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The Villages
Thursday, February 22, 2024

Plastics in our food supply can cause harm

Dr. Gabe Mirkin

Exposure to plastics can disrupt human hormones to increase risk for obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, birth defects, nerve damage, death and more. The Endocrine Society estimates the costs of this harm from plastics to be more than $250 billion per year (J of the Endocrine Society, Jan 11, 2024;8(2):bvad163). In April 2022, the Environmental Defense Fund sent a letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking them to again consider removing the plastic BPA (bisphenol A) from can liners, plastic bottles and anything else that comes in contact with, and can leach into, foods and beverages. They quoted extensive research showing how harmful BPA may really be, and stated that there is no longer a reasonable certainty of safety. The Environmental Defense Fund is a coalition of physicians, scientists and public health and environmental organizations interested in protecting health. BPA is a chemical that has been used to make plastics used for can liners and other packaging of foods and drinks since 1950 (J Steroid Biochem Mol Biol, 2011 Oct;127(1-2):27-34).

Almost all cans contain plastic liners to prevent the metals in cans from leaching into the stored foods. Manufacturers of cans used for food put BPA into plastics to make them clear and strong. Many other bisphenols (called BPA replacements) are chemically similar to BPA. These plastics are also in all plastic bottles, particularly water bottles. Any plastic water bottles you drink from may contain BPA. Realize that North Americans consistently have BPA in their organs (Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol, 2019;125(S3):14-31) and 92.6 percent of North Americans have traces of BPA in their urine. Canned foods are felt to be one of the main sources of BPA, adding up to 6.6 micrograms per person per day of BPA (Environmental Health Perspectives, Jan 1, 2008).

How BPAs Can Harm You
BPAs are broken down by your liver into structures that can stimulate hormone receptors in your body (Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol, 2019;125(S3):14-31). BPAs can stimulate estrogen receptors to cause changes in cell proliferation that lead to cancer development and progression (Medicine (Baltimore), Jan 2015;94(1):e211). BPAs have been shown to adversely affect brain development in mice (Environ Res, 2008;108(2):150-157). Elevated blood levels of BPA are associated with increased risk for obesity, multiple miscarriages, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and endometrial hyperplasia (Int J Endocrinol, Apr 10, 2019;4068717). Many products labeled “BPA free” still contain bisphenol S (Environmental Health Perspectives, 2015;123(7):643-650), which may have the same endocrine-disrupting effects as BPA (Nutrients, 2020 Feb 19;12(2):532).

Because of the known concerns about BPA, many can manufacturers are making liners from acrylic, polyester, non-BPA epoxies, or olefin polymers. Most of these liners have not been evaluated for safety. Some can manufacturers may still be using PVC, a known carcinogen. Plastics contain many other chemicals that can disrupt human hormones, such as:
• polybrominated diphenylethers in flame retardant additives
• phthalates in food packaging
• other bisphenols in can linings
• perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances in nonstick cookware

Plastic Dishes and Water Bottles
A study from Copenhagen found more than 400 different substances from bottle plastic, and more than 3,500 substances derived from dishwasher soap in reusable plastic bottles stored for 24 hours after being washed in a dishwasher (Journal of Hazardous Materials, May 5, 2022;429:128331). The water stored in plastic bottles contained endocrine disruptors (Environ Sci Technol, 2016;50 (1):97-104), carcinogens (Packag Technol Sci, 2015;28(5):461-474), insecticides (Environ Health Perspect, Sep 2009;117(9):1368-1372), plastic softeners, antioxidants and release agents used in the manufacture of the plastic, as well as Diethyltoluamide (DEET), found in mosquito sprays. Many of the chemicals came from the dishwasher soap and the plastic bottles themselves because the dishwasher causes the release of these chemicals from the plastic.

Government Attempts to Limit Plastic Exposure
In 2008, the FDA claimed that bisphenol A (BPA) was safe at the very low levels that occur in some foods and so far, the FDA has not issued general regulations to restrict BPAs in materials that package foods. In 2012, the FDA banned the use of BPA in baby bottles and infant formulas. Many manufacturers of plastic food packaging products do not use BPA, but today more than 10 percent of canned foods still contain BPA.

My Recommendations
• Limit processed foods that use plastics in their packaging. BPA is still being found in plastic wrappers, cans, jars, bottles and lids (Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management, March 31, 2022).
• Buy fresh or frozen foods. Frozen foods are usually frozen before they are packaged, and frozen food packaging is generally made of safer plastics.
• Never heat food in its plastic packaging. Heating releases large amounts of BPA (J Health Science, August 2002;48(4)).
• Use glass, porcelain or stainless-steel storage containers instead of those made from plastics.
• Do not put plastic containers in the microwave or dishwasher. A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics warns parents not to put plastic storage containers, sippy cups or other plastic products in the dishwasher or microwave because chemicals leached out by the heat can contaminate food that is placed in the container later (Pediatrics, August 2018).
• If you carry a refillable water bottle during exercise, replace your plastic bottle with one made of stainless steel. Avoid water or other beverages in plastic bottles. Glass is best, but breaks easily. Next best is stainless steel because it does not leach significant metals into plain water, tea, coffee or milk. However, chromium and nickel can be leached into beverages with high acidity such as fruit juices (Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, Aug 1994;53:259-266).
• If you often use a particular type of canned food, look for a brand that is labeled BPA-free. If it is not labeled, send a letter to the manufacturer to ask whether they still use BPA.

 Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com

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