaching rate increases with higher temperatures.
This means that any food packaged in plastic, from drinking water in clear bottles to mushrooms in black boxes to meat shrink-wrapped on absorbent pads, slowly gets contaminated by these chemicals and then eaten along with the food. Leaving a water bottle in a hot car speeds up the contamination process. Plastic warp used at home to store or cook food also contaminates that food.
BPA has been controversial for many years and was finally banned by the FDA from use in products designed for infants, such as baby bottles. There is a long list of health problems linked to BPA but the FDA continues to insist that it is safe for adults below a certain threshold. Concerns about DEHP are a little more recent and have received much less attention in the media. The list of health problems linked to DEHP keeps growing as more studies are done.
Because BPA mimics the hormone estrogen in the body, it has the ability to upset our natural hormone balance. The list of probable effects is already long and keeps growing with continued research:
*Causes obesity in children
*Causes raised testosterone levels in men
*Alters thyroid gland functions in pregnant women and their children
*Causes later-life kidney and cardiovascular disease in exposed children and teens
*Adversely affects egg maturation in women of childbearing age
*Causes male impotence
*Increases susceptibility to asthma
*Increases rates of birth defects and miscarriages due to alterations of chromosomes
*Causes loss of connections between brain cells, leading to problems with memory, learning and depression
Health problems linked to DEHP include:
*Insulin resistance in adolescents
*Adverse effects in the liver, heart, kidneys, lungs and reproductive tract
*Skeletal malformations with prenatal exposure
It is impossible to totally eliminate exposure to these dangerous chemicals. They keep the dashboards and door panels of our cars from cracking(they leach into the air and cause that “new car smell”). They are used in plastic tool handles, upholstery, wallpaper, vinyl flooring and carpets. But our greatest exposure to these chemicals probably comes from the food we eat and the liquids we drink that are packaged in flexible plastics.
We can limit this exposure by buying fresh produce from the bulk area rather than shrink-wrapped portions. We can limit the amount of canned food in our diets(most food cans are lined with plastic). We can use refillable glass or stainless steel beverage bottles and eliminate not only the contamination but also the waste. And we can make sure that meat and fish packaged in plastic is kept as cold as possible and removed from the plastic quickly.
Do your health a favor. Stop buying food packaged in plastics. Stop using plastic at home for food storage. Your body and your children will thank you.
Below is a list of links detailing some of the health research that has been done on BPA and DEHP:
BPA and DEHP linked to childhood obesity and insulin resistance – http://www.medpagetoday.com/Pediatrics/Obesity/41050
DEHP food contamination from packaging – http://www.foodproductiondaily.com/Safety-Regulation/Small-levels-of-DEHP-ingestion-pose-no-health-risks-says-BfR-study
Health effects of DEHP – http://www.ehhi.org/reports/plastics/phthalates_health_effects.shtml
Health effects of BPA – http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/221205.php
BPA and chromosome damage – http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012/09/26/bpa-damages-chromosomes-in-monkeys/57838050/1
BPA and thyroid function – http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-10/uoc–blt100212.php