Are Environmental Plastics Affecting Your Weight?
Plastic Free July offers a wealth of opportunities for improving your wellbeing, especially if achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is on your mind.
Plastic in the environment has received ongoing press in recent years. Whether it’s plastic straws injuring sea creatures, thin plastic bags creating piles of non-degradable landfill, or discarded gigantic plastic fishing nets littering the bottom of the ocean, our once-beneficial relationship with plastic products has taken a turn for the worse.
There is also a concerning impact on public health as some of the substances associated with plastics are known to disrupt the balance of your endocrine system. The phthalates, a large class of chemicals used to make flexible plastics and as additives in many household consumer products are at the centre of much of the research on endocrine disruptors. But how can they affect your health and your weight? And more importantly, is there a way to reduce this impact?
Let’s begin with a brief overview of the endocrine system and how these chemical disruptors affect it, before checking out the opportunities that a month such as Plastic Free July presents.
About The Endocrine System
The endocrine system is a coordinator and regulator of many of the essential functions in your body. It’s involved in growth; reproduction and embryo development; how you produce, use and store energy; how you balance and maintain the levels of water and electrolytes in your body; and even how you respond to frightening or exciting stimuli.
It uses a whole array of hormones to achieve these actions. Many of them will be familiar to you such as adrenaline, noradrenaline, oestrogen, testosterone, insulin, and thyroid hormone. Other hormones include ACTH (adrenocorticotrophic hormone) and ADH (antidiuretic hormone).
UNBALANCING THE SYSTEM WITH ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS
One of the things that endocrine disruptors (EDs) can do is interfere with how your hormones work. This can happen in one of 3 ways:
- Such chemicals can mimic your natural hormones and send out really strong signals at the wrong time. For example, an excess of adrenaline will leave you feeling jittery, wired or panicked for no reason. Remember, adrenaline is released as part of your fight/flight stress response.
- EDs could bind to hormone receptors and prevent your natural hormones from having a sufficient effect. For instance, imagine if an ED settled on your oestrogen receptors. This would decrease your oestrogen activity and gave the potential to impact your fertility, bone density or weight.
- EDs may even interfere with the way your natural receptors and hormones are made or controlled it.
In each circumstance your endocrine system won’t be able to function as expected.
ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS IN PLASTICS (and other consumer products)
When it comes to plastics and these unwanted affects on health, the focus falls on substances such as the phthalates.
The phthalates (they are a huge class of chemicals) are used when manufacturing PVC (poly vinyl chloride). They help turn it from a hard plastic into one that is more flexible. This might seem unremarkable, but here’s the thing.
– When PVC plastics are made these phthalates are released into the air.
– When PVC products are used and encounter mechanical pressure (for example by a baby chewing on a PVC tether) phthalates are released into the air.
– Disposal of PVC plastics also causes their release into the atmosphere.
ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS AND YOUR HEALTH
So, the manufacture, use and disposal of plastics in consumer products – such as packaging, toys and perfumes – is associated with the release of phthalates. Phthalates also pop up again as added ingredients – for example in ink, cosmetics, toiletries and perfumes where they’re used as binding agents.
Which means they are now ubiquitous in the modern everyday environment.
Unfortunately research has linked them to several public health concerns: asthma, breast cancer, low IQ, behavioural issues, autism, male fertility issues and altered reproductive development. They have also been linked with increased risk of type two diabetes and obesity.
ED chemicals are believed to be obesogens (able to promote weight gain) because they interfere with weight homeostasis through the endocrine system, adipose (fat) tissue biology, or the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
Plastic Free July – Detox Your Body and Detox Your Home
This whole story of plastics, the endocrine system and endocrine disrupting chemicals leads directly to you. Particularly if you are trying to better manage your weight.
The principles of weight management often focus on two areas: eating and physical exercise. The onus falls on you to control your calorie intake and portion size and to ensure that you regularly undertake some sort of exercise; cardiovascular, strength training – the choice is yours. And while it’s useful and advisable to find practical ways so you can balance your calorie intake and expenditure, whether you succeed or fail in reaching and maintaining your preferred weight may not solely rest on your individual efforts.
Environmental risk factors will also need to be considered, and your exposure to chemicals is one of the factors which can influence your weight.
2 WAYS TO DODGE ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS
If they are now so ubiquitous in the environment and general products, is it possible to avoid them? I believe there are ways to take small, yet significant steps to achieve this.
- Firstly you could check what’s inside and choose products which are free of synthetic chemicals including phthalates, parabens, colours and fragrances.
- Secondly you could check what’s visible outside and switch to products with different packaging, and select those which use glass and paper instead of flexible, squeezy plastic tubes. You can also store foods at home in glass containers.
(It’s worth noting that companies and manufacturers are now encouraged to proceed with caution – and instead of replacing one dubious phthalate with another, to omit them completely from their products. If you’re scanning labels or packaging you could look out for particular names. You could start with DEHP (di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate), DBP (di-butyl phthalate), DiNP (di-isononyl phthalate), BBP (benzyl butyl phthalate), DnOP (di-n-octyl phthalate), BBzP (butyl benzyl phthalate), DnBP (dibutyl phthalate), DEP (diethyl phthalate), DiBP (di-isobutyl phthalate), DPP (dipentyl phthalate), DiBP (di-isobutyl phthalate), DnOP (di-n-octyl phthalate) or DcHp (dicyclohexyl phthalate). As you recall they are a huge class of chemicals.)
These 2 simple steps mainly focus on the USE and DISPOSAL of plastics within your home but are also a way to stop directing money towards the plastics industry.
DETOXING ENDOCRINE DISRUPTORS FOR WEIGHT LOSS
It’s quite common to do a detox as part of a weight-loss programme. One reason for this is that fatty adipose tissue can store fat soluble chemicals. As your weight reduces and the volume of fatty tissue on your body decreases, chemicals are released in to your circulation. These are then processed by the liver before being packaged up for elimination in your urine or stool. This is why foods and nutrients which support liver detoxification can be useful to do.
Previously, I’ve explored the importance of opening all your channels – sweating, urinating and defecating – as ways to care for your digestive health and ultimately support your mental health. You can read about it here. But the principles are still the same. If you’re planning to detox it’s important that you are able to rid your body of all that it needs to.
Having a daily bowel movement, drinking enough fluid and body brushing and sweating will be at the top of your action list when you detox for weight loss.
Depending on where you are in your weight loss journey, you may be using particular supplements. This is something to be explored in greater detail in another blog. However, as part of Plastic Free July, you may be willing to reconsider the brands that you usually buy. What about brands that use glass instead of plastic packaging?
If you don’t know of any supplement companies that use glass bottles, I suggest Kiki health, TerraNova, Mushrooms For Life, Wild Nutrition, Viridian or Biocare.
In years to come the idea of a detox may extend beyond what you put in and excrete out of your body. It might even incorporate the everyday consumer products that you use within your home. Environmental pollutants from the plastic industry now pose a cause for concern, particularly since their effect on your endocrine system can promote obesity and increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. Months like Plastic Free July bring the opportunity to take a step-by-step approach and examine the often overlooked habits where you can make a big difference to decrease the use and presence of plastic in your home. Now you can detox your body and detox your home.
Merakist, Robina Weermeijer, Jasmin Sessler at Unsplash.com
References Kabir, Rahman and Rahman (2015) A review on endocrine disruptors and their possible impacts on human health  Grun and Blumberg (2009) Endocrine disrupters as obesogens