Plastic Toxins in Our Bodies and Our World

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Last week my son and I watched a documentary called A Plastic Ocean  and I can’t stop thinking about it. I knew that plastic is bad for the environment and I knew that plastic is bad for our health, but I did not truly comprehend the full extent of the damage.

Over the years, I have taken a number of steps to reduce the amount of plastic in my family’s life, most often for health reasons. After seeing first hand the damage it has done around the world to people, wildlife and nature in general, it makes me want to take it to a whole other level.

There are still areas where I can improve, like using less plastic (or reusable) bags in the produce section of the grocery store. Plastic bags alone can survive up to 500 years in the ocean!

Plastic is indestructible. It is not biodegradable. Harder plastics may break down over time but it only breaks down into smaller pieces. Pieces that animals mistake for food and even smaller microscopic particles that get into our waterways and drinking water and into our lungs as dust. Plastic nano-particles can also get absorbed by our skin.

Read on to find out how plastic affects our health, as well as the health of our pets and wildlife in general. Use the lists below to see how you can reduce the plastic in your life. It is not too late to make a change. Plus the less plastic you are exposed to on a daily basis, the easier it is for your body to be healthy. Every little bit helps.

Chemicals in Plastic

Plastic is made with chemicals. Most of us have heard of BPA (Bisphenol A) and know to stay away from it. But did you know BPA was replaced by another chemical called BPS (Bisphenol S) and science is confirming it may be worse for us than BPA? Both leach into your food and drinks, especially when the food is greasy (think cheese or meat) or the food/liquid is warm or hot.

These chemicals are also commonly detected in urine and stool samples, so we know they leach into the body.

Stop and think about it for a moment. What other chemicals are used to make plastic? It can’t just be BPA or BPS.

Turns out, it can actually get quite technical. There are many types of plastics depending on which polymer base is used. Typically derived from petrochemicals, these can include polyethylene (PE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polypropene (PP), etc.

These polymers are mixed with a variety of additives such as colorants, plasticizers, stabilizers, fillers and reinforcements. Which ones and how many depends on the end product. Plastic bags, for instance, typically contain ethylene oxide, xylene, and benzene – all known to be toxic to the body and the environment.

Many plastics contain plasticizers known as phthalates to increase flexibility, transparency, durability and longevity. These cause health problems as well. The phthalate DEHP, for example,  was found to cause insulin resistance and blood pressure issues. However, studies have now shown that its replacement chemicals are not much better. These include diethyl phthalate (DEP), dibutyl phthlalate (DBP), benzyl butryl phthalate (BBP), and diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP), among others.

Styrofoam is just as bad, if not worse, than plastic! And, some of the same chemicals are included in rubber, silicone, and latex products too.

How These Chemicals Affect Our Bodies

Plastic-based chemicals get into our food when we wrap the food in plastic and store it in plastic containers, especially hot foods and fatty foods which tend to absorb the chemicals exponentially. It is in our bottled water. Even tap water often contains nano-sized plastic fibers!

We are also getting plastic chemicals from the foods we purchase. Like fish and other animal products when they inadvertently eat or drink plastic or swim in plastic laden waters. The chemicals end up in their bodies and get transferred to us when we eat animal products (i.e.: fish, meat, eggs, milk).

Plants are not exempt either. Sea plants absorb the tainted sea water. Even irrigation water used by farmers can be tainted with plastic nano-particles. These extremely tiny particles can be absorbed by the plant’s seed, roots, etc.

As you will see below, plastic chemicals also end up in the air we breath and in the dust around us.

Just like the fatty foods that absorb plastic chemicals, so too does the fat in our bodies. It is our body’s way of protecting itself. That is one reason it is hard for some people to loose weight: your body is smart enough to know that if it releases the fat before you are ready, it will make you more toxic.

To make matters worse, many chemicals such as BPA, BPS, and phthalates are considered estrogen inhibitors, or what some people call endocrine disruptors or hormone mimickers, creating all sorts of health problems in men, women, and children. It can be especially detrimental to children who are still developing.

Health problems you might experience include low energy, low quality sleep, low libido, reproductive issues, unexplainable weight gain, not able to lose weight, irregular menstrual cycles, endometriosis, thyroid issues, blood sugar issues, and neurological deficiencies, just to name a few. We are also seeing an increased rate of estrogenic cancers like breast cancers and prostrate cancer, which can be linked to these endocrine disruptors.

Essentially, your body is fooled into thinking it has more estrogen than it needs, so it compensates and adjusts other hormones in your body accordingly, in an attempt to keep things in balance. In ends up interrupting all the hormones in your body, effecting every gland in your endocrine system. This includes ovaries and testes as well as the hypothalamus, pituitary, pineal, thymus, thyroid, parathyroid, adrenal, and panaceas glands. Since the liver and gut help to produce these hormones, these organs can be affected as well.

Researchers have already seen the result of these chemicals in small animals. Waterways polluted with plastic and other chemicals are causing fish and frogs to become sterile and/or to become hermaphroditic, among other things. They have also found that during pregnancy, phthalates can pass from mother to baby.

