From food storage to toiletries, carry bags to water bottles, we’re quite dependent on plastic. There’s no question about the convenience, be it in their availability or the expense. But before you continue the mindless use of plastic containers, stop and think about what this might be doing to your health. Even if you’re particularly careful about your diet, just using plastic containers can be compromising your health. Here’s how the compounds in the seemingly harmless plastic containers can affect your health in the long run.
1. Daily Contact Leads To Health Issues
Plastics are harmful to your health in multiple ways because of compounds called phthalates. Phthalates are commonly used to increase the flexibility of plastics and are no good for you. Exposure to these compounds could be through inhalation, ingestion (via foods stored in containers), or skin absorption (through frequent contact). Even babies aren’t spared; when they chew on a teether, the mechanical pressure applied results in the release of phthalates, which then enter the body.1
Studies have not determined a safe level of exposure to phthalates. Unfortunately, you expose yourself to small quantities of phthalates on a daily basis. While there is not enough evidence available on the health risks of low levels of phthalates on humans, animal studies have found that exposure to phthalates leads to reproductive and genital defects, lower sperm count in adult males, low testosterone levels, and early onset of puberty.2
2. Harmful Compounds Can Leach Into The Food
Chemicals from the plastic containers can leach into the food or water that are stored. This is also a reason why microwaving food in plastic containers is not advisable as plastic has the tendency to release chemicals once heated. You get a similar reaction when plastic comes into contact with hot water, too.
Be it to wash or to store, keep hot water away from plastic as the chemicals thus released from plastic can mimic human estrogen and increase the risk of several diseases. Use glass or ceramic containers instead of plastic for microwaving and discard containers that are old and have been microwaved several times.3
Also, keep in mind the quality of the plastic containers that you do buy. Plastic items come with a number at the bottom of the product, to indicate the quality. Always go for the ones with the numbers 2, 4, and 5 as they are considered safe for food storage. Avoid using containers with the numbers 1, 3, and 7 as it can leach harmful chemicals like BPA (bisphenol A) or phthalates.
3. Plastic Harms The Environment
One of the major problems associated with plastic is that it is non-biodegradable, which means that it takes about 100 to 1000 years to degrade when used in landfills. It also pollutes the land, air, and water. Plastic bags floating on water bodies have been pushing aquatic life to near extinction.
Is the issue not hitting home? The phthalates in plastic can affect your reproductive ability. A 2003 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives observed semen and urine samples of 168 men from Massachusetts General Hospital Andrology Laboratory. The research found that the levels of phthalates in the environment can alter the DNA in the human sperm.4
Several human and animal studies published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine have also analyzed the link between phthalates exposure and reproductive development. Studies conducted on rodents have found that certain phthalates lead to reproductive tract developmental issues such as a decreased distance between the genitals and anus, malformations or absence in the tube that connects the testicle to the vas deferens, testicular lesions, and retention of thoracic nipples.5
4. Chemicals In Plastic Can Lead To Weight Gain
Plastic contains Bisphenol A (BPA), the compound that mimics estrogen in the human body. This property of BPA disturbs the body weight regulation and promotes weight gain and insulin resistance. Multiple studies conducted on both humans and animals show the link between BPA exposure with weight gain and obesity.6 7 8
A 2002 study published in the Journal of Lipid Research found that BPA exposure increased the number of fat cells in the body and the amount of fat produced and stored by the fat cells.9
Ways To Minimize The Risk Of Plastic Exposure
Avoiding plastic takes a lot of stubbornness to do good to your own health and the environment because plastic is everywhere. However, here are a few changes you could make to reduce the health risks associated with plastic exposure.
- Avoid placing plastic containers in the sun and place them in cool areas to prevent leaching.
- Take your own shopping bag instead of bringing one home everytime you buy something.
- Completely avoid storing foods and beverages plastic containers.
- Use glass bottles instead of plastic bottles, both for yourself and your baby.
Other than glass containers, porcelain, cloth food sacks, silicone, and stainless steel containers are safer alternatives to plastic that do not affect stored foods.
|↑1||Rustagi, Neeti, S. K. Pradhan, and Ritesh Singh. “Public health impact of plastics: an overview.” Indian journal of occupational and environmental medicine 15, no. 3 (2011): 100.|
|↑2, ↑5||Hauser, Russ, and A. M. Calafat. “Phthalates and human health.” Occupational and environmental medicine 62, no. 11 (2005): 806-818.|
|↑3||Microwaving food in plastic: Dangerous or not?. Harvard Health Publishing.|
|↑4||Duty, Susan M., Narendra P. Singh, Manori J. Silva, Dana B. Barr, John W. Brock, Louise Ryan, Robert F. Herrick, David C. Christiani, and Russ Hauser. “The relationship between environmental exposures to phthalates and DNA damage in human sperm using the neutral comet assay.” Environmental Health Perspectives 111, no. 9 (2003): 1164.|
|↑6||Carwile, Jenny L., and Karin B. Michels. “Urinary bisphenol A and obesity: NHANES 2003–2006.” Environmental research 111, no. 6 (2011): 825-830.|
|↑7||Wang, Tiange, Mian Li, Bing Chen, Min Xu, Yu Xu, Yun Huang, Jieli Lu et al. “Urinary bisphenol A (BPA) concentration associates with obesity and insulin resistance.” The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 97, no. 2 (2011): E223-E227.|
|↑8||Xu, Xiaobin, Luei Tan, Toshiyuki Himi, Miyuki Sadamatsu, Shunsuke Tsutsumi, Masashi Akaike, and Nobumasa Kato. “Changed preference for sweet taste in adulthood induced by perinatal exposure to bisphenol A—a probable link to overweight and obesity.” Neurotoxicology and teratology 33, no. 4 (2011): 458-463.|
|↑9||Masuno, Hiroshi, Teruki Kidani, Keizo Sekiya, Kenshi Sakayama, Takahiko Shiosaka, Haruyasu Yamamoto, and Katsuhisa Honda. “Bisphenol A in combination with insulin can accelerate the conversion of 3T3-L1 fibroblasts to adipocytes.” Journal of lipid research 43, no. 5 (2002): 676-684.|