The movie The Graduate has a great line in it where the young, talented, yet unambitious, Dustin Hoffman character is given career advice by his father’s partner, and the line is this:
“I have one word for you.”
“Plastics. There is a great future in plastics.”
As the movie came out in 1967, it was prescient in that the advice was so spot on. Indeed, plastics became an amazing industry and brought forth many consumer items to the point where we are literally swimming in plastics. (A note to Millennials- there was a time when everything was not made of plastic.)
I call it the plague of plastics because of the unintended effects plastics have had on human health and the health of our ecosystem, especially the ocean. But we are not here to talk about the ocean today.
From a health standpoint, plastics bring us two of the most damaging endocrine disruptors (chemicals that affect our hormones, reproductive hormones, thyroid hormones, insulin)- bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates, both found in our newborn babies’ cord blood, among other places, making pregnant women the most vulnerable for these chemicals.
And speaking of pregnant women, BPA is considered to be an ovarian and uterine toxicant, and human studies have shown that women undergoing in vitro fertilization have a significantly lower rate of success as their BPA levels rise.
From a clinical standpoint, nearly 100% of my female patients come in with some kind of thyroid issue. It is an epidemic and most are put on thyroid hormones in order to get more thyroid into the body. Having a healthy thyroid is absolutely imperative for feeling good and maintaining a normal weight, and most women I know are struggling with trying to lose weight or even stop gaining weight. We know there is so much more to weight control than calories in and calories out (read my previous blog post on weight loss which also discusses thyroid: Why We Can’t Lose Weight
). The thyroid is the master regulator of your metabolism and energy.
But what most people don’t know yet, is that environmental toxicants like BPA and phthalates, and heavy metals like mercury, affect the thyroid because they accumulate there and cause the thyroid to malfunction, either slowing down, or speeding up, which isn’t as much fun as it sounds.
The burden of autoimmune diseases (now totaling 80 different diseases) is huge as some 24 million Americans have been diagnosed with at least one (and it’s not uncommon to find more than one autoimmune disease in a person). Both Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Graves Disease (the two thyroid diseases mentioned above) fall into this category.
Conventional medical therapy addresses autoimmune disease by managing its symptoms with drug therapy, with the aim to slow progression. They have no cure, nor do they know what causes it. Conventional medicine operates at the level of proximal cause, so they are well-versed in the biologic and molecular pathways which are disturbed, but do not investigate the ultimate root cause. Therefore these well-meaning doctors simply prescribe drugs to mask the symptoms, often misdiagnose (some of the symptoms are murky), and this is the reason why most of my patients have already seen 8-10 doctors before they see me.
In my experience as a doctor practicing Environmental Medicine, autoimmune disease can be halted and even reversed. The causes of autoimmune disease must be addressed and one of the prime contributors is environmental toxins.
As part of this approach, avoidance of the top toxicants is extremely important. Today we will address two of them: BPA and phthalates.
BPA, found in 93% of Americans, was estimated in the Lancet to cost $50 billion per year in healthcare costs and lost wages (in the U.S.) and is linked to:
- obesity (yes chemicals like BPA can and do make you FAT)
- breast and prostate cancer
- thyroid disease
- infertility, miscarriages, premature puberty
- mood disorders and depression
- erectile dysfunction (decreases testosterone)
- autoimmune diseases
A diagram from the medical journal Autoimmune Disease reviews every major immune pathway activated by BPA exposure and its links to autoimmunity.
Newborns Now Born Pre-Polluted
Umbilical cord blood was tested and found to have as many as 287 chemicals. The cord blood study has produced hard new evidence that American children are being exposed, beginning in the womb, to complex mixtures of dangerous substances that may have lifelong consequences. We are still learning about the lifelong consequences, but the one most studied is the epigenetic effect of BPA on female mammary gland architecture in utero, and the resulting effect of breast cancer much later. This early exposure to BPA seems to “prime” breast cells for cancer later in life.
The fetal time period is an absolutely critical window of immune system development and due to the immaturity of fetal organ systems and especially the underdeveloped detoxification systems, the fetus has a very high susceptibility to the adverse effects of environmental exposures. These are currently the subject of much research.