How To Reduce the Use of Plastics

Plastic chemicals can be ingested through our foods and water and absorbed through our skin. Plastic chemicals like phthalates can also be slowly released into the air and dust in enclosed spaces like homes, schools, daycares and offices, which we then inhale.

There are many plastics that we come into direct contact with on a daily basis. These are the chemical exposures you want to reduce first, since they more directly affect your health and the health of your family.

  • Stop using plastic wrap in the kitchen. If you do use plastic wrap, the only place it should be used is to wrap the top of a container where it is not touching food. Do not use it over a bowl of hot food (or in the microwave), because the warm condensation will accumulate on the plastic wrap and drop back into your food along with plastic chemicals. Another wrapping alternative is natural wax paper and/or parchment paper.
  • Stop using plastic baggies and storage containers. Start buying glass storage containers when you see them on sale to replace your plastic ones. Send your plastic containers to recycle. (Yes, the lids of the glass containers contain plastic but they do not normally touch the food and they last a long time.) Instead of using plastic baggies, use glass or stainless steel containers. Replace plastic lunch boxes. Aluminum foil is good for cold foods and can be recycled, but avoid wrapping hot foods which can absorb the aluminum.
  • Do not drink bottled water or out of plastic containers. Bottled water absorbs the cheep plastic of the bottle over time, especially if the bottle has been shipped or stored in warm conditions. Drinking out of glass is optimal, but if you need something non-breakable, use a high quality stainless steel. The worst offender is drinking hot liquids out of plastic (or Styrofoam) containers because the warm liquid leaches the chemicals. This includes the sippy plastic lids on coffee cups; if you order out bring your own mug instead.
  • Do not drink tap water. Newer research is finding plastic nano-particles in tap water throughout the world – the US actually had the highest contamination rate out of more than a dozen countries! Ultimately, when drinking water, you should be using quality spring water (in glass bottles) or a really good water purification system. (Learn more here and find out which water filtration system I recommend.)
  • Review your kitchen appliances. When buying small kitchen appliances like coffee makers, fast cookers, and steamers, consider what your food and drink will be touching when it is being heated. Make sure it is not sitting in or going through plastic. I know this eliminates most coffee makers. Consider an old fashion glass peculator or glass french press.
  • Do not use plastic utensils/straws or plastic/Styrofoam plates. This includes cooking utensils which will leach their plastic when touching hot and/or greasy foods. Instead use stainless steel or wooden utensils. My mom always used  wood which is naturally antimicrobial, but be sure to get a brand that does not use glue or coatings. Use paper plates with wicker holders or bring your own bamboo plates and cutlery to picnics. Use paper straws or purchase reusable glass or stainless steel straws.
  • Reduce the number of body products in plastic containers. Use bar soap instead of a dispenser, buy larger containers instead of multiple smaller ones, and find skin care products in glass containers. Things like lotions will be more likely to absorb plastic and enter your body through your skin. Some skin products even contain plastic pellets (look at ingredients) and many conventional wet wipes contain plastic fibers. (Learn more about what to look for in bath and body products here.)
  • Stop wearing plastic clothes like polyester and fleece. This is a surprising one for most people. Have you noticed that some companies are now making recycled polyester clothing from old coke bottles? Yep, polyester is plastic. That means you are wearing plastic on your body and absorbing its chemicals through your skin, especially when you get warm and sweat. That includes shirts, pants, socks, and even shoes. (If you wear polyester, be sure to wear a natural fiber like cotton, silk, or wool under the polyester clothing or plastic shoes.) You should also know that each time you wash polyester or fleece, the clothing sheds plastic nano-particle fibers that end up in our waterways, so wash less and use the gentle cycle.

Other ways to reduce plastic in your life and the environment include:

  • Stop using plastic grocery bags. When you go to the store, be sure to bring your own reusable grocery bags. You can also purchase reusable produce bags. If you do need to use a plastic grocery bag, be sure to recycle it. Most major grocery and big box stores have used bag drop-off bins.
  • Reduce plastic products that your purchase. Things like toys that end up in your child’s mouth and eventually in the trash/dump. Purchase used and repurposed instead of new, or purchase wood toys and wood, wicker or cloth household products instead of plastic when you can.
  • Reduce packaged foods. Shop at farmers markets. Cook from scratch whenever you can. Purchase liquids and condiments in glass rather than plastic and recycle them when you are done.
  • Reduce other packaged products. Request zero packaging and/or reduced plastic when ordering clothes and other products on-line.
  • Recycle as much plastic as you can. When touring a local recycle plant a few years ago, we were told that they accepted many more types of plastic than people realized. Check with your local recycle center to see what they accept.

Unusual Plastic Sources

You can probably think of other plastics in your life that you can reduce or eliminate. Things like using a non-plastic razor with disposable razor blades, avoiding plastic pens and disposable pencils, and buying things in bulk with less packaging.

We will not be able to live without some plastic in our lives. However, we need to be more conscious of plastic and its toxins, since reducing our toxic load overall will give us better health and our world a better chance.

There are plastic (and plasticizers/phthalates) in many things that we do not typically consider. Look through the list below and see what changes you can make. It may seem overwhelming at first, but just take it one step at a time.

