Warning: This post may launch you into full spring cleaning mode, or trigger a big 'ol shopping spree at your nearest HomeGoods. Both of these things are great in my book... right up there with color-coded to-do lists, but to each their own.
Are you drinking or eating out of plastic right now? Has that plastic ever been heated, or washed with heavy duty dish detergent? It could be damaging your cells left and right. I'm going to frame this important issue around fertility and new offspring, but to be honest, cell damage and haywire hormones affect our entire health. Let's talk about how the chemicals in plastic (namely, BPA, because it's the most researched) are sending you mixed signals, and start planning that anti-BPA shopping spree.
BPA stands for Bisphenol A, which is a chemical commonly used in plastic objects including:
BPA is *bad news bears*. It acts as an endocrine disruptor, meaning it interferes with your hormones in one way or another. BPA was originally tested by pharmaceutical companies that were looking for a substance to use as an estrogen replacement medication. The chemists deemed BPA "too weak" of an estrogen to be effective in hormonal treatment. However, because we're learning more every day about the human body, and science is a little tricky to keep up with, we now know that the chemists were only observing ONE pathway by which estrogen works. It was weak in that particular pathway, but strong in others.
You're at the park. There are 3 slides. One is really steep, a straight shot to the bottom. One is a twirly spiral slide that is extremely tall. The third slide starts lower, but curves a bit left, then right. Imagine that BPA is a kid that tries all the slides, as soon as you let him in the park. The kid goes down each slide, but goes more slowly down the spiral slide, and faster down the straight slide. Saying BPA is weak just by looking at one pathway, is like saying that kid is moving slowly down slides, because you only watched him go down the spiral slide. Is this bringing back fond playground memories? Great. Remember how those slides are made of plastic? Let's keep talking about plastic...
BPA is, in fact, NOT a weak estrogen. It works strongly as estrogen would down other pathways not previously tested. Because of this, BPA actually lowers the natural estrogen production in your body. This is no good in the world of baby making because:
How does this happen? It's not nailed down for certain, but BPA decreases estrogen production in the ovaries occurs most likely by stopping the body from making the proteins that build estrogen. It also blocks the ability of natural estrogen to bind to estrogen receptors. If you've ever struggled to conceive, you're aware that pretty precise hormone levels are needed to get pregnant and grow a baby. Estrogen isn't the only hormone affected by BPA. Testosterone levels and thyroid hormones also change in the presence of BPA.
The BPA "scramble" can occur during this delicate organization and division. BPA scatters the chromosomes in the cell so they can't line up properly. Without the organization and lineup, the cell doesn't know how to divide correctly. Egg development either stops (most common because your body is used to shutting down irregularities) or chromosomes are divided incorrectly. If the abnormal cells (eggs) survive, they're defective in some way. In extreme cases, this leads to diagnoses like Down Syndrome, Klinefelter's Syndrome, and Turners Syndrome, which make normal life very difficult.
in 1998, some mice were hanging out in a laboratory, as they often do. Their plastic cages got a cleaning (in hot water and harsh detergent) and the mice's reproduction was drastically altered. On a hunch, they did some blood tests and found high levels of BPA in the mice. They got some new mice, and repeated the BPA exposure to see if the mice's reproduction would decrease once again. It did. After high BPA exposure, only 1-2% of mice eggs were able to align their chromosomes (at "half court") properly.
This study lead to more studies, and we have since found that high levels of BPA may lead to:
Chances are, even if you haven't talked about it, you have a friend with PCOS. This inflammatory condition of the ovaries is on the rise, and two of the hallmark signs are insulin resistance (diabetes) and low egg quality (infertility). High BPA blood levels has also been found in women diagnosed with PCOS. It's important to note that the studies to support this don't necessarily establish BPA as the cause of PCOS, but associated. Could PCOS be worse because of a high junk, highly inflammatory diet? Yes. Could that junk food also come in toxic plastic takeout containers? Heck yes. We know that BPA interferes with egg quality, and we know that BPA slows our insulin producing cells. Therefore, it's not unreasonable to think that plastics are influencing the rise of PCOS happening today.
