The same plastic threatening our planet is a threat to your health.
Research suggests that plastics may leach harmful chemicals when scratched or heated. At certain exposure levels, some of the chemicals in plastics may cause cancer.
It is impossible to avoid all plastics. However, you can reduce your risk by reducing your use of plastics, selecting the safest plastics, and sourcing alternative food and water storage containers.
Toxic Chemicals in Plastics
A study published in the journal “Environmental Science and Technology” analyzed 34 commonly used plastic products. A shocking 74% tested toxic.
Xenoestrogens Imitate Hormones with Hazardous Outcomes
Xenoestrogens are substances found in plastics that are close enough in molecular structure to estrogen that they can bind to estrogen receptors in the body with potentially hazardous outcomes.
They are particularly detrimental to hormone-sensitive organs like the breast, uterus, immune and neurological systems, and human development.
Organochlorines May Contribute Significantly to Breast Cancer
Plastics also contain organochlorines. These are chlorine-based chemicals thought to contribute significantly to breast cancer. They can mutate genes, alter breast cells to absorb more estrogen, suppress the immune system, and imitate estrogen’s harmful effects.
Organochlorines are metabolized in the liver and by processes supported by phytochemicals like diindolylmethane and glucarate derivatives. The size of organochlorine molecules, however, makes metabolism more difficult. The majority end up stored in fat cells and breast tissue.
Some research indicates that women with breast cancer have 50-60% more organochlorine molecules in their tissues than women without breast cancer.
Phthalates in Plastic Adversely Affects Human Development
Most water, soda, juice, sports-drink bottles, yogurt cartons, bread bags, boil-in-bag pouches, cereal-box liners, and food-storage bags are examples of food-grade plastics with no known health hazards when they are not exposed to heat.
However, these containers are generally intended for single use, i.e., #1 PET or PETE, and should be discarded after their initial use rather than cleaned and re-used.
In general, the more flexible the plastic, the more likely it is to contain plasticizers called phthalates, which make plastic more pliable. While some phthalates are harmless, others may contribute to cancer.
Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, phthalates, can migrate from plastics, especially in the presence of heat. Being fat soluble, phthalates can concentrate in the fatty organs of our bodies, including the breasts. A study published in “Environmental Health Perspective” also links the irregular genital development in boys of mothers exposed to multiple phthalates during pregnancy.
Bisphenol-A Linked to Breast and Prostate Cancer
Another endocrine disruptor is bisphenol-A. According to Endocrinology, “Humans are exposed to bisphenol-A (BPA), an estrogenic compound that leaches from dental materials and plastic food and beverage containers.”
Animal experiments have linked bisphenol-A to an increased risk for breast and prostate cancer, low sperm counts, and female infertility at very low levels of exposure. Some polycarbonate plastics, #7 PC, found in food can linings, baby bottles, 5-gallon water jugs, and Lexan or Nalgene water bottles contain bisphenol-A.
How to Reduce the Dangers of Using Plastics
- Keep plastics out of the heat of a microwave, hot storage areas, and sunlight
- Avoid heating food in plastic intended for storage only—such as margarine tubs
- Avoid putting top-shelf plastics on the bottom shelf of the dishwasher—such as children’s sippy cups and baby bottles
- Recycle plastic containers when they look cloudy or scratchy or have an odor
- Heat and store food and water in glass, ceramic, or stainless steel
- Use glass, ceramic, stainless steel, parchment paper and waxed-paper sheets and bags, when possible
- Use Polypropylene, #5 PP plastic
- Use high-density polyethylene, #2 HDPE plastic
- Use low-density polyethylene, #4 LDPE plastic