The two most common and well-studied plastic compounds are phthalates and bisphenols.

Generally speaking, bisphenols are used to make plastics hard, and phthalates are used to make plastics soft.

Bisphenols can be found in furniture, baby bottles, the lining of cans, plastic cutlery, and writing utensils.

Phthalates are usually found in single-use plastic bottles, takeout containers, plastic storage containers, apparel, industrial tubing, and straws.

These chemicals aren’t always in plastic, either.

Store receipts the kind you can write on with your fingernail are covered with bisphenol, and synthetic fragrances used in cleaning and personal care products are often created using phthalates.

Of the bisphenols, bisphenol A, or BPA, is the most well-known and is commonly associated with food packages and reusable water bottles.

Increasing consumer concerns around BPA have led many manufacturers to remove it from their products and label them “BPA-free,” but that doesn’t mean they are free from related compounds.

Some manufacturers are now using bisphenol S (BPS).

Far less research has been done on BPS, but it likely has similar effects on the body to BPA.

It began in the early 1900s when researchers were looking for a hormone replacement that would alleviate menstrual cramps and symptoms of menopause and pregnancy (hot flashes and nausea, for example), and could be used in the prevention of miscarriages.

In the mid-1930s, a medical researcher at the University of London named Edward Charles Dodds discovered a candidate in a chemical that had been synthesized in Germany thirty years prior.

It was bisphenol A, which seemed to mimic the female sex hormone oestrogen.

An oestrogen replacement would add tremendous value to society.

It would help alleviate the complaints of millions of women.

For that purpose, BPA had almost seemed like a homemade miracle chemical until researchers discovered a far more powerful synthetic oestrogen called diethylstilbesterol, or DES.

Around the same time, it was discovered that BPA had an alternate use with serious commercial potential.

It could be used as the chemical backbone for an inexpensive material that was almost as hard as steel and as clear as glass: plastic.

DES was brought to market as a drug, and BPA was routed to manufacturing instead.

In the decades that followed, these two chemicals went on to saturate our lives.

DES was injected into millions of women, and plastics made with BPA exploded in the marketplace.

We could suddenly fill our homes and lives with products of any size and type, and BPA made them inexpensive, easy to clean, shatterproof, and heat resistant.

In product after product, market after market, plastics challenged traditional materials and won, taking the place of steel in cars, paper and glass in packaging, and wood in furniture.

But there was a problem.

Many compounds are brought to market only later to be revealed as damaging.

Some of history’s biggest failures include lead-based paints, asbestos building insulation, and partially hydrogenated fats.

DES, the chemically similar sibling to BPA, had a comparable fate.

It initially appeared to be a benign and exciting reproductive technology, but in the long run [DES] had profound and damaging consequences for women.

Producing a Drug for Women.

For girls exposed while in their mothers’ wombs, DES dramatically increased the risk of uterine malformations and rare vaginal cancers.

DES was finally banned from use in 1971, but BPA persevered.

We now know that food and beverages stored in plastic made with BPA can leach this estrogenic compound.

It’s found in the dust created by our carpets, electronics, and furniture.

It commonly coats those heat-sensitive store register receipts, entering our bodies via our skin and hand-to-mouth behaviour.

For these reasons, 93 percent of people now have measurable amounts of BPA in their urine, with higher levels found in obese people.

The figures for phthalates are no more heartening.

While our exposure to our dose is far lower than a syringe full of DES, BPA, like other endocrine disruptors, may be biologically active even at tiny doses.

The FDA argues that BPA is safe, but the Endocrine Society, which publishes the leading peer-reviewed journals for hormone science around the world, disagrees, insisting that policymakers have overlooked, or altogether ignored, low-dose toxicity effects.

It doesn’t help that BPA-testing standards haven’t been updated in over twenty years.4

One thing is clear:

The safest level of BPA or phthalate exposure is none.

Yet trying to avoid these chemicals completely is bound to be a frustrating (and futile) effort.

The good news is that thanks to our bodies’ detoxification pathways, these chemicals do not last very long once inside of us.

Therefore, reducing your exposure to these fake oestrogen compounds is likely to have a meaningful impact as your system of hormones and receptors recalibrates.

Here are some guiding principles that might be of help:

  • Never microwave or reheat food in plastic.

Heat accelerates the leaching of BPA and phthalates into your food, which is why you should never cook or store hot food in plastic. Always keep your plastic containers out of hot environments like your dishwasher, the sun, and your car.

  • Minimize consumption of foods and beverages sold in plastic containers.

Drinking out of a plastic bottle or cup won’t kill you, but try to buy your liquids out of glass whenever possible. You don’t know how that plastic container was stored before ending up in your hands. It could have been sitting in a truck’s hot cargo bed for days, weeks, or even months! Minimize consumption of canned foods and drinks. The interior linings of cans are often made of BPA (yes, this includes canned beverages like sodas and seltzers). Removing all cans from your life won’t be practical, but if you can at least cut down, you’re ahead of the game. Acidic foods like tomatoes are especially likely to lead to leaching.

  • Avoid sous vide cooking.

This method involves cooking your food in a plastic bag placed in boiling water. Many restaurants keep food warm using this method. Remember that even BPA-free bags contain alternate plasticizing chemicals, and there is no reason to believe that they are safe.

  • Eat at home more often.

As a result of food prep and storage, restaurants are a major source of phthalates and bisphenols. A study of over ten thousand people found that adults who had eaten the most food away from home had on average 35 percent higher levels of phthalates in their blood the next day.5 Concentrations were higher (55 percent) for adolescents, probably due to greater fast-food consumption.

  • Replace plastic storage containers with glass or ceramic.

Glass and ceramic not only can be used to cook but are easy to clean, dishwasher safe and look nicer. Don’t worry about the lids unless they come in contact with your food.

  • Minimize the use of plastic cutlery, plates, and cups.

Not only will the environment appreciate it, but it will reduce exposure to plasticizers like BPA, phthalates, and styrene (an endocrine disruptor and carcinogen).

  • Avoid fragranced products.

This includes most dish soaps, laundry detergents, fabric softeners and fresheners, deodorizers, and personal care products. Instead, look for fragrance-free products or products scented naturally with plant-based essential oils.

  • Toss old containers.

Plastics degrade with time, so if you’ve had plastic containers sitting in your cupboards for years and they’re showing signs of wear and tear, it might serve you to toss them.

  • Skip the receipt.

Unless it’s a major purchase, forgo the receipt. If you need it, wash your hands soon after. Always encourage children to do the same.

Plastic tea bag? Move oolong! A Canadian research team found that steeping a single plastic tea bag released around 12 billion microplastic and 3 billion nanoplastic particles, yielding 16 micrograms of ingestible plastic per cup. Opt for paper tea bags or loose-leaf brewing methods instead.

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