Is Plastic Really Harmful to Your Health?

Awareness is growing that the use of plastics may contribute to health concerns.  You may have heard of BPA and phthalates, which are chemicals used in plastics, and may have even decreased using them.  Moms may be aware of this because the BPA, or bisphenol A, in Sippy cups and baby bottles were highlighted as a concern for the health of infants and children.

Plastics mess with your hormones.
You may even know that these chemicals can disrupt your hormones resulting in everything from acne to hot flashes and any other symptom involved with puberty or menopause. But did you know that hormones are also related to weight gain, breast and prostate cancer, infertility, urinary difficulties, immune dysfunction, insulin regulation, and diabetes. So we better pay attention to them!

Hormones are tiny molecules that travel throughout your body delivering messages.  They are like keys that fit into locks in the body and open specific doors.  These messengers initiate reactions that change body functions.  For example, a hormone can trigger hunger, make you sweat or increase your alertness.

How do plastics mess with your hormones?
Bisphenols, like BPA, and phthalates are examples of synthetic chemicals that can mimic your hormones and disrupt natural functions.  They can increase or decrease a hormone’s effect at inappropriate times.  You don’t want to be hungry if you just ate or be alert if you are trying to sleep.  Since hormones are part of a system in your body called the endocrine system, the chemicals that mimic hormones are called endocrine disruptors.

Impersonating the key and opening the lock at the wrong time, these chemicals can result in mood swings, early puberty, PMS, miscarriages. In fact, any of the following symptoms or conditions could be a sign of toxic overload from plastics:

  • Changes in weight or appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Poor sleep
  • Poor digestion
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Thyroid disease
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Early puberty
  • Infertility
  • Diabetes type 2
  • Cancer, especially breast or testicular
  • For men, low testosterone or sperm count

(If you’re not sure if you have toxic overload, click here to take the quiz.)

And the scary thing is, research has now shown that in the case of endocrine disruptors, unlike other disrupting chemicals, a low dose exposure can be more harmful than a high dose. This means you have to be the detectives in your life and pay attention to when you are being exposed to plastics.  Doing this now will help you, your children and grandchildren since these changes can be passed down from generation to generation.

How do you reduce your exposure?
Plastics, especially in hot or acid environments, degrade and leach chemicals into the food or liquid that we ingest.  This can occur in plastic bottles, in cans that are lined with epoxy resins, and by putting plastic in the dishwasher or in the microwave.  Look at your plastic cutting boards and plastic storage containers.  Do they have cuts and scratches in them?  Do you marinade meats in baggies? Do you leave your 36-pack of individual bottled waters in the trunk of your car where they heat up and cool down often?  Are you purchasing food that is placed in Styrofoam and wrapped in cling wrap?  Do you drink your coffee out of a plastic lined mug or Styrofoam? These are all places where the chemicals from your plastic can leach into your food.  Once in our body they can affect us at a cellular level.

Many small, practical things can be done to reduce plastics in your life.  Here is a list of some to start with.

  • Use stainless steel or glass water bottles and fill them in your home with filtered water.
  • Use a glass bowl if microwaving food, not plastic – even if it says ‘microwave safe’.
  • Use a plate to cover your food in the microwave.
  • Use thermoses, and coffee go cups, that have stainless steel liners.
  • Use glass or ceramic for food storage.  Save jars and use them.
  • Buy bulk dried foods and store them in jars.
  • Buy fresh food that hasn’t been packaged in plastic and Styrofoam.
  • Don’t pour hot liquids into plastic containers.  If you still want to use plastic for storage wait until the food cools before putting it in plastic.
  • Buy a wood cutting board instead of plastic.
  • Consider an alternative to K-cups or any other plastic coffee maker.
  • Do not store water in plastic bottles in your hot car.

If you can eliminate some uses of plastics your body will be able to process the toxins that do occur with more ease and efficiency.

Plastics are part of our lives and they are not going away.   Learning appropriate uses and care of these products can help keep the toxins we ingest from them at a minimum.  In addition, finding alternative products for them can be done over time in a manner that suits your budget and your personality.