Sunday, October 5, 2008

Plastics & The Brain

It is now common knowledge that ingredients in many plastics (especially when heated) may affect the growth and development of our children's brains. They can even lead to inflammation, increasing risk of diabetes and heart disease.[1] Research is showing these chemicals (Bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates and flame retardants (PBDEs)) can affect mood, cognition, and our endocrine system.[2,3,4]

From our own personal experience, some children are simply more sensitive to some effects than others. Our own daughter was found to be quite sensitive to the endocrine system disrupting effects, and was sent to an endocrinologist about it-- SIXTEEN years ago!

I find it mind-boggling that this number of years have passed and doctors, scientists, legislators and especially plastics manufacturer lobbyists, are still debating the topic on whether or not to place any bans on the chemicals involved, and if so, what to ban the chemicals from. Baby toys? Baby bottles and sippy cups? Plastics used in contact with foods we heat up? Plastics storing foods? Everything?

Sixteen years ago, we were told that we had to eliminate heated plastics from the life of our little girl. No more putting hot food on plastic plates, no more sticking frozen meats wrapped in plastic and Styrofoam in the microwave. No more putting hot chocolate in a plastic mug. Now-a-days people may think, "GROSS! You put plastics in the microwave!?" But you have to understand--this was 16 years ago. The dangers of plastics was not yet "common knowledge." It was largely unheard of. Colleagues at work were boiling water in plastic and Styrofoam cups in the microwave at a time when we refused to let our daughter stick a plastic spoon into a warm drink in the cafeteria where I worked.

Now, we read about these chemicals everywhere we turn, like this one in "Medical News Today": Critical Health Risks From Plastic Revealed By 6 Environmental Research Studies
Plastic products contain "endocrine disrupting chemicals" that can block the production of the male sex hormone testosterone (phthalates used in PVC plastic), mimic the action of the sex hormone estrogen (bisphenol A or BPA used in polycarbonate plastic), and interfere with thyroid hormone (brominated flame retardants or PBDEs used in many types of plastic).

We made the changes in our life, and people then asked, "Isn't that a hardship?" It is quite funny how conveniences such as thawing foods in their packaging in the microwave quickly become "necessities." But we did not feel it was an "inconvenience". It quickly became just a part of our life. No plastics used in connection with heated food.

Apparently, we could have done more, but at least we did that.

And it worked. At least the physical signs of endocrine system disruption that our tiny little girl displayed diminished. But what were the long-term effects? We'll never know for sure what, if any, effect it had in the long-run. But at least we could see that simply elimination of it could reverse some of those adverse effects.

Here are some quotes from the Washington Post [5]

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Yale team exposed monkeys to levels of bisphenol A deemed safe for humans by the Environmental Protection Agency and found that the chemical interfered with brain cell connections vital to memory, learning and mood.

Note that the study used the actual slow, low-dose continuous exposure that we are typically exposed to.

"Our findings suggest that exposure to low-dose BPA may have widespread effects on brain structure and function," the authors wrote. In contrast to earlier research on rodents, the Yale researchers studied monkeys to better approximate the way BPA might affect humans.

They found that BPA was in the urine of almost everyone in the U.S.A. (93% of the population).

Whose fault is this?

"Unfortunately the regulatory agency charged with protecting the public health continues to rely on industry-based research to arrive at its conclusions, rather than examining the totality of scientific evidence," Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement yesterday. His committee is investigating the FDA's handling of BPA.

The problem is not with plastic, but only certain chemicals used in the making of some of the plastics. For now, we have no labeling system in place for us to know whether an item is made with the chemicals we wish to avoid.

"The FDA's assurances of BPA's safety are out of step with mounting scientific evidence to the contrary," Markey said yesterday. "For the sake of the health of every man, woman and child in America, we should ban BPA in food and beverage containers, especially because there are alternatives already available."

But in the situation our family faced 16 years ago, it didn't matter whose fault, what the labelling was, etc. The urgent question for our family was what we were going to do about it in the here-and-now to protect our child. At the time, we thought it was our daughter's own unique sensitivity to plastics that was the problem. And I am sure that her own biological make-up did add to it--it at least gave us a visual warning that her endocrine system was being disrupted. Of course we could not see other things that might have been happening--the inflammation, affect on mood, cognition, or changes that could have led to heart disease and diabetes.

Maybe we were fortunate that the damage was not all invisible to us. We had a visual to go on. But 16 years have passed since then. Knowing what we know now about the invisible damage of these chemicals, our whole family, and many of our friends, now have implemented changes in how we utilize plastics in our daily lives--not just for our daughter's safety, but our own as well.


[1] Plastic Chemical Tied to Heart Disease and Diabetes Washington Post 16 Sep 2008

[2] Plastics chemical harms brain function in monkeys
Reuters Health Friday, September 05, 2008 Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 2, 2008.

[3] Critical Health Risks From Plastic Revealed By 6 Environmental Research Studies

[4] Phthalate exposure among pregnant women in Jerusalem, Israel: Results of a pilot study

[5] Chemical in Plastic Is Connected to Health Problems in Monkeys Washington Post 03 Sep 2008

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very informative, and pertinent to today's living! The more information the citizens have, perhaps then, they will be able to force our legislatures to "look out for the common man" vs. big business. Otherwise, citizens will continue to sacrifice their health to the profits of big business.