We know what it’s done to the planet, but what is it doing to your body? NH investigates
You’d have had to be living under a rock for the past year to have missed the fact that plastic is very, very bad for our planet, and especially our oceans. Highlighted by BBC’s Blue Planet, the problem has lead to every major supermarket in Britain pledging to eradicate unnecessary single-use plastics by 2015, under the UK Plastics Pact.
This is great news for the environment, but have you ever stopped to think just how plastic could be harming your own health? From hormone-disrupting bisphenol A to toxic dioxins, we look at just what a threat to our wellbeing plastic can be.
“Bisphenol A (BPA) can be found in plastic bottles and leaches into your drink,” says Dr Marilyn Glenville, a leading nutritionist specialising in women’s health (marilynglenville.com). “Of course, the more you use the same bottle the more these chemicals are being leached from the plastic. The problem is made even worse when the plastic is heated, such as microwaving or oven-cooking ready-made meals in plastic trays, or leaving your bottle of water in the car when it’s sunny.
“These chemicals can have effects on every system in our bodies. They can affect ovulation, and increase our risk of hormonally-driven problems like polycystic ovary syndrome, fibroids, endometriosis and breast cancer, but they can also cause infertility by reducing quality and quantity of sperm in men, pushing young girls through puberty earlier and creating malformations in male babies such as hypospadias (where the opening of the urethra is down the shaft of the penis instead of at the top) as well as undescended testes.”
Scary stuff. So how can we minimise our exposure to BPA? “Don’t rinse out plastic bottles or containers in very hot water as BPA leaches out 55 times faster than normal,” advises Marilyn. “Buy BPA-free plastic bottles. Be careful also of takeaway hot drinks in plastic cups because chemicals will leach out quickly from the plastic. Reduce the amount of canned foods and drinks you have because of the plastic coating inside the cans. If your job requires you to handle thermal paper (tickets or receipts), wash your hands regularly as these are covered in BPA, and avoid food that needs to be microwaved in a plastic container.”
Not only a nightmare to pronounce (it’s ‘thalates’, just so you know) but also a nightmare for your body. Recently, researchers from the University of Illinois gave phthalates to pregnant rats and found the chemicals, which are already known to disrupt hormones, seriously affected the unborn rats’ brain development. Experts have speculated that women who heat up food in plastic containers could potentially be putting their unborn children at risk.
But that’s not all. In the past few years, phthalates have been linked to ADHD, asthma, breast cancer, obesity, type 2 diabetes, male fertility issues, altered reproductive development, autism and behavioural issues. While we can avoid plastic as much as possible, avoiding phthalates completely is pretty much impossible. They are everywhere – in household cleaners, food packaging, fragrance and cosmetics. As the chemicals leach out of plastic, try to buy food in glass packaging, and never wash plastic items with hot water as this causes phthalates to come out even faster. Buy cosmetics and cleaning products from natural companies (see page 106 for more on natural cleaning), and avoid anything in plastic with the recycling code 3, which is the worst offender.
Such is the threat from plastic that one company in London is offering chelation therapy, a process in which heavy metals bind to other substances in order to be safely removed from the body. “According to Plastic Oceans Foundation, over 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into our oceans every year and this, understandably, is having an effect on our health,” says Bianca Estelle, founder of Vitamin Injections London (vitamininjections.co.uk). “When plastic breaks down into the sea, it breaks down into tiny pieces, known as microplastics, and these have been found to absorb and transport harmful chemicals such as heavy metals within the dioxin family. These dioxin-riddled microplastics are then ingested by fish and in turn, by humans. Once in our systems, dioxins create free radicals and lead to a process called oxidation, known to damage cells in our body and resulting in poor health. Since heavy metals can infiltrate the brain, it’s believed that modern-day diseases impairing our thoughts, concentration and memory are linked to heavy metals within the body. This can also be applied to general lethargy, fatigue and brain fog.” For £250, Vitamin Injections London will intravenously infuse you with chemicals designed to cleanse your body of these substances.
While we still have a long way to go to reduce our consumption of plastic, it’s clear that doing so can only be good news for our bodies and the planet. Choosing natural materials over man-made is the sure way to know that you are giving your health a helping hand.
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