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Plastics: The Sixth Food Group

Posted By Administration, Friday, September 17, 2010
Updated: Friday, April 18, 2014

by Ali Meschi, PhD, CNC

392577074_58467553b4_bPlastics, plastics, plastics everywhere.  Since the chemical dawn (Green Revolution) in World War I era the plastics have been everywhere, and we are just beginning to comprehend how chemicals in plastic affect and interfere with our health. Some of these chemicals are:

Phthalates are synthetic chemicals commonly found in food wraps, inks, adhesives, and vinyl floor coverings, some paints and of course most plastics used in daily life. Phthalates are plasticizers used to make plastic products more flexible. Their effects on human health are increasingly coming into question of alternative health care providers and the public. The offspring of female rats exposed to phthalates demonstrated a variety of abnormalities. “Most striking were their effects as androgen (male hormone) blockers in male offspring, which included a reduction of testosterone levels and abnormalities in a male productive tract.” A higher risk of miscarriage was observed among women exposed to high levels of phthalates.

The effects of hormone disrupting chemicals that leach out of plastic products has been the center of study at the University of Missouri for sometime. Bisphenol-A, an ingredient in the lining of metal food cans, polycarbonate water jugs, and dental sealants applied to children’s teeth, was found to alter the developments of male reproductive organs in mouse studies using amounts comparable to what humans currently ingest. Coating children’s teeth with Bisphenol-A to prevent dental cavities is being done by ever increasing numbers of dentists around the country, meanwhile researchers in Spain have found these substances can be an estrogen mimic compound which could cause cancer. Researchers at Tufts School of Medicine found saliva from Bisphenol-A treated patients to be estrogenic, however American Dental Association continues to defend the practice.

Man & Mouse
The Prostate glands of male mice were permanently enlarged, when their mothers were exposed to extreme dosage of Bisphenol-A (2 PPB). When doses reached to 20 parts per billion, daily sperm production was permanently decreased by 20%. This raises a valid question of relationship between human’s exposure to plastic chemicals and prostate problems, fertility problems, birth defects and cancer.

Would you like some Styrene with your coffee Mam?
Styrofoam cups and meat trays do more than just keeping your coffee hot and your meat neatly packaged. Nearly as pervasive as coffee break itself, white “plastic” or “foam” styrene cups outgas toxic chemicals into the coffee. As endocrine disrupters they are increasingly suspected of contributing to breast cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid and other glandular problems. One study of fat biopsies from human subjects conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found styrene residues in 100 percent of the samples tested. Fat in humans and other mammals serves as a storage sites for many toxic chemicals which bioaccumulate over time, leaching out many years later, causing damage to cancer protecting genes. If more money were put into this area of cancer study instead of additional ways to use chemotherapy and radiation, we might make some headway in understanding cancer causation and prevention. Meat and cheese on styrene trays wrapped in clear plastic easily absorb lipid-loving chemicals from the packaging materials. Chemicals from styrene trays and some brands of plastic wrap easily migrate into foods with a high fat content. Removing foods from these packaging materials immediately after purchasing is strongly recommended. As a ritual it would be wise to substitute Styrofoam cups with washable ceramic mugs, this is both environmentally friendly and a good pro-health choice.


Plasticizers in plastic wrap migrate
Of seven brands tested by Consumer Reports, Reynolds Wrap and Saran Wrap contained some of the five plasticizers being tested. Studies indicate some plasticizers migrate into food at points of contact, even during refrigeration. Some cheese wrapped plastic was found to contain as high as 50 to 160 parts per million of the adipate plasticizer, DEHA. Waxed cheese with clear plastic overwrap found to have one to four parts per million of the common phthalate, DEHP. Consumers may wish to rewrap store bought cheese with waxed paper, or buy cheese cut to order at a deli and ask to have it wrapped in waxed paper.

Microwaveable plastics
Concerned consumers should avoid using plastic containers and plastic wrap in the microwave. Although manufacturers imply safety of the plastic container as “microwave safe”, the food safety when plastic is heated is a great concern. Dr. Carlos Sonnenschien of the Tufts University School of Medicine has been studying the chemical migration from plastics for over two decades. I strongly recommend substituting lead free glass or ceramic ware for microwave use. He became aware of this problem when studying blood samples that appeared to have been contaminated with a substance that caused an estrogenic effect in the blood cells. After tracking every possible source of contamination they concluded estrogen mimicking chemicals were leaching out of the new variety of plastic vials in which the blood was stored.

Is it “white- enamel” or is it simply plastic lined cans?
An increasing number of foods such as pumpkin, beets, chick peas and even chopped clams are packed in plastic lined cans, with no label information giving any clue. This can be shocking to find out that even some organic food producers such as Muir Glenn “organic” tomatoes are packed in plastic lined cans. A close inspection of the Muir Glen label revealed a sentence indicating the contents were “packed in lead-free white enamel-lined cans.” And not mentioning anything about Bisphenol-A on the label. An explanation of the difference between “white-enamel” and plastic lining did not offer any information from Muir Glen other than they are aware of the controversy surrounding the issue, and a statement from the National Food Processors Association’s position on Bisphenol-A: “most scientific authorities agree that there is no need for public health concern about cans lined with epoxy coating to help preserve their contents. Muir Glen which is now owned by General Mills, indicated that “enamel” was used “to avoid tinny taste.”

“Plastics, An important part of your healthy Diet”
An advertisement from the American P
lastics Council in National Geographic Magazine (2000), suggests that plastics could be thought of the as “the Sixth basic food group.”  “Oh, you certainly wouldn’t eat them, but plastic packaging does help protects our food in many ways,” assures the ad.

Maybe plastic does delay spoilage, however we are indeed eating plastic chemicals. Unknown to most consumers, many foods leach chemical from plastic packaging materials and plastic microwave containers. In addition, children are being exposed to chemicals from their plastic baby bottles, and teething rings to plastic toys. Perhaps plastic truly has become the sixth basic food group after all.

A flurry of studies show “the effects of Phthalates as an endocrine disrupter on the male reproductive system. Phthalates do their damage as anti-androgens, by blocking testosterone, and therefore inducing feminization symptoms in male lab rats.

Tags:  food and drink  plastic 

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