Plastic and Your Health | What You Might Not Know

by Emily Carlstrom

A breakdown of plastic additives, endocrine disruptors and your hormone system.

I’m not sure if it’s just us, but it seems like 2018’s Plastic Free July was the biggest yet. The level of involvement from the general public through to large corporations was incredible. It has given us renewed motivation to keep doing what we’re doing and filled us with so much hope for the earth’s future.

However, with this year’s Plastic Free July been and gone, we thought we should bring attention to another aspect of our society’s overwhelming dependency on plastic. The negative health effects that plastic is having on our bodies.

It can be a complex topic at times, so we’ve done the research and broken it down for everyone in the form of answers to some of the most common questions were hear.


What’s all the fuss about BPA?

BPA is short for Bisphenol A and is used in the manufacturing process to make plastics strong. Until a few years ago it was commonly used in most plastics - especially drinking vessels - and is often still found in epoxy resins that coat the insides of tinned foods. BPA has a long history of use, being discovered way back in 1891, though wasn’t used as a plastic additive until the 1950s.

Before it was used to make plastics, BPA was tested as a potential source of artificial estrogen due to BPA’s ability to mimic the the effects of natural estrogen. BPA has long been suspected as an Endocrine Disruptor due to its effect of triggering estrogenic pathways in the body. However it was only until last year that the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) officially classified bisphenol A as an endocrine disruptor and a ‘substance of very high concern’ [1]. This was the first time that BPA had been officially declared as an endocrine disruptor by a major government agency.


What on earth are Endocrine Disruptors?

Endocrine Disruptors are compounds that interfere with human hormone systems and have been found to [2]:

  • Mimic or partly mimic naturally occurring hormones in the body like estrogens (the female sex hormone), androgens (the male sex hormone), and thyroid hormones, potentially producing overstimulation.
  • Bind to a receptor within a cell and block the endogenous hormone from binding. The normal signal then fails to occur and the body fails to respond properly. Examples of chemicals that block or antagonize hormones are anti-estrogens and anti-androgens.
  • Interfere or block the way natural hormones or their receptors are made or controlled, for example, by altering their metabolism in the liver.

    Why is the hormone system so important?

    Hormones are unique chemical messengers that control most of our major bodily functions. From hunger to reproduction, sexual function to metabolism, growth to development - hormones have an incredibly important role to play in the normal functioning of our body.

    Hormones are produced via glands in the endocrine system. The main hormone producing glands and their functions are as follows:

    • Hypothalamus: temperature regulation, sleep, sex drive, hunger and moods.
    • Thymus: produces T-cells and plays a role in the function of the adaptive immune system.
    • Adrenal: sex drive and cortisol (stress hormone).
    • Parathyroid: calcium levels in the body.
    • Thyroid: energy expenditure and heart-rate.
    • Pancreas: produces insulin that regulates blood sugar levels.
    • Pineal: produces serotonin derivatives of melatonin (affects sleep)
    • Ovaries: produces the female sex hormones - estrogen, testosterone and progesterone.
    • Testes: produces the male sex hormones - testosterone.
    • Pituitary: controls other glands and produces hormones that trigger growth.

    When hormones are balanced and working properly, the body thrives. However, it doesn’t take much to put your hormone system out of order. That’s where endocrine-disruptors come in. As the name suggests, endocrine disruptors inhibit the normal functioning of the endocrine system and the production and function of hormones. Endocrine Disruptors have long been suspected to be associated with altered reproductive function in males and females; increased incidence of breast cancer, abnormal growth patterns and neurodevelopmental delays in children, as well as changes in the immune system [3].


    So are BPA-free products fine?

    Unfortunately not. While it is all the rage to avoid products containing BPA, the truth is that it is just one of a host of plastic additives that have been found to be potentially harmful to our health. Phthalates, a plasticizer used to make plastics more flexible, has been shown in a recent study to be linked with a 20% increase in the time it took for couples to conceive - delays comparable to those seen with cigarette smoking or obesity [4]. In the meantime, bisphenol S (BPS) and bisphenol F (BPF) which are used largely as BPA alternatives, have been found to reduce testosterone secretion in human testes [5].


    How do these additives get from the plastic to my food or drink?

    These plastic nasties reach our food and drink through a process called leaching. Leaching occurs when plastic is mechanically damaged (crushed, scratched, torn) or exposed to heat and UV radiation. A recent study exposed a plastic bottle of water to normal levels of UV radiation over the course of 60 days. At the end of the study, the control bottle that had not been exposed to UV had a concentration of only 20 ng/L, whereas the UV-exposed water bottle had a BPA concentration of 600 ng/L [6]. That’s 3000% more than the control bottle!


    So how can I reduce my exposure to plastic additives?

    Well, the easiest way is to just avoid using plastic products. Especially when it comes to food or drink containers. Swap out reusable plastic tupperware containers for the glass ones. Use a stainless steel or glass water bottle instead of reusing bottled water bottles and BPA-free water bottles. Avoid wrapping food in cling wrap. Instead invest in some beeswax wraps or sandwich pouches. Look for alternatives to ziplock bags like our reusable silicone ziplock bags.

    If you absolutely insist on using reusable plastic products, please avoid excess heat at all costs. This means not leaving your water bottle to bake in your car all day, nuking your plastic takeaway container in the microwave or putting plastic products through the dishwasher. This heat will only accelerate the leaching process and ensure a greater concentration of plastic additives ends up in your foods and into your body.


     We hope this was informative and has given you yet another reason to ditch single-use plastics for safer sustainable alternatives. 

    You can shop Kappi's range of alternatives to single-use plastics here.

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