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Wellness

HOW PLASTICS ARE MAKING US SICK?

3rd July 2018
Anthia Koullouros

The planet is sagging under the weight of our waste. Each year, Aussie families throw away 100 kilos of plastic per household – and considering how light most packaging is, that’s a scary figure. It is estimated that 8300 million metric tons (mt) of virgin plastics have been produced to date. As of 2015, approximately 6300 million mt of plastic waste had been generated, around 9% of which had been recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% was accumulated in landfills or the natural environment. If current production and waste management trends continue, roughly 12,000 million mt of plastic waste will be in landfills or in the natural environment by 2050. Reference

FEASTING ON PLASTIC – IT NEVER REALLY GOES AWAY

Plastic we throw away never really goes away – it lives on in our food, our water, and our bodies. It’s virtually indestructible. Rather than breaking down, plastics simply become smaller and smaller, microplastics become nanoplastics, but they are all plastics, just of increasingly smaller size, polluting the environment, choking wildlife, allowing them to be more easily ingested and eventually re-entering our food supply and drinking water in a cyclic process. Images of rubbish-streaked fields, floating rafts of junk, and unlucky birds caught in bags are a daily heartbreak. Microscopic plastic particles pepper our seas and fill the bellies of livestock. Reference

We’re all feasting on plastic, whether we like it or not. And what for? Convenience? A cheaper price?

WHERE ARE THE PLASTICS COMING FROM?

  • Plastics contaminate plastic bottled water. A study found that 259 individual bottles from 27 different lots across 11 brands purchased from 19 locations in 9 countries found that 93% of bottled water showed some sign of microplastic contamination. Reference
  • Bisphenol A is a phenolic chemical which has been used for over 60 years in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins; in thermal paper production (receipts from the till); and as a polymerization inhibitor in the formation of some polyvinyl chloride plastics. Polycarbonates are used to make products such as compact discs, automobile parts, baby bottles, plastic dinnerware, eye glass lenses, toys, and impact-resistant safety equipment. Epoxy resins containing bisphenol A are used in protective linings of some canned food containers and jar caps, wine vat linings, epoxy resin-based paints, floorings, and some dental composites. Bisphenol A may enter the environment from industrial sources or from product leaching, disposal, and use. There are various routes of human exposure to this substance such as oral, by inhalation, transdermal and through breast milk.
  • When food is wrapped in plastic or placed in a plastic container and microwaved, BPA may leak into the food. Any migration is likely to be greater with fatty foods such as meats and cheeses than with other foods.
  • Fast food may be a source of exposure to Phthalates and bisphenol A. Reference

BPA-FREE PRODUCTS CAN STILL HAVE UNHEALTHY CHEMICALS
A BPA-free label doesn’t mean a product is free from other harmful chemical compounds that are slightly different but have a different name.

BPS and BPF. A study has shown that chemical replacements to BPA are also bisphenols and may have similar physiological effects in organisms. Bisphenol S (BPS) and bisphenol F (BPF) are two such BPA substitutes. Reference and reference

Phthalates are industrial chemicals that are added to plastics to impart flexibility and resilience and are often referred to as plasticizers. Phthalates are also used as solubilizing and stabilizing agents in other applications. There are numerous products that contain phthalates: adhesives; automotive plastics; detergents; lubricating oils; some medical devices such as hospital IV tubing and bags and pharmaceuticals; plastic raincoats; solvents; vinyl tiles and flooring; and personal-care products, such as soap, shampoo, deodorants, lotions, fragrances, hair spray, and nail polish. Phthalates are often used in polyvinyl chloride type plastics, such as plastic bags, garden hoses, inflatable recreational toys, blood product storage bags, intravenous medical tubing, and toys. Because they are not chemically bound to the plastics to which they are added, phthalates can be released into the environment during use or disposal of the product. Various phthalate esters have been measured in specific foods, indoor and ambient air, indoor dust, water sources, and sediments. Reference  Reference Reference

CUMULATIVE EXPOSURE = PLASTICS + OTHER CHEMICALS

Cumulative exposure over time is especially difficult to study, as different combinations of exposures can have different effects, and the possible combinations are seemingly endless, given the number of chemical products that are out there. One recent assessment by the National Food Institute at the Technical University of Denmark found that even small amounts of chemicals can amplify each other’s adverse effects when combined. As reported by the Institute: “A recently completed, four-year research project on cocktail effects in foods… has established that when two or more chemicals appear together, they often have an additive effect. This means that the cocktail effects can be predicted based on information from single chemicals, but also that small amounts of chemicals when present together can have significant negative effects.” Reference

HOW DO PLASTICS MAKE US SICK?

  • BPA acts as an endocrine or hormonal disruptor and oestrogen mimicker. BPA has been shown to interact with oestrogen receptors and to act as agonist or antagonist via oestrogen receptor (ER) dependent signaling pathways. Therefore, BPA has been shown to play a role in the pathogenesis of several endocrine disorders including female and male infertility (through decreasing sperm quality), puberty, hormone dependent tumours such as breast and prostate cancer and several metabolic disorders including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Reference Reference Reference Reference
  • BPA can cause problems with liver and kidney function. Studies examining the effects of very high doses of BPA in mice have shown that this can cause problems with liver and kidney function, and mammary gland development. While these studies involve much higher doses than the general public would ever be exposed to, there are concerns that the levels of BPA that accumulate in infants can still have adverse developmental consequences, leading to neuro behavioural and immune system abnormalities.
  • BPA and type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. Clinical studies on humans and preclinical studies on in vivo, ex vivo, and in vitro models indicate that BPA, mostly at low doses, may have a role in increasing type 2 diabetes mellitus developmental risk, directly acting on pancreatic cells, in which BPA induces the impairment of insulin and glucagon secretion, triggers inhibition of cell growth and apoptosis, and acts on muscle, hepatic, and adipose cell function, triggering an insulin-resistant state. Reference
  • BPA and cardiovascular disease. There is a potential relationship between BPA exposure and coronary artery disease due to potential alterations in cardiac function over a long period of time. Reference
  • BPA and sleep. There is a possible link between BPA and sleep adequacy among adults in the national health and nutrition examination surveys. Reference 
  • Phthalates, much like BPA, contribute to variety of conditions including weight gain, insulin resistance, decreased levels of sex hormones, and reproductive diseases in both females and males.
    • Phthalates and Hot flushes. During the menopausal transition, a woman’s reproductive capacity declines, her hormone milieu changes, and her risk of hot flashes increases. Exposure to phthalates, which can be found in personal care products, can also result in altered reproductive function Reference
    • Phthalates and Metabolic Syndrome. Higher concentrations of certain phthalate metabolites were associated with increased odds of Metabolic Syndrome. Reference
    • Phthalates and Erectile Dysfunction. An association of urinary phthalate metabolites with erectile dysfunction in racial and ethnic groups in the national health and nutrition examination were surveyed 2001-2004. Reference 

CHECK OUT THE NEXT BLOG POST – 10 WAYS TO REDUCE PLASTIC EXPOSURE