Hormone Disruptors, Plastics, and Health
Updated: Sep 29, 2020
What is an endocrine disruptor?
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that interfere with the body's endocrine (hormonal) system.
The endocrine system is made up of glands that regulate the function of reproductive, thyroid, adrenal, and pituitary (“master gland” in the brain that regulates many hormones), and the pancreas (involved in blood sugar regulation). Endocrine disruptors may interfere by mimicking the body’s natural hormones, blocking the receptor sites of natural hormones, or disrupting hormone production. The affects of endocrine disruptors can range from minor to severe and may cause adverse health effects in reproductive, development, immune, and neurological systems. Endocrine disruptors are found in many everyday products.
How might I be exposed to endocrine disruptors?
Endocrine disruptors are commonly found in food packaging such as plastic food packaging, cling wrap, water bottles, in the lining of canned foods, cosmetics, household cleaning products, some medications, gardening pesticides, children’s toys, and shopping receipts (a non-exhaustive list). When heated e.g. microwaving food in plastic or putting very hot food straight into plastic containers, the plastics become softer and endocrine disruptors may leach into the food we eat, and the softer the plastic the greater the use of plastic-softening chemicals.
Examples of endocrine disruptors and where they can be found:
Bisphenol-A aka BPA – found in products such as food and drink packaging, food cans, water bottles, infant bottles and toys, some medical devices, some dental sealants, and water supply pipes. BPA is also found in the powdery film of shopping receipts and studies have shown that people who handle receipts regularly have higher levels of BPA in their urine. Saying no to receipts before they're printed at the register is a good way to reduce your exposure and also save paper!
Phthalates or “DEHP”– a group of chemicals used to create flexibility in plastics also known as plasticiser. These are used in cling wrap and food packaging, skin care products, cosmetics and their packaging, washing detergents, cleaning and gardening products, and kids toys. If necessary, choose hard plalstics over soft.
Heavy metals – arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury are used in industrial production, certain metals are used in vaccinations, and in certain water supply used for drinking water. Mercury has been detected in large ocean fish such as tuna and salmon.
How can I reduce my exposure to harmful plastics?
1. Store food in non-plastic containers like glass or ceramic especially when being used to re-heat/microwave. Minimise re-use of plastic takeaway containers that have been heated.
2. Swap out plastic bottles and cutlery for a stainless steel or glass drink bottle, and metal or bamboo straws and cutlery.
3. Use beeswax wraps in place of cling wrap.
4. Ditch plastic bag use when buying fruit and veg and bulk foods. Light-weight re-usable bags are easily found in eco and health food stores and some supermarkets for shopping for nuts, seeds, grains, and loose fruit. Food-storage material bags are also available for fridge storage that conserves shelf-life and quality.
5. Choose low toxin make-up and personal products. Ask yourself: ‘do I need all the products I currently use? e.g. shaving creams, hairspray or gel, hair treatment. Are their any products I can make myself to reduce the chemical exposure in my environment?’
6. Swap out household cleaning products to natural options that you trust, or make your own from ingredients like anti-septic essential oils such as eucalyptus, tea tree, lemon grass, clove, orange, lime, or lemon, bicarb-soda, vinegar (its easier than ever to find effective recipes online).