The "BPA-free" hype may be a little misleading. Depending on where you shop, you might feel like you see BPA-free all the time. In reality, only a small percentage of manufacturers have stopped using it. There's only one government mandate against BPA that was established in 2011: No BPA in sippy cups or baby bottles. Oddly enough, they didn't extend this band to toys, canned infant formula, other canned food and drinks, plates, cups, to-go containers, or toiletries.
Right? Despite bunches and bunches of studies associating BPA with dangerous effects, In 2012 the FDA stated something along the lines of “scientific evidence doesn’t suggest that low levels of BPA are unsafe”. So how many studies were they considering when making this statement? About 102. The kicker? 2 of those studies concluded BPA is safe (these studies happened to be funded by the BPA global group of plastic producers) and 100 government funded studies showed daily BPA exposure even is low doses can be harmful.
Well, since it looks like the government bans aren't happening anytime soon, here's what you can do to decrease your BPA toxicity, improve your fertility, and make the next generations healthier -- and dare I say, smarter?
Particularly any plastics that don't remark "BPA-free" and "phthalate-free". Replace your plastics with stainless steel, wood, ceramic, food-grade silicone, or glass options. Just going BPA-free might not be enough, again it takes a really long time (if it ever happens) for harmful chemicals to be studied and banned, and they may be leeching something else we don’t know if harmful yet.
If you must keep plastic, DO NOT wash it with harsh detergent or hot water. Handwash in cold water with mild mild mild soap or just water.
You're just going to a place where a healthier you lives. Nothing bad about it. BUT if you're using an instant coffee maker like a Keurig, you're constantly heating plastic and immediately drinking it, often several times per day. Stop it! Switch to french press, pour over, or a coffee shop that does this for you. This way your coffee only comes in contact with glass and metal. Also, these look better on Instagram when you MUST GRAM about your morning coffee and how much you love it.
Mostly, look for cans that have a BPA-free lining. If companies do this, they're generally pretty boastful about it (good for them!) so it's easy to find. This is particularly important in acidic foods that draw the BPA out of the lining more than non-acidic foods. If you're thinking "but how will I make chili?!" - Mur Glen's got your back.
Receipts and ticket stubs (that specific type of shiny paper) are coated in BPA. Choose the email only option, or no receipt if you don't need it!
You can halt as much of your BPA usage as possible, but that still leaves the BPA that's already built up in your body, and the small amount you'll continue to come in contact with (takeout food is REALLY hard to avoid, you guys). So support yourself nutritionally with 3 important things.
Because when your body goes through "detox mode" the fastest way for toxins to get out is through your bowels. Glamorous, eh? Protect your gut and improve your ability to detoxify with 22 billion good bacteria.
Vitamin D3 particularly helps detoxify your brain cells by increasing an antioxidant called glutathione. It also ignites a whole separate detoxification pathway of enzymes in your liver.
Remember how BPA's not only interfering with hormones, but causing cell damage left and right? The best way to combat cell damage nutritionally, is with antioxidants. They are the super cell defenders ("cellf" defense, if you will). Even if you have a job where you constantly come in contact with plastics, or really struggle to avoid toxins, antioxidants will be your best friend for a long time. Looking to get pregnant in the next year? Try adding CoQ10 as well to further protect your reproductive cells.
... that BPA is not the only cause of infertility, but removing it can make an impact on whole body health and be the difference-maker for some women. You also need to continue to eliminate and avoid BPA after becoming pregnant for your baby's sake. To be honest, BPA removal is better implemented as a lifestyle change. Your body or your family's body is never better with more endocrine disrupting chemicals. If you're struggling with fertility, and need to more, I highly suggest digging into this book!