For years, we’ve been warned off seemingly harmless products lurking in our kitchen cupboards, our fridges and our bathrooms in the form of plastics.
Not just a danger to our oceans1 and our beautiful wildlife, plastics have even been linked to scare stories concerning our own health and – perhaps more worryingly – our children2, too.
From sending our blood pressure levels soaring, to obesity, diabetes, disrupted hormones and even infertility, endless studies have warned us off plastics, telling us to ditch them from our lives for good.
Now, the newest study yet is giving us even more reason to skip on packaging and added nasties – especially if you’re a pregnant woman. In fact, the study, published in the journal Environmental Research, shows that pregnant women should be wary of any form of plastics.
You see, this latest study suggests that exposure to an endocrine-disrupting chemical called diethylhexyl pthalate (DEHP) is directly linked to abnormalities in newborn boys' reproductive organs.
A team of researchers and scientists, led by Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana at Seattle Children's Research Institute, collected urine samples from pregnant women, testing them for levels of phthalates. Once the babies had arrived, they then carried out physical exams of the newborns, with the hope of seeing just how plastics could affect their health.
Unfortunately for us, the results showed a “clear connection” between a pregnant woman's exposure to DEHP and any abnormalities in a baby boy's reproductive organs. In fact, the higher the DEHP concentration in mum's urine, the more likely her boy would be born with a genital anomaly.
Scientists found that the most common problem these babies suffered from was hydrocele, a condition which causes fluid to build up in the boy's scrotum. What we find utterly terrifying (especially given how easily you can find DEHP among your everyday essentials!) is this - a newborn boy was more than twice as likely to develop this condition if his mother had high concentrations of DEHP in her urine.
Thankfully, hydrocele is rarely a problem for boys who have it, although the results are concerning: for the first time, doctors have found a direct link between plastics and our children’s health.
Given all this, yes – and those of you who aren’t pregnant, too! When you consider the studies and fears which surround plastics, it makes sense to avoid exposing ourselves to them - especially the endocrine-disrupting chemicals.
Of course, many of us don’t knowingly use these chemicals, or consume them – plastics are all around us.
We do so without even thinking about it, even when we believe we’re being healthy – sipping water from a plastic bottle at the gym, washing ourselves with hand soap stored in plastic containers, or covering our nourishing, lovingly-made lunch in cling film, or packaging it up in a plastic lunchbox. Heck, even as we toss smoothie ingredients into our (mainly plastic) blenders!
We know it’s not easy but what we will say is this: try to become more aware of what you’re using and when! Is it really necessary to buy that plastic bottle of water, when you can carry round a reusable one instead…?
If you’re still not sure that giving up plastic is for you, then read on to see exactly what these chemicals can do to your health…
So, you’ve now heard the term but what exactly are endocrine-disrupting chemicals and what damage can they do to our body, anyway?
Well, many chemicals, mostly man-made, can affect our endocrine glands, by mimicking hormones. Our endocrine systems produce hormones that regulate metabolism, control our growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep and mood – and dozens of other things! You name it, and your hormones probably have something (somewhere!) to do with it.
Now you can see why these chemicals are such a worry…
As The Environmental Working Group (EWG) said in a report3:
"There is no end to the tricks that endocrine disruptors can play on our bodies: increasing production of certain hormones; decreasing production of others; imitating hormones; turning one hormone into another; interfering with hormone signalling; telling cells to die prematurely; competing with essential nutrients; binding to essential hormones; accumulating in organs that produce hormones."
Two of the more worrying plastics which regularly take the spotlight are BPA, which is often found in cans, plastic bottles and food packaging and plastic softeners called phthalates (DEHP is one of these).
Research has shown that this duo can seep from plastics and packaging into the food and drinks we prepare, or consume – so much so that one study even found BPA in 93 per cent of urine samples4!
Scary thought, right? Especially when you consider that DEHP, our foe found in this earlier study, is sometimes known as a “gender-bender” chemical because of its effects on the reproductive system and our hormones. In fact, some see its effects as so concerning that it has already been banned by the EU for use in children’s’ toys.
DEHP is often used in plastics to make them softer and more pliable and can be found in anything from bottled water and cling film to certain floor tiles, tablecloths and even IV drips found in hospitals.
Of course, the use of plastics here does outweigh the cons but it goes some way towards showing you just how reliant we’ve become on plastics, without really knowing what damage they can do.
Although we don’t know for sure what potential horrors are involved, here are just a few of the things plastics such as these have been linked to:
When you put it like that, isn’t it worth considering ways to avoid plastics wherever possible?
As you now know, it’s not always that easy to avoid plastics. Yet there are a few simple steps you can take to minimise both yours and your family’s use of plastics
If you’re concerned about plastics, then we want to share a few easy steps to cut them out:
Use Cloth Bags
Although we cheered when the 5p plastic bag charge came into effect, how many of us still turn up to the supermarket, without a bag for life, thinking, “oh, it’s only 5p!”? Yet, plastic bags are damaging – especially to the environment!
Try to go everywhere with reusable cloth bags – we load them into our cars, our pushchairs, our handbags (yes, all of them!). We always try to place one by the front door so that we remember to grab one as we leave.
Avoid Processed Foods
We all know that we should be eating as many natural, nourishing foods as possible, yet it’s not just for our waistlines. Many processed, artificially-sweetened foods come wrapped in plastics, or parcelled up neatly in plastic containers. Wherever you can, try to buy fresh, unpackaged foods from farmers’ markets or green grocers and butchers.
If you’re buying foods that come in packaging, then always try to go for glass jars or bottles that are marked as BPA-free.
Did you know that many food storage packaging, such as cans, contain BPA in their linings?
Our very own Lucy Bee Coconut Oil comes in handy, recyclable glass jars that are as good for your body as the coconut oil that’s inside! Each of our jars are made to the highest standard, including the lids and the liners inside – these are with a BPA-Non Intent design, which is the highest quality available and free from BPA.
Ditch Plastic Water
While it may seem healthy when you’re glugging down a refreshing bottle of chilled water, it may not be as good for you as you think. Plastic bottles aren’t just a risk to the environment but to our health, too. Next time, try buying a BPA-free reusable bottle and fill up as you go.
Put Down the Cling Film
Cling film is a pretty handy invention, keeping your leftovers fresh and delicious, yet it’s another item you may want to steer clear of in future. Instead of plastic wrap (and, let’s face it, we only get it tangled in knots anyway!) try wrapping up lunches in waxy baking paper instead.
Read the Label
Wherever you can, always read the label before buying! We recommend that you check the plastic symbols and avoid any containing chemicals including numbers 3 (PVC and vinyl), 6 (polystyrene foam) and 7 (can contain BPA).
If this has given you some pause for thought, you may like to read further:
About Lucy Bee Limited
Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health.
The views and opinions expressed in videos and articles on the Lucy Bee website/s or social networking sites are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of Lucy Bee Limited.
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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.