By Eddie Fatakhov, M.D.
Though commercially useful, these chemicals can easily leach out of plastics to contaminate our food, water supply, and even the air we breathe. This is when phthalates become a real problem Phthalates, not to be confused with Pilates exercises, are semi volatile organic compounds found in plastics, because they make them soft and flexible.
How do phthalates cause problems?
Phthalates are also endocrine disruptors. Your endocrine system is made up of a network of glands (thyroid gland, ovaries, etc.) and the hormones (insulin, estrogen, etc.) they produce. These hormones are used to communicate with cells and tissues to regulate many functions – this can result in insulin resistance, obesity and thyroid disease.
Phthalates, once in the body, disrupt the endocrine system in the following negative ways:
- They mimic, or partly mimic, our naturally occurring hormones
- When they mimic they bind to our hormone receptors so that our naturally occurring hormones can’t
- This bonding causes our bodies to have irregular physical responses since the hormones that are supposed to attach to our receptors can’t
Once our natural hormone function is disrupted our bodies can’t regulate our systems efficiently.
How do you avoid phthalates?
In order to limit your phthalate exposure, think fresh and limit your plastic usage.
Because many phthalates can be found in food packaging, going fresh at the grocery store can have a huge impact on your overall exposure.
- Buy fresh fruit and vegetables
Though eating organic is useful in eliminating an array of phthalates, it can also have a noticeable impact on your grocery budget. Non-organic fruit and vegetables are okay too. If organic produce isn’t fiscally feasible, just make sure to give all your non-organic fruit and vegetables a good water wash before cutting or biting into them.
- Buy intact foods
If you decrease the processing (cutting, changing, repackaging etc.) of the food you buy, you can actually decrease some phthalates. EXAMPLE: Buy a whole chicken vs. chicken tenders
- Store food in glass or paper containers
Not only do glass containers tend to last longer and stand up to more washing than their plastic alternatives, they also take many phthalates out of the picture.
- Filter your water
Buying a simple water filtration system can make a difference. While most tap water is considered safe to drink, there may be trace elements of phthalates present that a simple water filter can remove.
- Keep plastic out of the microwave
We understand that eliminating all plastic may not be possible, but the process of microwaving a plastic container can actually release any phthalates it contains. This is how phthalates can get into your food.
- Choose your plastics wisely
Plastics marked with any of the following recycling codes are potentially safe: PET, HDPE, LDPE and POLYPROPYLENE. We say “potentially” since current regulations do not require manufacturers to label their material. To be completely safe we recommend sticking to glass, paper, stainless steel, and wood alternatives.