Plastic is the perfect representation of our modern lives—it shows up everywhere. It’s wrapped around our food, it’s in our phones, our cars, sunglasses, children’s toys, pens . . . everything. We use it daily, not really considering where it came from, how it affects our lives, or where it goes after we’re finished with it. It’s all part of this fast-paced, disposable lifestyle that’s become the norm of the modern world.
It’s no secret that plastic is a man-made substance. But did you know that it never breaks down and very little of it gets recycled? It’s filling our oceans, killing the sea life, filling massive trash dumps around the world and creating huge personal health issues. Few of us truly realize how plastic is rapidly destroying the ecosystems of the world. If we did, none of us would use it.
I recently read an article in the Washington Post called The Bizarre Way the U.S. Regulates Chemicals: letting them on the market first, then maybe studying them. In our world today, we act now and think later. And too often by the time we realize the repercussions of these actions, the damage has already been done. Plastic is the perfect example of this.
While there are literally thousands of reasons to quit the use of plastic, I’ve boiled it down to the top four I feel are the most relevant in our daily lives.
# 1. Plastic is Straight-Up Toxic
Simply put: plastic is extremely toxic. It contains phthalates, heavy metals, dioxins, BPA (Bisphenol –A), and additives. While all of these chemicals are poisonous, phthlatates are especially dangerous.
Phthalates are now considered the number-one pollutant in the human body. They are found everywhere—in plastics, pesticides, detergents, cosmetics, medications, even your shampoo. It’s been estimated that toxicity from phthalates is over 10,000 times higher than any other toxin in our body. But sadly, it’s difficult to completely avoid them.
Here’s how phthalates affect you:
- Damages fatty acids in the body, especially DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). This is the fatty acid that makes up the brain and cell walls.
- Damages the hormonal systems, especially the thyroid and testosterone.
- Creates a zinc deficiency which compromises digestion, enzyme usage, and causes chronic inflammation.
- Lowers sulfation of the liver, decreasing the body’s ability to detoxify.
#2. Plastic Causes Hormone Dysfunction
All plastics, especially when heated, give off a noxious, diabolical substance known as xenohormones. Xenohormones are arguably the most heinous byproduct of our industrialized society.
Their danger is disquieting because of their fat-soluble nature and quick absorption through the lungs and skin. Most have estrogen-like effects on the body, resulting in feminized men with breasts and weight gain in women. They lack biodegradability, thus forever accumulating and persisting in our environment. Xenohormones are perhaps the most nefarious substances of the modern industrial world.
The impact they have on embryonic and fetal development should be criminal. Our future generations’ chance for a normal and happy life is maliciously attacked even before they are born.
A direct effect of xenohormones is the decrease and destruction of sexual expression. When subjected to xenohormoes in laboratory testing, animals are bizarrely affected and born with either no sexual parts or both sexual organs. They have been shown to affect gender in amphibians, reptiles, and mammals. Birds lay eggs whose shells are too thin for nesting. The effects are sad to see, and should inspire a driving force to clean up the environment.
The human body is seriously affected hormonally upon significant xenohormonic exposure. Studies have shown that children are reaching puberty much earlier when exposed. We are seeing children as young as five years of age with pubic hair and adult sexual features. They artificially stimulate certain hormones (mostly estrogen) to be overproduced and activate hormone receptors without the hormones actually activating those changes, simultaneously blocking other hormone receptors. So even if you have appropriate hormone levels or are taking a heroic dose of hormones, they can’t do their job if they can’t even reach the cell.
Too often I have patients come in with thyroid disorders who are prescribed thyroid medication (levothorine, armor, T4) to normalize their blood work. But this does not make a change at the cellular level. For a hormone to work, it must pass through the cell, and unite with the correct receptor. Because of genetic changes created by xenohormones, nutritional deficiencies, and the poor state of the cellular environment, many of the receptors cannot be activated by the hormone, so the hormone has no effect.
These xenohormones create changes at the DNA level and alter the expression of our hormone system.
A Study done at the University of Texas in Austin showed that 70% of plastics leach chemicals. This is before they are exposed to sunlight, dishwashing, microwaving and other real-world conditions. The lead researcher, George Bittner, says, “All plastics released chemicals having estrogenic activity,” but when heated, “You greatly increase the probability that you’re going to get chemicals having estrogenic activity released.” He went on to say that 95% of products tested positive to these chemicals when heated and sometimes “BPA-free” products produced even more chemicals. High estrogen levels lead to weight gain and infertility in both men and women.
#3. No Plastic Is Safe
Trying to say there is safe plastic is like trying to say that there are safe matches for children to play with.
One of the first chemicals in plastic to be researched that causes an entire host of health issues is BPA.
One study done at NYU School of Medicine directed by Dr. Leonardo Trasende, who is a professor of pediatrics and environmental medicine, showed how many of us are already toxic in BPA. He measured 2,800 American children and teens – over 92 percent of the subjects had BPA chemicals in their urine. He also was able to show that those with the highest levels were 2.6 times more likely to be obese even after taking into account diet and exercise.
Why, you ask? Because the body has no place to store this crap other than in fat.
BPA exposure is strongly associated with subsequent behavior problems. Another study led by Joe Braun, a research fellow at Harvard School of Public Health, showed that BPA exposure is associated with “anxious, depressive and hyperactive behaviors related to impaired behavioral regulation at three years of age.”
When research continued to come out about BPA, many plastic manufactures replaced it with BPS (Bisphenol S). BPS also has the same estrogen-like effects that BPA has. In a 2013 study in Texas, researchers found that as little as one part per trillion of BPS can interfere in the normal functioning of cells and in some cases leads to cell death.
To quote Reproductive Endocrinologist Nancy Wayne when referring to the side effects of BPS: “Our findings are frightening and important.”
As the research will continue to come out, we’ll find more issues with BPS. When BPS becomes so widely known that plastic manufactures can’t hide the side effects, they’ll come out with a new chemical to replace it. Then it will take another 10 years to find all the side effects with the new chemical.
#4. Plastic Never Goes Away
Do you remember the plastic Coke bottle that you drank two years ago? Probably not but your children’s children will. They’re going to say, “What should I do with all these plastic bottles my grandparents drank?” When they go to the beach in 100 years and they are full of plastic, they are going to give us a big middle finger.
Most of us believe that we inherited this world from our ancestors, but in actuality we’re just borrowing it from our children and grandchildren. When plastic begins to break down it doesn’t biodegrade. Instead it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces where birds and fish eat them. The industry refers to these as mermaid tears. Many beaches in the Pacific are buried with feet of this stuff.
What kind of world do you want to leave behind? What do you want your legacy to be? Is convenience worth destroying the planet?
I could go on forever on this topic, but the bottom line is that plastic (all types) is beyond toxic to the planet and to our health.
Recommendations to Avoid Plastic
Here are my recommendations for you in this modern world to try to keep yourself safe:
- Never buy any food wrapped in plastic. This includes soda and water bottles.
- Never heat plastic. Don’t ever put plastic in the microwave or eat or drink hot food out of plastic. Don’t ever put plastic wrap over your food before you heat it. Heat your food in glass and preferably in the oven.
- Don’t eat any food that is not organic, as phthalates are part of the industrial food growing system.
- Take extra EPA/DHA and zinc to reduce the effects of plastic on your hormone system and cellular function.
 Anthony L. Andrady, ed. Plastics and the Environment. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2003.
 By Puneet Kollipara March 19, 2015
 E.S. Stevens. Green Plastics: An Introduction to the New Science of Biodegradeable Plastics. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2002.