Of the 287 chemicals detected in umbilical cord blood, it’s known that:
180 cause cancer in humans or animals
217 are toxic to your brain and nervous system
208 cause birth defects or abnormal development in animal tests
Phthalates, a substance that gives plastic flexibility, and is used as a scent “fixative” in the personal care product industry. While previous research has linked phthalate exposure to birth defects, low sperm count, polycystic ovary disease, and early or delayed puberty, just to name a few, recent research suggests prenatal phthalate exposure may also lead to reduced IQ in children
Studies have also found an association between phthalate levels in pregnant moms and the child’s ability to focus and concentrate, working memory, their perceptual reasoning skills, and the time it took for the child to process and retrieve information at the age of seven.
“Women who had a high amount of the chemicals called di-n-butyl phthalate and di-isobutyl phthalate in their bodies during pregnancy gave birth to children who had markedly lower IQ scores, according to a new study running in the journal PLOS One (Persistent Associations between Maternal Prenatal Exposure to Phthalates on Child IQ at Age 7 Years).
The study found that by the age of seven, children exposed to more of these chemicals had IQs that were more than six points lower than children exposed to lower levels of the chemicals…
The results from this study were not entirely what the authors expected. ‘We are a little surprised at the magnitude of the IQ drop,’ Factor-Litvak said… ‘We are not happy about the finding since phthalates are very ubiquitous in the environment.'”
A recent study published in the Lancet estimated the annual healthcare costs and lost wages due to chemicals known as Endocrine Disruptors (like BPA and phthalates) as 340 Billion dollars in the United States. The same study pegs the loss of IQ points as 11 million which is staggering.
But reducing BPA and phthalates in your body is easy once you learn what to avoid, as they have short half lives.
Avoidance works. According to a recent study, women were divided into two groups. One group received an intervention of face-to-face meetings with counselors armed with information on how to avoid BPA from food, cosmetics, and other package products. These women were provided with BPA-free cosmetics, hygiene, and glass food/water containers. The control group did not receive any of the counseling or BPA-free products. After only THREE WEEKS the treatment group decreased their BPA and also as a bonus, significantly lost weight. How do you like that?
Incidentally, I package my own IAMFINE Youth Serum in glass bottles for this very reason. Are your skin care products being stored in plastic?
7 Simple Steps to Avoid BPA and Phthalates
- Avoid plastic food storage containers. Use glass instead. I got a 18 piece glass set at Costco for less than $30 (pictured above). And my loved ones will likely see their own set under the tree for Christmas this year!
- Eat in and eat fresh, organic food. BPA and phthalates migrate into food from food storage containers like cans and plastic packaging. Also studies have shown people who eat at home with fresh, not processed and packaged foods, have lower levels of plastic components in their bodies. Phthalates are also found in pesticides and sewage sludge that are used in non-organic fields. Buying organic avoids that.
- Never microwave in plastic. The hotter temperatures allow more BPA and phthalates to migrate into the foods, no matter how they are heated.
- Pay attention to your personal care products. The word “fragrance” or “parfum” on your cosmetic and skin care products usually means phthalates even though it won’t be spelled out for you. The same goes for plug-in air fresheners used in the homes- they contain phthalates as well as many other chemicals such as benzene, a known carcinogen. Go fragrance free.
- Ditch the plastic water bottles. Buy a glass or stainless steel bottle to carry water or other beverages. This is better for the environment as well. And watch out for BPA-free claims on plastics- the newer BPS and BPF are also testing out to be as estrogenic or more estrogenic than the BPA they are replacing.
- Do not drink out of hot coffee and tea cups with plastic lids. The hot liquid is helping the BPA in the lid to mobilize right into your body.
- Avoid handling thermal receipts. These have phthalates in them. Tell the cashier you don’t need them, or if you do, have the cashier drop them into the bag.
Avoidance of BPA and phthalates is not as hard as you think, and can help you reduce your overall body burden of chemicals and their impact on autoimmunity, cancer, and other chronic diseases.
” I have one word for you.”
“Glass. If you want a great and healthy future…use glass!”
Please visit my website www.drannemariefine.com
for more articles and blog posts. You may also purchase the IAMFINE Youth Serum from my website.