Is Plastic Bad For Your Health?
Author: Jillian Foster Date Posted:14 August 2018
Take a trip down a grocery aisle and it is very evident our food is drowning in plastic. Everything from cheese to meat to biscuits to fresh produce is tightly wrapped in plastic. Should we be concerned about so much plastic? Is it harmful to our health? Whilst the risk is considered low there is growing evidence that our food is becoming contaminated with these plastics and that they do pose a risk to our health. Let’s examine what is actually in these plastics, which ones are bad and how they can harm our health.
A closer look at plastics
Whilst plastic itself is too large a molecule to cross into our food, other chemicals are added to help give the plastic the right mechanical properties. This leads to two main issues with plastics being in contact with our food. The plastic itself can slowly break down releasing these other added chemicals into our food or the added chemicals are small enough molecules to easily migrate into our food. The two plastics of concern are:
Polycarbonate: this one can release bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that has been extensively researched and found to pose a serious risk to our health. You find this plastic in food storage containers, bottles and the inner lining of cans.
PVC: this plastic is very rigid and requires the addition of plasticisers to make it soft and flexible. It is estimated that as much as 40% of this plastic is made up of plasticisers. The main plasticisers of concern are phthalates, which also have extensive research to show they are harmful to our health. PVC is found in bottles, kitchen film wrap and seals for screw-cap jars.
The risks to our health
BPA & Phthalates
BPA and phthalates are called endocrine disruptor. These are chemicals that interfere with the body’s endocrine system, producing adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological and immune health effects. Endocrine disruptors can mimic naturally occurring hormones in the body like oestrogen (female sex hormone), androgens (male sex hormones) and thyroid hormone. When absorbed in the body, an endocrine disruptor can decrease or increase normal hormone levels, or alter the natural production of hormones. 1
Bisphenol A (BPA) is among the better-known endocrine disruptors. BPA is used in various materials for food storage and is easily dissolved into food; as a result, we are exposed to BPA on a daily basis. One of the concerning adverse effects of BPA is disturbance of behaviour, especially anxiety-like behaviour. A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey produced by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that BPA was present in 93% of urine samples taken from people over the age of six.2 BPA has been detected in maternal and cord plasma and seminal fluid with research showing, along with phthalates, adverse effects on fertility, weight gain and hormone production.3,4,5,6,7,8,9
Why aren’t they banned?
Unfortunately Australia is lagging behind other countries on the regulation of plastics, having only offered a voluntary phase out of BPA in plastic baby bottles. The European Union, Canada and some states of the US have completely phased out the use of BPA in certain products. The FDA in the US is also taking measures to stop BPA containing baby bottles and infant feeding cups; helping develop alternatives to BPA lining in cans including infant formula cans.10
In 1999 the European Union took action against phthalates by banning six types of phthalates in toys and other children’s products at levels greater than 0.1%. They also restricted use in food contact applications. In 2008 the US followed suit banning certain phthalates in toys and children’s products at levels greater than 0.1%. In Australia one type of phthalate called DEHP was banned from children’s toys and products following recommendations in 2010, however only at levels exceeding 1%, significantly higher than that of the US and the European Union. 10
At this stage, Australian regulators do not believe the levels of BPA and plasticisers found in our food pose a significant risk to our health. However there are many scientists who have concerns.11
What can you do?
The best way to avoid these harmful chemicals is to avoid plastics wherever possible. We do know that they have an accumulative affect and will store in fatty tissue in the body. Heating and freezing food in these plastics will cause a greater amount of leaching and migration is greater when in contact with fatty foods including meat and cheese.
Use glass and stainless steel food and drink containers instead of plastic, buy wholefoods that are not packaged in plastic and let food manufacturers know you don’t want to buy food housed in harmful packaging. It is also worth noting that even though a plastic container is labelled BPA free, this does not mean that it is devoid of other harmful chemical compounds. BPA is well-known due to the body of research behind it; there are many other harmful compounds in plastics that have yet to be fully studied.
So do your body and the planet a favour and ditch the plastic!
For more alternatives on reducing plastic check out our blog – 10 alternatives to using plastic day-to-day
|Written by Jillian Foster|
Jillian (BHSc Naturopathy) is a qualified naturopath who believes through a healthy and balanced diet and lifestyle, we have the power to influence our health and the health of future generations. With a passion for herbal medicine, Jillian loves helping people find the right solution for their health needs and educating people on how they can lead a healthy and happy life.
Jillian enjoys keeping active with her two young children and baking them delicious and healthy treats.