There are many chemicals in our everyday environment now that either behave like hormones or drastically disrupt hormonal behavior in our bodies. Plasticizers are chemicals added to plastic in order to make it less brittle, and many of them act like estrogen or affect other hormonal pathways once in our bodies. Phthalates are chemicals added to lotions, cosmetics and other personal care products to make them smoother in terms of application or otherwise easier to work with; many of these chemicals disrupt hormone systems as well.
The best-known plasticizer chemical is bisphenol A, or BPA. You can find plastic products all over now advertising themselves as “BPA-free”, but our government still has not banned BPA. There is data showing the adverse health effects of BPA going back more than 70 years in the literature. It acts like estrogen, causes weight gain and contributes to type 2 diabetes, also seems to stimulate certain cancers. If you search Pubmed for “bisphenol A and cancer” you get more than 300 articles.
BPA has been in most plastic containers for beverages and also in almost all baby bottles for over forty years. It has also found its way into food and beverage cans, dental composites for fillings and other items that may find their way into our bodies. BPA is banned from baby bottles in Europe and Canada; and Canada officially labeled it a“toxic substance” in 2010. Meanwhile, our own FDA states there is not enough “compelling evidence” to ban it from anything yet.
Some phthalates, found in plastics and personal care products, are known to interfere with testosterone production and have other hormone-disrupting effects as well. Parabens are chemical preservatives placed in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and even foods. Parabens have estrogenic activity and there is concern they may increase the development of breast cancers. These chemicals will be in all of your personal care products unless you specifically look for products without them. There is a website called Skin Deep where you can look up your products and see what toxins they hold.
The most recent review on this topic notes that bisphenol A, phthalates and persistent organic pollutants are detectable in children and people of all age groups and in all geographical areas of the US. It notes that research shows BPA and phthalates have negative effects on fetal development and birth weight, have negative effects on male fetus reproductive tract development, and promote childhood obesity (Divall, S. – Epub Dec 4, 2012 – Current Opinions in Endocrinology, Diabetes and Obesity).
The major sources of exposure to these chemicals are in foods, beverages, and personal care products such as lotions and cosmetics. Everyone is exposed unless they take extreme measures to avoid them. Try to avoid consuming many things with a liquid component from plastic containers. Choosing beverages in glass containers is the safest, also certain metal water bottles or child drink cups will be chemical-free. Just make sure the metal bottles don’t have a thin plastic coating on the inside. Look for containers that advertise as “BPA and phthalate free”. Also, the “number” of a plastic is not relevant –they all contain plasticizers.
Avoidance of these substances is not complicated. Use only plastics free of BPA and phthalates, or avoid plastics completely. Look for child care products that claim to be free of parabens and phthalates. Look your products up on Skin Deep or some other database, and make sure you are not exposing your child or yourself to potentially harmful chemicals. Avoidance is the first and most important step in detoxification; and in our modern world it can be extremely difficult.