As our environment becomes more saturated with plastics, chemicals and toxins, our bodies are being challenged in ways that our ancestors’ chemistry never had to deal with. In particular our foods have become highly processed and come in contact with more synthetic materials than ever before. We are continuing to learn the consequences of our highly processed food industry and its impact on our biochemistry. One of the major areas in our bodies that is effected from this artificial world is our endocrine system. The cascade of hormones and signaling mechanisms in the body help dictate our metabolism, energy, fertility, immune system and mood. Imbalance in our endocrine system and hormones can lead to a myriad of diseases and disorders. Chronic disease and obesity have become common concerns for most Americans. Many of these conditions are partially caused, if not exclusively from our food: how it is prepared, stored and types of foods we eat. Looking simply in the average American’s kitchen, we can see examples of how chemicals are making their way into our foods and how they disrupt our biochemistry.
Most American kitchens have a roll of plastic in one of their top drawers. Most sandwiches and leftovers being brought to work or school are wrapped in this plastic sheet, which many times contains chemicals known as phthalates. Used in plastics to make them more flexible, phthalates are also found in hygiene products to extend the life of the product. Recent research has shown that phthalate exposure in men lowers estrogen and testosterone levels.
Bisphenol A or BPA is a chemical that has gotten a lot of attention in the media in regards to baby bottles. This chemical prompted a ban in Canada this past fall after more research has shown that it mimics estrogen in the body, impacting the endocrine system in many ways. Though in the United States, many baby bottles are now claiming to be BPA free, one of the biggest culprits for BPA exposure is still on our shelves. Most canned good are lined on the inside with a fine layer of plastic containing BPA. With food being pressed up against it for long periods of time and exposed to more extreme temperatures, canned foods is a major source of BPA exposure.
Bisphenol A has been implicated as a cause for infertility and Polycystic ovarian syndrome as well as miscarriages. It has also been linked with cancers, including prostate and breast cancer, immune system dysfunction, early puberty in young girls and testicular abnormalities in boys.
Antibacterial agents make their way into wipes, soaps and even toothpastes and cutting boards. Though while fighting overgrowth of bacteria, most of these agents contain a chemical known as triclosan. This antibacterial agent has been shown in animal studies to be disrupt thyroid function, even at low levels. Also, triclosan when mixed with tap water has the potential of off-gassing a chemical associated with cancer, liver damage and depression. Though more research needs to be done on how this chemical directly impacts the human endocrine system, early research suggests it may pose more health risks than benefits.
In a society where most food comes pre-packaged and processed, it can seem overwhelming to try to avoid chemicals like the ones mentioned. The less food is processed and store in plastics, the less risk it poses of containing many of these ingredients. Organic cleaning agents can help remove bacteria and pesticides without adding more harm. Simple measures like these can create less of a body burden and prevent damage to the endocrine system. Also, the body has innate ways of coping with foreign chemicals such as triclosan, Bisphenol A and phthalates.
We can detoxify these chemicals through the liver using a series of enzymes and chemical pathways. Proper nutrition including adequate intake of leafy green vegetables, protein and other nutrients can ensure that the body is able to process and clear these chemicals. As much as the kitchen can be a source of insults to the body’s biochemistry, it can also be the solution.