Rethink, Remember and Reduce – The Truth Behind Plastic

It is customary to wish your kith and kin good health especially as we tippy toe into a new year. Good heath adages however hackneyed are actually true . Yes, good health is one’s greatest asset and could be the most rewarding investment.

You may be the one who wouldn’t give your morning rendezvous with the gym a miss, drinking filtered water, eating the choicest of salads and greens, or swearing by your latte with the “non fat” creamer and staying away from that enticing rocky road brownie sitting in the fridge. But the pertinent question remains “Is it enough?” and “Are You safe?”.

Read on to find out where you may be going wrong and being caught unaware as far as environmental triggers to monsters like cancers are concerned.

The American lifestyle is intrinsically intertwined with the “heat and eat” culture that often comes with deeper implications. Plastic usage has become synonymous with urban life in every part of the world. The cooking range has given way to the microwave. A lot of heath concerns have been raised about the usage of plastics in packaged food and drinks. Now and then, a chain email like a health alert would pop up in your mail box illustrating the ill effects of heating food in plastic containers, reusing plastics etc. However, how much of this is a hoax and how much is founded on truth remains to be seen.

The President’s Cancer Panel in its annual report in 2010 had opined that the “The Panel was particularly concerned to find that the true burden of environmentally induced cancer has been grossly underestimated. With nearly 80,000 chemicals on the market in the United States, many of which are used by millions of Americans in their daily lives and are un- or understudied and largely unregulated, exposure to potential environmental carcinogens is widespread. One such ubiquitous chemical, bisphenol A (BPA), is still found in many consumer products and remains unregulated in the United States, despite the growing link between BPA and several diseases, including various cancers.”

Looks like you need to be informed about the bad boy BPA or Bisphenol A.

What is BPA?

It is an organic compound which is colorless and soluble in organic solvents. It is used to make polycarbonate polymers and epoxy resins. These two are widely used in making plastics.

BPA is known to emit chemicals which could behave like endocrine cursors or hormones albeit weak ones. The Food and Drug Administration in the year 2010 expressed its doubts about the exposure of children, infants and fetuses to this chemical. Canada went a step ahead and declared BPA as a toxic substance in the same year. Following suit a lot of other European countries have banned its use in baby feeding bottles.

Now try thinking how many times do you use plastic throughout a day? Probably the link to such lofty words like “environmental carcinogens” could now seem a little more inevitable.

Plastic Exposed – Literally

Take a good look at your pantry. It can be safely predicted that most of the containers are made from plastic. Most of our food and water comes packaged in and are consumed from such containers. Studies have proved that chemicals from these containers can get transmitted into the food eventually being absorbed by the body. Not to deny the fact that all the data is yet inconclusive, but there is no smoke without a fire. And the health hazards associated with plastics cannot be undermined.

Grab any food container made from plastic. Look for a small label with three graphic arrows laid one after another in the bottom in a triangle with a number written within it. The Government has made it mandatory to label all plastic food containers with this recycle code. The number tells the recycle code so that it can be recycled with the likes of it. It is also indicative of the safety of the container and its reusability as far as storing food and eating from it is concerned.

The toxins emitted from plastics are like slow poisons which are absorbed by the food over a period of time and with regular usage. Some of the chemicals leach out from them only on being heated with the food inside them. In certain instances, the temperature needs to be above the boiling point to be able to cause harm.

Hence, it is imperative that one be informed and educated as to the limitations of using plastic. Plastics are extremely useful but there are a lot of concerns as to how good they are actually as far as food is concerned.

The plastic containers with the recycle codes of 1, 2, 4 and 5 are made from polymers which are relatively safe and can be used for food storage. The plastics with the recycle code 3, 6 and 7 are known to have potential health hazards. The plastics with the recycle code 7 have been at the center of a lot of controversy and are the ones thought to emit BPA on being exposed to higher temperatures.

This particular polycarbonate (recycle code 7) involved in the said variety of plastic had been the ideal choice for water bottles, baby feeding bottles and the inner lining in cans containing food. Boiling baby milk bottles for sterilizing them further elevated the associated risks. The plastic industry defends its territory by advising that these bottles are completely safe under normal conditions. However, some studies have established that a certain amount of leaching still happens.

BPA associated Health Hazards

  • Neurological Disorder: The United States National Institutes of Health stated that BPA exposure could cause irreversible damage to infant and fetal brain development and behavior. Studies in mice have established that BPA could behave like the hormones xenoestrogens and could interfere with the normal functioning of the nervous system. In fact, prenatal and neonatal exposure also elevates the risk of attention deficits, poor memory retention, impaired learning, mood disorders, hyperactivity and an increased sensitivity to drugs of abuse.
  • Obesity: A study on rats concluded that prenatal exposure to BPA contained in drinking water increased the risks of adipogenesis or the abnormal increase in the size of the fat cells in the body. Its effects are more pronounced on females than males.
  • Thyroid Dysfunction: Studies have established the adverse effects of BPA on the thyroid hormones. The endocrine character of the chemical causes it to interfere with the thyroid hormones like triiodothyronine and can bring about a lot of health problems especially in pregnant women, neonates and small children.
  • Cancer: Dioxin carcinogens have been traced to have leaked into the drinking water when the BPA containing bottles were used to freeze the drinking water. Heating the bottles in the microwave has a similar effect. BPA has been directly associated with accelerated breast cancer risk and increased prostate cancer risk. It is also linked to the abnormal multiplication and metastasis of the neuroblastoma cells.
  • Reproductive dysfunction and decreased Fertility: Studies in mice have proved that consistent prenatal exposure to BPA can cause irreparable deformity in the genital tract and can cause infertility in the newborn infant. Pregnant women with high BPA serum concentrations have a higher risk of miscarriages. Impaired ovarian development and dysfunction and susceptibility to cancers have also been found to have increased significantly in women. In men, altered hormone levels, erectile dysfunction, decreased libido etc have been associated with continued BPA exposure.

Hence, it is essential that you don’t take any wooden nickels when it comes to your health. Be informed and educated and reduce the usage of plastics as much as possible. Never heat or freeze food in plastic containers. Even better, get some glass containers with silicone lids for food storage. Give your existing plastic containers a good riddance, embrace a little expense and inconvenience and be rewarded with good health.

Rethink, Remember and Reduce should be the three R’s when it comes to using plastics in our daily life.

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