  • your typical thermal receipt (the kind where the ink disappears over time, BPA or BPS is used to make the ink darker and it comes off on your hands so handle as little as possible, wash your hands after touching, don’t let your kids play with them, and have your receipts emailed to you when you can)
  • tea bags (tea manufacturers add plastic fibers to tea bags so they don’t fall apart in hot water so you end up drinking the plastic chemicals, look for “plastic free” brands or use loose organic teas instead)
  • feminine tampons and pads (use organic and more natural options that are “plastic-free” or, better yet, convert to reusable, washable pads)
  • dental sealants as well as other dental materials like white restoratives/fillings, cement, etc. (you can get checked to see which dental materials are least toxic for you, find out more about bio compatible dental materials here)
  • braces, retainers, mouth guards, and CPAP machines (some of these are used more temporarily, if your are having sleep issues work with someone to find the core issue so mouth guards and sleep apnea equipment can eventually be eliminated)
  • latex and acrylic paints (be sure to use a mask when using paint, let the paint cure before living in the space, never be around paint that is being sprayed without full protection, and limit washing of paint bushes and rollers in running water)
  • synthetic carpets/rugs and vinyl flooring (instead use wool carpets/rugs and natural linoleum floors, using real wood floors with wool rugs is optimal)
  • PVC water supply pipes in your home (these contain plasticizers/phthalates that can leach into the water, which is another reason to have a good quality water purifier at least at the drinking source, see this article for more information)
  • plastic coating around electrical wires and communication cables (the plastic coating provides electrical safety, so they are necessary, but take care and use protection when installing and removing large amounts of wiring which will create plastic dust, don’t let children play with cables)
  • spray foam insulation (especially toxic while it is curing before it fully hardens, but it will off-gas to a degree for a lifetime so a quality air purify is a good idea)
  • vinyl gloves, tubing and garden hoses with plasticizers (make sure you let old water run out of the hose before drinking or watering your gardens)
  • vinyl shower curtains (use fabric liners instead)
  • rainwear, handbags, belts, footwear and other artificial leather items
  • acrylic blankets (these create synthetic dust in the air as well as plastic nano-particles in the laundry, replace blankets with organic cotton or wool)
  • car seats and car parts (if you can smell it, you are breathing the chemicals into your lungs and your brain, purchase used instead)
  • car tires (tires create plastic tire dust, most of us still need to use a car but when possible car pool, walk, take public transportation, etc.)
  • medical tubing, IV bags, and blood storage bags (although this is not something you would typically be exposed to on a daily basis, it is good to know if you are extremely sensitive or if you are receiving extended therapy, less toxic options are sometimes available)

Removing Plastic Chemicals From Our Bodies

The good news is that there are ways to get the plastic chemicals back out of our bodies. Eliminating as many sources of plastic in your life, using the lists above, is a huge first step. The less plastic chemicals and fibers that enter the body on a daily basis, the greater chance your body has to start eliminating the chemicals on its own.

For many, a specific cleanse or detox program may be necessary. Toxic chemicals tend to accumulate in our elimination organs, especially the liver, but since plastic fibers can break down into nano-size particles, the chemicals can end up deeper at the cellular level and in your body fat. When this happens, a more proactive approach may be needed.  Contact me for more information.

If you know you will be exposed to plastic for a limited time, such as wearing braces, there are some maintenance protocols as well. Certain binders and homeopathic remedies, for example, can be very helpful.

Motivation For Change

If you need help getting motivated to make a change, I highly suggest you watch the documentary A Plastic Ocean. (You can get it from the library and it is free on Netflix.) Prepare yourself and don’t get overwhelmed. Instead, commit to making one change at a time. Pick an item above and concentrate on that one thing before moving onto the next.

For those of you that celebrate Easter, another way to start making a change or to improve what you are already doing is to follow the “Lent Plastic Challenge,” developed by The Church of England. As shown here, it is a 40-day calendar developed to be used during the Season of Lent to help you reduce your use of plastic. This would be a fun one to do with kids. (Thanks to my friend Stephanie for sharing!)

Reducing the plastic in your life is good for your health and good for the planet. Unfortunately, this is not always the case as some “green” and environmentally friendly products can actually be worse for your health. Reducing the use of plastic one is a win-win!

You may not be able to eliminate all your plastic sources but at least you can be more conscious of your choices.

When you do use plastic, be sure to recycle it so it becomes re-purposed!

NOTE: There are newer types of plastic bags made from corn and sugar cane that are supposedly more biodegradable. However, these two crops are typically genetically modified (GMOs) and/or are highly sprayed with glyphosate and therefore contain high amounts of pesticides, which are also made from petrochemicals. These bags are not chemical free and some brands may still contain synthetic polyesters. Certain brands have proven not to be as biodegradable as promised.  I am not convinced this option is much better.

This article was written by Sharon Harmon, founder of Life Design for Health. As a “Health Designer” she has a passion for helping people find their way back to optimum health. Please contact her if you would like to know more. There is a great deal of health-related information in her blog articles and on her website. Including additional suggested resources (books and articles) by topic, a pantry list that is gluten-free, dairy free and GMO-free, and a healing foods list.

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