Dr. Magryta: Chemicals are back in the news
Recently my friend Fred sent me a NYTimes article titled “Are Your Sperm in Trouble?” The article reports on human sperm damage from chemical exposure in our environment. After reading the piece, I thought that I would reprise an old article regarding endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) to give the article more background.
Endocrine disruptors are chemicals that may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife. EDCs are unfortunately heavily involved in hormonal regulation and metabolism throughout the body. They are linked to obesity, cancer and immune dysfunction. The poster child has been bisphenol A or BPA.
The landmark epigenetic research by Randy Jirtle and Dana Dolinoy looked at the effects of positive chemicals called methyl donors found in vegetables versus the negative chemicals like BPA on the neonatal mouse pup. This was the first set of studies to show us how toxic chemicals can be on a developing fetus. The mouse is our canary in the coal mine.
From this new article, we now have fresh data looking at the hormonal system from the reproductive side. According to the data, human males are losing sperm volume and even more worrisome, sperm function. This is tragic news as male sperm damage has been hypothesized to be part of the autism epidemic.
There is now plausible evidence to pin part of this problem on plastic chemicals, drugs and persistent organic pollutants called organotins. The body sees these chemicals as metabolic agents that signal receptors on cells to change and produce a hormone like effect that is not natural.
“The crisis for male reproductive health seems to begin in utero. Male and female fetuses start pretty much the same, and then hormones drive differentiation of males from females. The problem seems to be that endocrine disrupting chemicals mimic hormones and confuse this process, interfering with the biological process of becoming male.”
Bisphenol A and other Xenoestrogens (foreign hormone analogues) are chemicals that are not natural and are ubiquitous in our environment. They are found in plastics, canned foods, electronics, cosmetics paints and more. Google BPA and see what comes up! Infant formula used to have increased concentrations, according to testing performed by the Environmental Working Group. These chemicals turn on genes that regulate fat differentiation and hormonal action. What a mess.
Humans are most susceptible to chemicals when cells are rapidly developing. This occurs primarily during pregnancy, until age 2 years old and also during adolescence.
I try to counsel all parents about the importance of proper nutrition and chemical avoidance all throughout life, but especially at these critical times of rapid growth. I would also say that prenatal times are equally important, if not more so, as you set the stage for a healthy fetus.
Although completely eliminating exposure to EDCs may not be possible, there are steps you can take to reduce your family’s exposure.
From the Environmental Working Group:
• Infant formula: All U.S. manufacturers used BPA-based lining on the metal portions of the formula containers until the ban went into effect in 2013.
• EWG’s testing of canned foods found that BPA leaches from the liner into the food itself. Sensitive groups such as kids and pregnant women should limit canned food consumption. Beverages appear to contain less BPA residues, while canned pasta and soups contain the highest levels. Rinsing canned fruit or vegetables with water prior to heating and serving could lessen BPA ingestion.
• Certain plastics called polycarbonates leach low levels of BPA into food or liquids. Leaching from plastic baby bottles and food containers appears to happen at a much lower level than found in canned foods and baby formula. Nevertheless it is good to take simple precautions.
• BPA is found in polycarbonate plastic food containers often marked on the bottom with the letters “PC” recycling label no. 7. Not all no. 7 labeled products are polycarbonate but this is a reasonable guideline for a category of plastics to avoid. Polycarbonate plastics are rigid and transparent and used for sippy cups, baby bottles, food storage and water bottles. Some polycarbonate water bottles are marketed as ‘non-leaching’ for minimizing plastic taste or odor, however there is still a possibility that trace amounts of BPA will migrate from these containers, particularly if used to heat liquids.
• Safer products and uses: When possible it is best to avoid no. 3, no. 6 and no. 7 plastics, especially for children’s food. Plastics with the recycling labels no. 1, no. 2, no. 4 and no. 5 on the bottom are safer choices and do not contain BPA or phthalates. Find baby bottles in glass versions, or those made from the safer plastics including polyamine, polypropylene and polyethylene. Soft or cloudy-colored plastic does not contain BPA. Bottles used to pump and store expressed breast milk by the brand Medela are also labeled BPA-free.
• Some metal water bottles are lined with a plastic coating that contains BPA. Look for stainless steel bottles that do not have a plastic liner.
• We recommend avoiding use of plastic containers to heat food in microwaves. Ceramic, glass and other microwaveable dishware are good alternatives. Avoid using old and scratched plastic bottles.
What I find alarming in all of the political drama of the last few decades is that I cannot find a single person who thinks that subjecting humans to chemicals such as EDCs is a good idea. We release these chemicals into our environment and hope that nothing will happen. This is naive and criminal at the same time.
Across the political divide, regardless of your stance, we should be screaming for EPA and FDA protection from damaging chemicals that are untested or worse, already banned in Europe and Canada, but not here. I fear for our children as the current administration plans to gut the EPA and streamline FDA procedures that are only sure to produce more unwitting American guinea pigs.
You have only one choice. ONE. Grass roots purchasing of products that are safe for your family. If you buy it, they will change to meet your needs. Witness the recent changes in food services as people have shifted their purchasing away from junk food and toward fresh and organic.
This issue is party neutral. Whether you are from a blue state or a red state, you must love your children or grandchildren enough to want them to live healthy and without chemicals messing up there endocrine system.
Review the work of the environmental working group. I know them personally and I can say with all of my heart and soul that they have your best interests in mind. Can you say that about a politician or corporate chemical CEO? I am a little cynical as I watch our patients get heavier, sicker and feel less well.
Salisbury Pediatrics Newsletter Article
Randy Jirtle 2
For the unabridged column including citations, see www.salisburypost.com or www.salisburypediatrics.com and click the health and wellness tab
Dr. Magryta is a physician at Salisbury Pediatric Associates. Contact him at email@example.com
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